Pubdate: Fri, 29 Dec 2006
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2006 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Meg Haskell
Bookmark: (Hallucinogens)


Add a new name to the list of mind-altering drugs readily available in
Maine. Salvia divinorum, a potent hallucinogen closely related to an
ornamental plant commonly grown in Maine herb and flower gardens, is
for sale at smoke shops throughout the state. It's not illegal, but
Maine lawmakers in the coming session will take up a proposal to ban
or regulate it.

A bill proposed by Rep. Chris Barstow, D-Gorham, seeks control over
the use, sale or possession of the plant.

Barstow said Wednesday that he would prefer to ban the substance
outright in Maine, as has been done in a handful of other states. But
some people, he acknowledged, will oppose such heavy-handed government
oversight, and the measure could simply limit sales to people over

"I'm not one for excessive government regulation," he said, "but it's
important to take steps to ensure that our citizens are being
protected and our communities are safe."

Salvia divinorum is cultivated in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It is
used by the Mazatec Indians there to induce a state of hallucination
and spiritual receptivity. Its leaves can be chewed, eaten or smoked
to release the psychoactive ingredient Salvinorin A, similar to LSD
and "the most potent naturally occurring psychoactive drug known to
date," according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Salvinorin A is
also distilled into a potent, smokeable extract many times the
strength of the original compound.

According to Hal Dunakin, an employee at the Middle Earth smoke shop
on Hammond Street in Bangor, salvia isn't for everyone.

While some people enjoy the brief but "extreme rush" it produces,
followed by a lingering "peace-of-the-world" feeling, Dunakin said the
experience is too intense for him.

The shop, which also sells rolling papers, water pipes, incense and
posters, makes a salvia sale every two or three days, he said.
Customers range from well-heeled to well-worn and spend anywhere from
$2 to $65 for a personal supply of leafs or extract. Most use the drug
to enhance meditation or other spiritual activities, according to Dunakin.

"We don't sell it to anyone under 18," Dunakin said. The drug not only
produces hallucinations but also affects physical coordination and
emotional control, he said. That means it's important to use salvia
responsibly, like alcohol: don't drive or operate machinery, avoid
people who might upset you and maybe have a non-using "guide" on hand
in case you need some help.

Dunakin disapproves of efforts to regulate salvia. "I think it's
ridiculous for one man to tell another man what he can do with his own
body," he said.

At Herbal Tea and Tobacco on Main Street, owner Chris Ruhlin said
efforts to regulate salvia reflect a "drug policy that lacks
intelligent design." He has been selling the dried leaves for six
years or more.

Ruhlin said lawmakers and regulators should focus on "legitimate
threats" such as methamphetamine and some of the powerfully addictive
medications marketed by pharmaceutical companies rather than wasting
time and money "making criminals of ordinary people."

With a customer base that ranges from 18 to 35 years of age, Ruhlin
said he sells salvia every day. "Everyone's buying it," he said,
adding that he imposes an "unwavering" requirement that purchasers be
at least 18 with an official, state-issued photo I.D. to prove it.

Kim Johnson, director of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, said
Thursday that she approached Barstow as a constituent after a shop
similar to Middle Earth and Herbal Tea and Tobacco opened recently in
her home town of Gorham and began selling the hallucinogen.

While not especially popular, salvia is widely available at such "head
shops" in communities around the state, Johnson said. She supports
banning salvia altogether and hopes Barstow's bill won't be watered
down to a ban on sales to minors.

"This drug is just as dangerous to someone who's 30 as someone who's
17," she said.

The Office of Substance Abuse is in the process of gathering reliable
information for lawmakers to consider when the bill is presented, a
spokesman said Wednesday, as well as developing educational materials
for the public.

Salvia is classified as a controlled substance in Finland, Denmark,
Australia and Italy, but not in the United States. The states of
Delaware, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee have recently adopted
measures to control its availability. Regulations are under
consideration in a number of other states.
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