Pubdate: Thu, 08 May 2008
Source: Daily Bruin (UCLA, CA Edu)
Copyright: 2008, ASUCLA Student Media
Author: Chris Eldredge, Bruin contributor


California Senate To Decide Whether To Outlaw

A bill passed by the state Assembly, now in the state Senate, would 
make selling the hallucinogenic drug salvia to anyone under the age 
of 18 a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and 
$1,000 in fines.

Salvia divinorum, not to be confused with the ornamental plants also 
called salvia, has gained popularity among high school and college 
students in recent years.

The drug, an herb in the mint family native to Mexico, is legally 
available to people of all ages in California.

Though the high from the salvia leaf by itself, whether smoked or 
chewed, is relatively short-lived and mild, the drug is much more 
commonly used in a concentrated form that has far stronger 
hallucinogenic effects, such as out-of-body experiences.

Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, introduced the legislation to 
restrict the sale of salvia to minors. His bill would allow law 
enforcement to stop the spread of salvia before it becomes a greater 
source of drug abuse among teenagers, he said.

"The drug Salvia divinorum has very dangerous and potentially 
life-threatening consequences," he said.

Adams expects the bill to arrive at Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk in a few months.

It is important to distinguish between salvia leaves chewed by 
natives and the chemically concentrated form that can increase the 
drug's potency by 10 or 15 times, said Dr. Charles Grob, director of 
child and adolescent psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

A small dose of the concentrated form of salvia induces a unique 
hallucinogenic state unlike that caused by other hallucinogens, he said.

"When you smoke the potentiated plant, people experience a very, very 
bizarre state. They become very dissociated, they have out of body 
experiences, they merge with the floor or a piece of furniture. 
People become very frightened, agitated or confused," said Grob, who 
has studied hallucinogenic drugs.

Grob said that though he in no way recommends salvia use, he is not 
convinced making it illegal to minors will protect them, because he 
said an underground market with less quality control will emerge.

"What I do support is better efforts at education and research. We 
know very little about this," he said.

Compared to other recreational drugs, the medical effects of salvia 
are not well-understood, Grob added.

Because of this, according to a statement from Assemblyman Adams' 
office, some opponents of restricting access to the drug worry it 
would hinder scientific research on medical uses of salvia.

But Adams said the risks posed by salvia, such as losing of control 
of one's body, are too great to postpone the legislation.

"The long-term effects are not known, but the short-term effects are 
all too evident," he said.

Dr. Howard Samuels of Wonderland Treatment Center in Hollywood Hills 
testified before a Senate committee in Sacramento last week, and he 
sees firsthand how salvia, often in combination with other drugs, 
affects lives. He strongly advocates making salvia illegal.

"It is so unpredictable and dangerous that you actually need someone 
to sit with you to make sure you don't harm yourself, and yet this 
drug is legal," he said, adding that by allowing salvia to remain 
legal, "the federal government and the state government is saying 
this is safe, which is a joke."

Matt Nazareth, cofounder of the UCLA chapter of Students for Sensible 
Drug Policy, a group that advocates for students who have lost 
financial aid because of drug-related crimes, said that though his 
organization has no formal policy on salvia, he expects members of 
his group would support Adams' bill.

"Being under 18, you really aren't prepared for any drug at all, 
especially a psychoactive one that messes with your mind a lot like 
salvia does," he said.

Salvia use among college students and teenagers is part of a larger 
drug abuse problem our society needs to address, Samuels said, adding 
that drug abuse should not interfere with education.

"That's not why people are supposed to go to college, that's not one 
of the reasons people are supposed to go to high school, but that's 
one of the issues that every kid that goes to college or high school 
has to face," he said.
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