Pubdate: Tue, 11 Sep 2007
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Jessica Mcdiarmid
Bookmark: (Salvia)
Bookmark: (Hallucinogens)


A powerful unregulated hallucinogen is being sold in shops and 
convenience stores across Hamilton. And there's nothing illegal about it.

The herbal hallucinogen salvia divinorum falls into the same class as 
magic mushrooms and LSD. Some who have used it report intense 
hallucinations: A tree growing out of the floor or thinking they're a crayon.

But neither the plant nor its active ingredient, salvinorin A, falls 
under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so it can be legally 
imported and sold in Canada.

The Spectator found salvia was easy to buy in local convenience 
stores and head shops, as well as on the Internet.

The herb is controlled in at least seven states in the U.S., with 
legislation pending in 12 others.

It's also regulated in Australia and many European countries.

A December 2005 report by the marketed health products directorate, 
an arm of Health Canada, recommended salvia be placed under the 
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. But Health Canada has said it 
can't do that unless there is evidence of dangers. Meanwhile, 
spokesperson Renee Bergeron said Health Canada is monitoring salvia.

"Should there be evidence of a significant risk to health and safety, 
Health Canada will take the necessary actions to safeguard 
Canadians," Bergeron wrote in an e-mail. That could include public 
education or restrictions on sale and distribution, she added.

Store clerk Madi McCann said the popularity of the herb, also called 
magic mint or diviner's sage, is on the rise.

But she said she doesn't think there is much potential for abuse. 
"It's like a 15-minute (magic) mushroom trip," said McCann, who works 
at Rock Universe, a store in Eastgate Square that sells salvia. "The 
effects are so overwhelming, it's usually a one-time thing."

The store even provides a "guidebook" to buyers, which recommends 
they have a sober "sitter," stay away from public places, don't drive 
and turn off phones while under salvia's influence. She says they 
wouldn't sell to anyone underage, though laws don't require that.

Salvia is usually smoked and produces a high lasting about 15 minutes.

Hamilton Detective Gary Ostofi said police are aware of the herb but 
haven't had specific incidents. Corry Curtis, a health promotion 
specialist in the city's public health department, said they are 
aware of the herb due to media requests but there is little 
information about the user population and its long-term effects.

"Obviously, when people use it there are risks associated," said 
Curtis, adding the city is tracking it now.

At least one Ontario municipality has called for a ban. Port Colborne 
sent a resolution to all Ontario municipalities in May petitioning 
Health Canada to review salvia.

After seeing an ad in a store and researching the herb, Janice Coker 
of Stoney Creek was terrified.

"As a mother with two teenagers, it's like, 'What the hell is the 
government thinking?'" said Coker. While her sons are nearly grown, 
she worries about younger kids.

"It's the young ones who can go into a convenience store and buy it, 
that's what scares me," said Coker, who believes parents need to be 
aware of it.

Wende Wood, a psychiatric pharmacist at the Centre for Addiction and 
Mental Health in Toronto, said most users don't do salvia frequently.

"Even experienced hallucinogen users say it's very intense," said 
Wood. "Not a lot of people want to do it again." What people do under 
the influence is a concern, she said.

"People can freak out and do unsafe things," she said. "Their 
judgment and perception is off."

But other hallucinogenic plants such as jimson weed are more 
worrisome, said Wood. Research hasn't found salvia addictive or 
physically harmful.

Hamilton hemp shop Chronic Enlightenment has sold salvia for five 
years. Owner Scott Gledhill said he has smoked it but doesn't anymore 
because he gets too high.

Salvia's popularity is growing, said Gledhill, who estimates he sells 
around 60 grams a month, at $40 each. Gledhill said he won't sell it 
to anyone underage and advises people on safe use. Most buyers are 
looking to try something new, he said.

"Most people that do it don't do it again. I don't have repeat customers."
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