Drug Roar

By Daniel McQuade
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Feb. 20, 2009

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Officials are still investigating who killed Peggy Reber.

Search "salvia" on YouTube and you'll find a ton of videos of teenagers acting incredibly stupid. One ponytailed redhead says it feels like her mouth is going to fall off, as her friends laugh at her; a kid can't stop laughing while staring at his hands; another girl has a big smile as she says, "This is weird."

The videos are purportedly of people using salvia divinorum, a psychoactive plant that's unscheduled in the United States--meaning it's currently legal without restriction in most states.

Indigenous populations in Mexico have used salvia divinorum (Latin for "sage of the seers") for centuries in shamanic medicine. Salvia use has grown in popularity in recent years partly as word spread on Internet messageboards.

Naturally, the law stepped in. Several states including Delaware have already placed salvia in Schedule I, the class supposedly restricted to drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. A North Dakota man recently became the first person in the U.S. ever arrested for salvia possession.

Media reports have jumped on the story with a nice dose of fearmongering. NBC's Bay Area-affiliate incorrectly described the drug as "potlike." An Associated Press story wondered if it was "the next marijuana." The drug isn't much like marijuana at all--or LSD, another psychoactive drug it's sometimes compared with.

When ingested, salvia produces a short psychoactive trip lasting five to 10 minutes. Some users compare it to meditation or yoga; others experience more dramatic visions. Researchers say the drug is remarkably nontoxic. No overdoses have been reported.

In fact, very few problems at all have been reported due to salvia. The most publicized case was a teenager's suicide in Delaware in 2006; the medical examiner listed salvia as a cause of death despite the teen having none of the drug in his system. He was, however, taking an acne medication linked to depression.

Even a California bill attempting to criminalize salvia sale to minors admitted that "emergency rooms have not reported any particular health concerns, and the police have not reported a significant issue with public order offenses."

Nonetheless, 17 states have either passed or introduced legislation criminalizing possession or sale of salvia.

This country has used criminalization as a first resort of drug policy ever since the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914. (Before then, the United States didn't have any illegal drugs.)

The government has ignored the perils of criminalization--especially those of simple possession.

During Prohibition, alcohol possession wasn't against the law. Criminalizing possession costs an enormous amount of money, fills courts and jails with nonviolent criminals, and causes mistrust between police and otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Sometimes drug criminalization prevents legitimate medical research or use: Psychiatrists used MDMA (Ecstasy) in therapy before it was placed on Schedule I in the 1980s; LSD and psilocybin mushrooms can help those who suffer from cluster headaches; and medical marijuana can treat nausea from chemotherapy, as well as AIDS wasting syndrome and other ailments.

There's been little research on salvia, but one study reports that salvia helped eliminate one user's depression.

But the march toward criminalization soldiers on. Eventually the DEA will likely classify salvia as a Schedule I drug.

"Criminal law is the most expensive, violent and damaging regulatory system we have at our disposal," law student Alex Coolman wrote in an op-ed opposing California's law in the Daily Journal. "It ought to be used only as a last resort, when we are convinced we are confronting a serious problem that can't be solved by any other means."

Salvia hasn't caused us any real problems yet. We shouldn't create some by criminalizing it.

Daniel McQuade blogs at drugroar.com

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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. bbnet said... on May 6, 2008 at 10:14PM

“Well written article Daniel. Its refreshing to see some common sense regarding this issue rather than hysteria and propaganda. Keep up the good work and clear thought. Lets hope the thought police choose schools over prisons and websites like http://www.BuySalviaOnline.com/ can continue providing this divine sage in a responsible manner for research, education, and novelty.”

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2. ganjablue said... on May 7, 2008 at 08:08AM

“Well said. Once again the drug war is the source of harm, not the "drug." The drug war creates violence not responsible users. It's a plant! God made it.”

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3. .academic. said... on May 7, 2008 at 10:55AM

“Seriously? The "god made it" defense? I realize that stupid kids (and adults) will do stupid things, and crimanalization has gotten a little out of hand, but really? God made it? Guess what else is "made by god"? Castorbean plants. Arsenic. Daphne. The list goes on. Saying "it's made by god" is one of the many (many) reasons that nobody can take pot heads seriously.”

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4. Jim noto said... on May 7, 2008 at 12:55PM

“Using words like "fearmongering" in regards to media descriptions of salvia followed by a pretty succinct description of your own that is essentially the same exact comparison hurts your credibility. If you want to write a fact-based piece in order to initiate intelligent thought among your readers you should leave that kind of bias out. For me, your article evokes an outline of unsubstantiated, boring, and hackneyed pro-drug talking points, the title of which could have read (INSERT TOPIC HERE.)”

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5. Uh... said... on May 10, 2008 at 06:27PM

“Biased or not (and I feel this article is not), Daniel is right about the hazards of criminalizing yet another drug, and allowing the government to further infringing upon our rights. Most likely the DEA will want to schedule salvia unless we take action and start writing to our representatives. Yes the drug should be regulated to avoid abuse, but it should not be banned under threat of jail time. What good will scheduling the drug do except clog up our overcrowded jails, waste more resources from our strained judicial and police systems, and potentially see more tax payer dollars wasted in this fruitless drug war that the federal government is losing? Scheduling salvia will only satisfy those caught up in this latest moral panic: congressmen, pundits, and demagogues. And Jim, you have to agree that there is a moral panic going on over salvia, and that the media is feeding off of this. Just because the article has buzzwords like "fear-mongering" doesn't mean that it is biased. So Daniel, what's the next step?”

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6. radically4peace said... on May 12, 2008 at 01:37PM

“Wow, let's fill our prisons with teenagers who just want to get silly. If the war on drugs was working, I wouldn't be able to buy crack around the corner from my house just as easily as I can buy salvia in a store. And might I add that I have tried salvia before. It's not even fun. Personally, I just felt dizzy and wanted to throw up. So seriously, if someone out there uses it as a spiritual source, they can be my guest. You really can't smoke too much of this stuff without getting sick. It's not going to hurt anyone.”

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7. BuySalviaOnline said... on Feb 9, 2009 at 12:01PM

“I absolutely agree with your sentiments regarding salvia, which has been found NOT to be addictive. There are certainly other, more dangerous things available that aren't criminalized, and I wonder why.”

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8. Salvia Divinorum said... on Jan 2, 2010 at 05:50AM

“more research need hav to you.”

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9. Katie said... on Jul 21, 2010 at 02:51PM

“I don't know why people get so hyped up over a plant, yet they don't seem to care that the FDA has approved all sorts of toxins that end up in our food. Oh well, there will always be something else to take the spotlight, like this k2 incense www.k2-incense.com”

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10. intelligence said... on Oct 5, 2010 at 12:56PM

“Seriously? Be smart. Grow up. You're all pathetic for even wasting your time to argue about this. It's a very poorly written opinion article, and this kid, Daniel, has no credentials and won't go anywhere in life writing like that. Daniel, get a real job and make minimum wage. That's the best you'll ever do.”

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11. Regniald said... on Dec 10, 2010 at 11:46PM

“Dear Intelligence,

You are a troll.

To learn more about your condition please look up 'psychological projection'.



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12. Anonymous said... on Feb 16, 2011 at 03:59PM

“I don't care if it is illegal you aren't stopping me from using it. You can try but you will fail. I'm not just saying that just for Salvia I have only done Salvia twice. Theres so much propaganda out right now its ridiculous. Marijuana is not bad Salvia is not bad. Things like Heroin are bad.”

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13. Nomad said... on Feb 16, 2011 at 04:07PM

“When I see prohibition taking action I no longer get angry or think of how ridiculous it is. I just assure myself Divine justice will take place, and you will get what you deserve for your crimes against God.”


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