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Making Sense of Salvia

People who are getting high from salvia are taking a big chance with a one-way ticket to psychosis. While long-term disabilities from use of this drug are not widely reported, there is evidence that even when someone comes down from a salvia high, he is likely to bounce back off into insanity. What’s up with this drug?

Salvia Divinorum is actually a cousin of the sage plant, native to the regions of the Oaxacan Mountains and used by Mazatecan shamans in their practice of mysticism and religion. Tribal priests either chewed the leaves or brewed them into a tea. Simply smoking the leaves produces little effect, but purveyors of this drug will doctor leaves with liquid salvia so that people can smoke the substance in higher concentrations. It can even be liquefied and added by drops into someone’s beverage.  Salvinorum A is the actual active ingredient in this plant.

Its high is different from that of spice or marijuana; it produces more of a hallucinatory effect including out-of-body experiences and flashbacks. The National Drug Intelligence Center reports that people experience feelings of traveling through time and space or the sensation of merging with inanimate objects.  Because sellers control the strength of the product, the high can be a short one or it can last for hours.  A professional from a drug treatment center has stated that many people use it once and then avoid it because they have unpleasant experiences. However, others view it as “any high in a storm.”

People who sell it—some from head shops but mostly on the Internet—will be quick to tell you that it offers medicinal benefits to treat diarrhea, headaches, and even rheumatism. In 2008 researchers acknowledged it had potential to reduce pain without the negative side effects of opioid analgesics and possibly reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, depression, and schizophrenia.

Medical researchers are eager to study it but they are put off by reports of this drug’s after effects. In Delaware, a mother blamed use of salvia for her son’s suicide. The actual cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.  She campaigned with success to have it outlawed in her state.

A psychiatrist at a California hospital-based drug treatment center reported in 2011 on an adult male who presented in the emergency department with active psychosis. He was admitted to the hospital and attempts to wean him from drugs were unsuccessful; he remained actively psychotic due to salvia.

Kate Daily from Newsweek reported that Jared Loughner, the Arizona shooter responsible in 2011 for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ injuries and the deaths of six people, purportedly ingested salvia prior to that shooting. Experts believe that a user will be too incapacitated to commit harmful acts while he’s high, but the drug can trigger a person’s capacity for psychosis and push him over the edge afterward.

Most states now outlaw salvia or categorize it as a Schedule I drug, but the problem, as with spice, continues to be an inconsistent scope of laws across the states.  Exceptions include states that allow its sale when not intended for human consumption, including Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. A couple of those states specify that salvia is approved for landscaping. There are also states that allow it for sale to adults only, including California, Maine, and Maryland. Wisconsin prohibits its possession but not its sale or delivery.

Like most people who abuse substances, those who use spice or salvia will over time develop a relationship with their substance of choice. Only referral to a licensed, certified drug treatment center can help someone learn how to beat his addiction and maintain recovery.  For more information to seek help contact Vista Taos Renewal Center at 1.800.245.8267.

Read More About It

Dailey, Kate. Newsweek online, on The Daily Beast, U.S. News, 1/13/2011, at http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/01/13/salvia-and-the-arizona-shooting.html

Join Together Staff at Drugfree.org. Researchers’ Fears Among Salvia Concerns, at http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/drugs/researchers-fears-among

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