Pubdate: Sat, 02 Mar 2013
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 The Toronto Star
Author: Victor Malarek
Note: Victor Malarek is the senior investigative reporter with CTV's W5.


The drug salvia is readily available in stores and online. It can 
cause severe hallucinations and lack of body control. But it's still 
legal in Canada.

For six years, Const. Sara Foote worked as a high school liaison 
officer in Durham region giving speeches about drug awareness to 
students. But when it came to Salvia divinorum, she was the one 
needing an education.

What she learned was that a lot of students had tried salvia. But far 
more worrisome was the fact that the drug was legal and easily 
accessible. It still is.

"When youth can go into a convenience store and buy a bag of candy or 
a package of gum and salvia, it seems ridiculous," she said in a 
recent interview with CTV's W5.

So Const. Foote made it her mission to persuade shop owners not to sell it.

Salvia, a genus of the mint family, is an herb. For centuries it has 
been used by Mazatec shamans in Oaxaca, Mexico, to induce visions as 
part of spiritual and healing ceremonies. The leaves are chewed, and 
it takes at least two dozen of them to feel the hallucinogenic effects.

Today, salvia is marketed as providing a "natural high" and sold in 
head shops and online in highly concentrated doses. When smoked it is 
10, 20 or even 100 times more potent than the leaves themselves.

According to Health Canada's most recent, 2011 Canadian Alcohol and 
Drug Use Monitoring Survey, 5.4 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 had 
used salvia.

According to numerous studies, salvia users can experience time 
distortion and, at higher doses, terrifying hallucinations. There is 
a risk of injury because the drug can leave users unable to control 
their physical movements.

Cassie Walde learned this the hard way.

In 2010, while alone in her Vancouver apartment, the then-20-year-old 
student smoked salvia. She remembers standing by her open window to 
blow smoke outside.

"The thing is with salvia, it kicks in really, really fast," she says.

She doesn't know why or how she did it, but Walde plunged out the 
third-storey window, landing face first on the cement pad below.

She shattered her jaw and lost eight teeth. She also broke her leg, 
several ribs and a vertebra.

In hospital, unable to speak because of a tracheotomy, Walde could 
communicate with her family only through notes.

She wrote: "I don't want to die . . . So scary . . . I learned my lesson."

On media sharing sites such as YouTube, there are thousands of videos 
of people on salvia trips.

The most notorious, posted by gossip site TMZ, features pop star and 
then Disney actress Miley Cyrus, or Hannah Montana to her legions of 
fans. The video, shot by a friend, shows Cyrus smoking what she later 
admitted was salvia.

But the Cyrus video is tame compared to some others which appear to 
show users having bizarre and often frightening experiences.

Yet with all the research on salvia, which suggests that it is one of 
the most potent natural hallucinogens and can trigger short-and 
long-term psychosis, it is classified in Canada as a natural health 
product, not a controlled substance. So as far as police are 
concerned, it's perfectly legal.

At website after website, W5 found it readily available. And in 
cities across the country, W5 readily found stores selling it.

A shop owner in Toronto warned about using sharp objects while on 
salvia. "I wouldn't cut a tomato with a sharp knife, you know," he 
said. "I'd probably miss and cut off my finger."

Seven years ago, Brett Chidester of Wilmington, Del., purchased 
salvia online from a distributor in Vancouver.

Chidester was a confident, talented and seemingly carefree 
17-year-old. According to his mother, Kathy, he loved music and 
sports, especially skateboarding, and was an academic all-star.

However, Kathy found out that he had been smoking salvia and told him 
to stop. He didn't.

One afternoon, on a day off from school, he went into the garage, 
zipped himself into a tent and lit a charcoal grill. He died a short 
time later of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of Delaware wrote on Brett's death 
certificate that "Salvia divinorum use" had contributed to his death.

Police found baggies of salvia among Brett's belongings.

His suicide letter reads: "How could I go on living after I know the 
secret of life? . . . I can't tell it to you here, of course. That 
kind of info would cause chaos."

Health Canada has been studying the effects and risks of salvia for 
almost a decade. Two years ago, the department did propose adding 
salvia to its list of controlled substances, but so far, no action.

For more than a month, W5 asked for an interview with Health Canada. 
Its response: "Health Canada will continue to survey the prevalence 
of salvia uses and monitor new information . . . as it emerges.'

At a photo op in Ottawa, we asked Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq if 
the federal government plans to do anything about salvia.

In her reply, she seemed to confuse salvia with the process for 
approving prescription drugs.

"What I say to Canadians is that before you take any drugs, talk to 
your physician, determine what the risks are, ask the questions on 
any side effects, and whatnot," she said.

Days later, she sent this statement:

"Our government is always looking at ways to protect Canadians" and 
"we remain committed to listing salvia as a controlled substance."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom