Salvia Divinorum, an herb enthused by many for its hallucinogenic properties, may soon be subject to the unsympathetic eye of U.S. Drug Enforcement Policy.
The death of Brett Chidester in January of 2006 led Delaware to pass an act classifying salvia as a schedule I controlled substance. Chidester died from sleeping in a tent with a coal grill inside; his parents suspect he was under the influence of salvia at the time but have not been able to prove any connection. Since “Brett’s Law” passed the Delaware legislature, three other states as of today have acted similarly in restricting the sale and ownership of salvia. The first state to do so was Louisiana, where simple ownership for personal use now carries a minimum five-year prison sentence. This rash of legislative action and outcry from nervous parents has led the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to gather evidence in determining if salvia should be classified as schedule I nationwide. Other substances in the schedule I category include heroin, ecstasy, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and marijuana.
Legislative action restricting access to salvia would result in more consequences than benefits for society; this push for prohibition is merely the crack of a few bored, no-name political drudges starved for attention.
The legislators sponsoring bills for salvia’s prohibition are twisting their rhetoric to spin salvia into a dangerous, vile drug in the public perspective, since all scientific knowledge of the herb refutes any claim of serious threat. Politicians pushing measures for prohibition continually construe salvia to “LSD-like” in both lethality and danger. Media reports oftentimes make the same fallacious comparison. However, unlike LSD, the active ingredient in salvia, salvinorin a, is not synthesized, nor does it settle in spinal fluid or trigger violent flashbacks. Both substances may be similar in terms of potency, but LSD is highly lethal whereas salvia is not, and is chemically unrelated to LSD.
And to further inflate the war on drugs by adding salvia to the DEA’s hit list will only waste more money in a vicious and wasteful system. Growing operations will simply move underground, and new outfits will spring up as fast as others are busted; not to mention people who were previously clean will now have criminal records pockmarked with colorful drug charges. Thus, more young people will be turned away from higher education and will lose job opportunities for failing background screenings. The [formerly] innocent users of salvia will become new initiates into the permanent underclass created by the war on drugs.
The concerned parents and political dullards pushing to restrict salvia seem to have not only ignored the social costs of criminalization, but have also paid no heed to any recent scientific studies. Salvia research conducted by the University of Nebraska discovered not even slight addictive quality of salvia or any long lasting negative behavioral effects after repeated use. So unlike meth-addicts and junkies, users who take salvia also do not pose a criminal threat, since no user is ever desperate enough to rob or burglarize for money for their next fix. In other studies, rats have been injected with dosages several times greater than the amount required for intoxicating humans, and after repeated dosages the rats exhibited no neurological or organ damage. In fact, many human subjects reported anti-depressant mood improvements persisting for 24 hours after their previous session.
In a way, the salvia business might actually benefit since the government’s efforts to prohibit drugs have been retroactive, and have caused drug profits to increase. The profit accrued by cultivating and selling salvia could conceivably rise as a result of increased legal risks presented to growers and sellers similar to cocaine cartels, whose profits increased 1000 percent since cocaine was criminalized. Current drug profits in the United States stand at $100 billion annually notwithstanding today’s drug laws, a significant rise since the war on drugs began.
Salvia is currently legal in Washington, and the wholesale of seeds, for the meantime, is unrestricted. The herb is widely available in naturalist stores and head shops throughout the state and right here in Spokane as vials of dried leaves or grain alcohol tinctures; prices range from $20 to $120 depending on the potency and form purchased. Note that some establishments have self-imposed age limits for salvia.