Pubdate: Sat, 26 Jan 2002
Source: Wisconsin State Journal (WI)
Copyright: 2002 Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Reid J. Epstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Bookmark: (Hallucinogens)


Some Officials Are Concerned About The Use Of Salvia Divinorum, Which Is 
Becoming More Popular In Dane County

MADISON -- The clerks at Knuckleheads Tobacco & Gifts, a State St. smoking 
accessories shop, aren't allowed to say words such as marijuana, weed or pot.

Although some customers undoubtedly smoke marijuana and are drawn to the 
store's water pipes and rolling papers, any reference to illegal drugs 
could get the clerks into trouble with their boss or the police, who tend 
to keep a close eye on counterculture establishments.

So it's difficult for them to accurately describe what it's like to smoke 
Salvia divinorum, a legal and increasingly popular Mexican plant that some 
in Congress want banned.

"It's like coming down off of, you know, but without the really tired 
feeling you would normally get," Mike Molkentin said from behind the 
Knuckleheads counter. "I was able to relax and get into a different mind 

Molkentin, 20, is a music student at the Madison Media Institute. He called 
Salvia divinorum "a positive alternative" to smoking that illegal plant.

Drug enforcement authorities would like to stop the spread of Salvia 
divinorum before it explodes in the United States the way Ecstasy did 
before it was criminalized.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers salvia one of its "drugs 
and chemicals of concern." And U.S. Rep Joe Baca (D-Calif.) promises to 
reintroduce legislation in January that would make salvia an illegal drug. 
Baca introduced similar legislation in October that died in committee.

In Dane County, police officers have begun to see an increased use of the 
dark green leaves among teenagers, who either smoke or eat the leaves.

"The fact is, it's out there and kids are learning about it," said 
Detective George Chavez of the Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force.

But because the government does not classify Salvia divinorum as an illegal 
substance, there is nothing the task force, or any other government agency, 
can do to regulate its use. "There's not a whole lot of enforcement we can 
take," Chavez said. "We try to talk to as many people as we can get to. As 
long as you've got the information, we hope you'll make the good decisions."

A plant that grows wild in Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico, Salvia 
divinorum is legal everywhere in the world except for Australia, which 
criminalized it in June.

Salvia readily available

For now, it can be purchased at shops such as Knuckleheads, which charges 
$4.95 a gram, and, more prominently, from stores on the Internet, where a 
quick Google search reveals dozens of sites dedicated to providing 
information in hopes of keeping salvia legal.

The Madison-based site Pure Land Ethnobotanicals ( 
sells the leaves - $25 buys 14 grams - and the more potent salvia extract, 
which costs $29 per gram.

Pure Land's administrators did not respond to repeated e-mails and phone 
calls. Its listed address is a post office box at a University Ave. Mail 
Boxes Etc. outlet.

A small amount of salvia, about half a gram, is enough to produce a 
"clearheaded state" that is useful for meditation, said Daniel Siebert, a 
California man who has studied the plant for 20 years and, in the eyes of 
its devotees, is to Salvia divinorum what Timothy Leary was to LSD in the 

At medium doses, Siebert said, Salvia divinorum can bring greater awareness 
of color, including "subtle visions that are geometric patterns not seen 
with your eyes open."

Higher doses are said to produce more realistic visions in which one sees 
dream-like scenery. Such visions can resemble those induced by 
hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD.

"Often there's a narrative quality to it," Siebert said, "like things are 
happening there."

But Salvia divinorum is by no means a social substance, Siebert said. 
Unlike Ecstasy, which has been labeled a "party drug," Salvia divinorum 
users become very introverted.

"You can't really engage much with people," Siebert said. "You sit quietly 
and become immersed in this inner state. I try to make clear to people that 
salvia is very different from the other hallucinogenic drugs people use . . 
. because people use those in a more social context."

Health Impact Debated

Whether there are health risks involved with using Salvia divinorum is unclear.

Chavez and others say smoking the plant's leaves carries the same health 
risks as smoking marijuana.

"It's in the way it's ingested," Chavez said. "It has PCP- and LSD-type 
effects when you get into the deep stage of salvia use."

But Siebert points to the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, who he said have been 
using salvia to meditate for generations without negative health consequences.

"The only risk is that when you alter your state of consciousness, you 
shouldn't be doing so when you can be jeopardizing other people's safety," 
Siebert said. "Anything is harmful if you do something really stupid."

Baca, who likens Salvia divinorum to Ecstasy before it was outlawed in 
1985, points to the case of a 15-year-old Rhode Island boy who stabbed 
another youth after smoking the plant. But Siebert said such behavior can't 
be attributed to salvia.

"You can't get up and walk around on salvia," he said. "At doses strong 
enough to have much of an effect, you can't negotiate walking to meet 
someone. It just doesn't fit."

But the case is enough for Baca to push to criminalize salvia. His October 
effort, dubbed the Hallucinogen Control Act of 2002, would have made Salvia 
divinorum and Salvinorin A, its active ingredient, Schedule 1 controlled 
substances. Schedule 1 substances include marijuana, heroin and MDMA, the 
active ingredient in Ecstasy.

"We know very little about the drug, but what we do know is frightening," 
Baca said in a statement. "This drug's power is beyond anything we have 
seen before."

Baca added that the October bill was introduced to "create awareness" of 
salvia and that he plans on reintroducing the legislation in January.

The plant's supporters say it is far less potent than more popular 
recreational drugs. They maintain the government is merely on a crusade to 
keep people from enjoying themselves.

"They're on the verge of making it illegal because people are talking about 
it. The idea that you can use something and have some altered state and not 
inherently ruin your life runs counter to the idea of the drug war," said 
Rick Doblin, the president of the Multidisciplinary Association for 
Psychedelic Studies, a Sarasota, Fla.-based non-profit organization that 
studies what it calls "the healing and spiritual potentials" of psychedelic 
drugs and marijuana.
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