I was on YouTube the other day and came across a gripping video of a dazed guy stumbling about, laughing. I was immediately interested.
The culprit responsible for his stupor, Salvia divinorum, is not a new discovery for man. The plant has been used in the Mazatec culture in Mexico by shamans since at least 1939. The derivative’s effects can induce divination and vision formation. Perfect for inner thought.
Apparently this strong hallucinogen has youth and dignified scientists knocking on its front door. Salvia deserves such attention, especially from the research realm.
The consumers in the video were a college-age group. That is partly understandable: a 2008 study, conducted by Dr. Khey at the University of Florida, shows that 22.6 percent of the students surveyed knew of Salvia, and most of them had heard of it from their friends, among other sources.
He admits that these numbers may not be definitive. One possible error is survey methodology. Another could be that these students were in the Southern U.S., where Salvia, originating from Mexico, might be more available.
The key component in the plant, Salvinorin A, works similar to opiate drugs like morphine. However, since it is specific in what it binds to, avoiding certain brain receptors that opiate drugs bind to, it does not lead to similar addiction or euphoria.
Psychiatric researchers at Harvard Medical School noted that Salvinorin A can have antidepressant effects and mood stabilizing relief for those with bipolar disorders. Other scientists contend it could have uses in treatment for schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and even AIDS. Just like you, I was asking myself, “Whaaa???” ‘Tis true.
The same team at Harvard believes that the molecule can be altered to increase its medicinal efficacy. Such desirable properties include binding ability, duration and reduced hallucinogenic effects.
Previous medicinal roles still exist for this versatile drug. As a result of its broad use in Mazatec culture, it has been prescribed as a cure for ailments such as diarrhea, anemia, headaches, rheumatism and swollen belly.
The fact that Salvia is the most powerful hallucinogen yet known, legal at that, will do little to stave off the keen recreational drug consumer.
Its vision-inducing properties and psychedelic effects help people free their minds. Some have likened it to yoga, meditation and the state of a trance. Still others note an increased sense of connection with the universe and sensations of motion. A lot of first-time users will experience fear.
That is why there is active legislation to impede the use and distribution of this drug. This includes efforts in 2009 in Pennsylvania.
Some public figures have deemed it a “dangerous herb” and others believe, “Our children must be saved.” Politicians cannot rest well knowing something so powerful is out and loose. It has already been pronounced a ‘drug of concern’ by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Fortunately, attempts originating in 2002 to classify it as a Schedule I controlled substance failed.
The nature of politics entails that politicians can’t have any choice but to oppose Salvia. Furthermore, the image people have created for the drug makes simple association lethal.
For one, LSD and heroine are also Schedule I drugs, so linking Salvia to them is guilt by association, a favorite tactic to downplay the Magic Mint. A few rotten apples must spoil the barrel, correct? No, not here.
Another example is the kind of video I saw on YouTube. People record themselves after inhaling or ingesting Salvia. These usually show the person laughing uncontrollably or unable to perform simple tasks.
Such a first impression on decision-makers doesn’t bode well for scientists who want to explore Salvia’s benefits.
The therapeutic potential of this seemingly evil substance is yet unmeasured. Unprecedented medical abilities could be harnessed from Salvia, so quit the hate campaign.
Likewise, scientists need their due time and space with discovering this drug. With legal restraints, research proposals and funding for them could be stalled. As opponents, it seems the big pharmaceutical companies can’t let an effective drug surface near their commercial ones.
It’s always a complicated web.
Some researchers agree that Salvia needs to be respected for its power. To avoid inherent bias from any party, a holistic and thorough approach is necessary. Then, hopefully scientists can form a consensus and ward off the politicians as a team.
Let not science die again by the rigidity of politics.
In Greek mythology, such as “The Odyssey” the lotus plant has intoxicating properties, enough for lotus-eaters to garner the titles of “foul” and “heinous.” Still the lotus can remain hopeful its true beauty and fragrance will be recognized and a second glance will be cast upon it.
By Abdul-Kareem Ahmed
October 6, 2009