Pubdate: Thu, 10 Mar 2011
Source: Gauntlet, The (CN AB Edu)
Copyright: 2011 Gauntlet Publications Society.


A man sits in a car, lights a bong and waits until his "vision begins
to vibrate." He has just taken a hit of salvia-- a drug which brings
on a strong hallucinogenic experience for about 15 minutes-- and then
sits motionless at the steering wheel. Very shortly, he begins
muttering under his breath, "Excuse me, I have to go to space now." A
minute later the man gasps and stares outside. The camera pans to show
a cat sitting on the windshield of the parked car. This video and
others like it demonstrate the effects of salvia, which is currently
legal in Canada. Health Canada, however, wishes to make it illegal
because of its similar properties to drugs like LSD.

Although salvia has been available for years, the popularity of
YouTube videos showing people smoking it to get high has led
politicians to call for the drug's criminalization. Because the drug
is considered a natural health product, shops are supposed to have
permission from Health Canada to sell it. Permits have never been
issued by Health Canada, but the distribution of the drug hasn't been
restricted-- it's available in shops across Calgary. The proposal will
put salvia on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, making it
illegal to produce, possess and sell the drug.

Health Canada claims that salvia poses a risk to Canadians, especially
youth. A survey in 2009 found that 7.3 per cent of Canadians 15 to 24
years old have tried salvia. While there are reasons for banning
minors from using the drug-- it causes intense hallucinations so
minors may not be responsible enough to deal with the drug's effects--
Health Canada hasn't provided evidence that it is harmful. It isn't a
chemically addictive substance and no negative health effects have
been demonstrated.

What can Health Canada argue to justify banning salvia? Very little,
actually. Like any drug that causes altered states of mind, there is
good reason to restrict its use. Driving while high on salvia, if even
possible, would be very dangerous. Unlike marijuana, however, it's
very easy to detect when users are high on salvia as they're
completely incapacitated. Similarly, restricting the sale of salvia to
those over 18 years old and making it illegal to distribute to minors
are justified actions, but the complete banning of the substance is

It's dangerous to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol
and minors aren't responsible enough to be allowed to buy it. These
facts, however, don't justify the outright banning of alcohol. People
get hurt while drunk, yet alcohol is still rightfully legal. Instead,
alcohol is regulated to prevent harm to others. It's insufficient for
Health Canada to declare that salvia poses a risk to users with the
hopes of justifying a full ban without actually pointing out how those
risks are likely enough to occur.

Health Canada ought to be taking an informative role, rather than a
paternalistic one. Watching videos of people high on salvia is just as
likely to motivate people not to use it themselves. And while
statistics of reuse are sparse, it's likely that of the 7.3 per cent
of people who have tried salvia, the strong hallucinations it causes
led many not to use it again. But adults should be allowed to decide
for themselves whether or not they want to have such experiences. Even
if studies show that salvia causes health problems, Health Canada
should only be tasked with educating people on those problems. If we
want to smoke tobacco, knowing that it will cause cancer, that is
something we should be allowed to do.

Canadians should be unconvinced of the campaign to ban such drugs. The
burden of proof is on Health Canada to show that the harms of using
salvia are, like heroin, sufficiently high to justify an outright ban.
No such harms will be brought forth, however, because no such harms
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