Salvia divinorum, a legal drug which causes powerful hallucinations and has been linked to psychotic episodes, has been tried by one-in-ten students according to a new survey.
Salvia, a legal drug which causes powerful hallucinations and has been linked to psychotic episodes, has been tried by nearly one-in-ten UK university students, according to a new survey.
One-in-four students at British universities admitted to having taken 'legal highs', of whom 39 per cent said they had experimented with salvia. Salvia is one of the most powerful known hallucinogenic herbs.
The drug, which is banned in many European countries, derives from a Mexican plant and was traditionally used by shamans to alter their states of consciousness. It is often marketed as 'herbal ecstasy', can be either smoked or chewed, and can easily be bought online or from 'head shops' as a refined extract at strengths of up to '50x' concentration.
Commenting on the results Chris Hudson, a spokesman for the government drug education service FRANK, said: "So-called legal highs are not a safer alternative to illegal drugs.
"People who take salvia have experiences that can vary from fairly mild to strong with hallucinations. At higher doses users can experience dramatic time distortion, vivid imagery and scary hallucinations.
"As with all legal highs and illegal substances, the risks increase if you combine them with alcohol, or other drugs."
According to FRANK, physical harm resulting from use of salvia is usually the consequence of people injuring themselves whilst under its influence. The drug causes intense visions and can leave users unable to regulate their physical movements and speech, leading to a YouTube craze of users filming themselves taking the drug and uploading the videos to the internet.
Other legal highs shown by the survey to be popular with British students included nitrous oxide (or 'laughing gas'), tried by 58 per cent of those who had taken 'legal highs', and smoking blends such as 'Spice' and 'Black Mamba', which are pharmacologically similar to cannabis (27 per cent).
In total 54 per cent of respondents said they had tried illegal drugs, of whom one-in-four had taken mephedrone (or 'miaow miaow'), the formerly legal drug which was classified as a Class B illegal drug in the United Kingdom in 2010.
The most widely-used illegal drugs according to the survey were cannabis (tried by 98 per cent of those who had taken illegal drugs), ecstasy or MDMA (48 per cent) and cocaine (36 per cent).
Two-in-three students said they had been offered illegal drugs while at university, while 27 per cent reported having been offered banned substances while on campus.
Controversy surrounding salvia, which was linked to the 2006 suicide of Delaware teenager Brett Chidester, has led to several attempts to ban its usage in the United Kingdom.
"I am very concerned about the use and misuse of Salvia divinorum because it contains an active ingredient that can trigger hallucinations," Professor Fabrizio Schifano, an expert in drug addiction based at the University of Hertfordshire, told the Telegraph in 2010.
"For some vulnerable individuals, this may mean the onset of a psychotic episode."
The University Drug Culture Survey was carried out by student research company The Beans Group.
By Andrew Marszal, Education Digital Editor, Daily Telegraph
2nd November 2012.