Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jul 2001
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Adam Nathan


AN obscure hallucinogenic herb from Mexico has become the latest fashion in 
the world of recreational drug-taking.

Suppliers are using a loophole in the law to sell the powerful drug - known 
as Lady Salvia or the magic Mexican mint - to young people.

Users have reported sensations of travelling through time and space, 
assuming the identities of other people and merging with inanimate objects. 
Experts say they are risking their minds, and perhaps their lives, by 
taking the drug.

Salvia divinorum, a type of sage used for thousands of years in Mexican 
Indian rituals, is legal in Britain and America and is available on the 

Originally found in only one square mile of the Oaxaca region of Mexico, it 
is either chewed or smoked and causes a short but intense high. In New 
York's Greenwich Village, it has triggered a mini-renaissance of 1960s 
psychedelic culture; there is even a rock band called Salvia.

In Amsterdam, where large-scale indoor marijuana growing is now outlawed, 
cannabis growers have switched to salvia, flooding the European market.

In Britain there are about a dozen suppliers of dried salvia leaves. Most 
do not advertise it as a drug but as incense, mainly through fears that 
they will be sued if people are damaged by their experience of taking it.

Experts say the leaves of the plant are often super-impregnated with the 
active hallucinatory ingredient salvinorin A to make it up to 20 times 
stronger. This enhanced leaf sells for up to pounds80 a gram.

The drug's increasing popularity, coupled with scientific acknowledgment of 
its mind-bending powers, has prompted the Home Office to review its legal 
status. But it could take years to ban it.

Dr Tim Kendall, an expert based at the University of Sheffield, said: "When 
you take salvia you are playing with fire. People can be very damaged in 
terms of their personal functioning. They frequently have flashbacks that 
intrude into their life, which can be almost like a post-traumatic stress 
problem after very bad experiences."

In 1994 Daniel Seibert, a Californian ethnobotanist, first isolated the 
psychotropic part of the herb and tested it on a human - himself - with an 
accidental overdose of 2mg of pure salvinorin A.

"One minute I was sitting on my couch expecting nothing to happen and the 
next I was in a deep out-of-body experience," he said. "I was panicking 
because I felt I must have died.

"After a little while I regained sensory awareness and opened my eyes and 
looked around me and realised that I was in my grandparents' home from when 
I was a child. I had come back into the wrong place in my life history. It 
was extraordinary. The certainty and the detail made it so real."
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