By Christopher Spencer
The sign isn’t eye-level. It’s knee-high and easy to miss as you walk inside Valero.
Salvia Divinorum, the Sage of Seers, sacred intoxicant of the Mazatec Indians of Mexico, starts at $24.99 a gram.
Underneath the glass pipes and between two cash registers are several silver pouches that contain a potent hallucinogen that is legal in Arkansas, but a felony to possess across the state line in Missouri.
Salvia divinorum is for sale to anyone over the age of 18 at the corner of College Avenue and Lafayette Street, as it is in several tobacco stores in Fayetteville.
“A Tool for Self Exploration” reads the packaging and it comes in strengths defined by the potency of its psychoactive extract, salvinorin A. It starts at ten times potency and goes up to $64.99 for a gram of the “Highest Strength XXX Extract.”
Club 13 of Pelham, N.Y., packages the salvia sold at Valero in various flavors and, at their Web Site online, provide an expanding list of states to which they will not ship their product to because it is illegal.
Nancy Wright, a Valero employee, said sales of the herb, a member of the mint family, comes in waves. Sometimes no one buys. Sometimes sales are brisk.
Lara Muller has worked at the store about two weeks and said no one has bought it while she’s been working there. When she worked at Wendy’s some months earlier, she said two of her co-workers told her about its effects.
One of them told Muller he loved to smoke salvia and enjoyed its dreamlike effect, while another co-worker said she tried it and felt nothing at all.
University of Arkansas professor Kathryn A. Sloan teaches history and Latin American studies. She’s done much of her fieldwork in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the Mazatec cultivate salvia, and is acquaintanced with its use among native people.
“From what I know, it’s always been used by curenderos (traditional healers) in healing and divination,” Sloan said. “When it’s sold in a package at a gas station, that’s ridiculous.”
Taking a sacred and powerful hallucinogen out of its cultural context can be dangerous, she said.
Leander Jerome Julian Valdes III wrote a doctoral dissertation on salvia in 1983 while at the University of Michigan titled, “The Pharmacognosy of Salvia Divinorum: An Investigation of Ska Maria Pastora.”
Valdes wrote that salvia is one of three hallucinogens used by the Mazatec. It is used by apprentice curenderos to initiate them into the spiritual world before using stronger substances such as morning glory seeds or psilocybin mushrooms.
In 1962, amateur researcher R.G. Wasson and the father of LSD, Albert Hoffman, took a trip to Mexico and experienced first-hand the effects of salvia.
Valdes quotes from their experiences and says the effects were variable but seemed psychoactive.
“The inebriated state that Gordon Wasson and my wife had experienced with (salvia) had been shallow and only of short duration, yet it had exhibited a distinctly hallucinogenic character,” Hoffman wrote.
‘Easy to Snap Out Of It’
Anna, a Washington County woman, has smoked salvia twice. She asked that her last name not be used because of salvia’s controversial nature.
“It’s definitely a close-your-eyes experience,” she said. “It’s easy to snap out of it.”
She described the experience as being like in a waking dream. Colors were sharper, and her vision distorted slightly. She said she never hallucinated, but could see things when her eyes were closed.
The first time she smoked it, the effect was mild, almost imperceptible, she said. The second time she smoked it, while inside her home, she said she had the feeling she was around a campfire in Africa.
Eric, who also asked that his last name not be used, said his first experience was very disappointing. Nothing happened, he said.
Like Anna, it worked the second time.
“The time it was working, it was freaking awesome,” Eric said. “It’s definitely not a party drug, though. It would pull you out of the experience with people talking.”
Eric said he laid down on a couch with his eyes closed and experienced a childhood dream about a playground he grew up near.
“I broke from reality,” he said.
The experience was pleasant. Something he would try again, he said.
Both people said the experience lasted only a few minutes.
Eric said after the dream-like experience, his motor control was impaired for a half hour longer.
“You shouldn’t drive on this,” he added as he described salvia’s effects.
In January 2006, a 17-year-old Delaware boy named Brett Chidester killed himself. The medical examiner listed salvia as a contributing factor.
Chidester bought salvia online and his death was a leading reason the Delaware legislature criminalized the drug through “Brett’s Law.”
Delaware Senator Karen Peterson introduced the bill that made salvia and its extracts illegal. She told several media sources at the time that keeping the drug legal gives people the perception that is harmless.
It is not, she has said.
At a conference last month on underage drinking put on by the Fayetteville Police Department, there was a session for law enforcement officials to talk about trends in drug use among young people.
The law enforcement personnel were from all over the state. A handful mentioned concerns about salvia and frustration about its legal use among young people.
“What is it,” one visiting law enforcement personnel asked.
“Salvia,” answered the police officer.
The majority of law enforcement seemed to have never heard of it before.
Cpl. Craig Stout, a Fayetteville police spokesman, said salvia wasn’t something he had heard of before.
Stout asked a school resource officer at Fayetteville High School about salvia. The officer told Stout a school administrator once contacted him after finding salvia in the possession of a student.
The school resource officer told the administrator that it was a school matter, not a legal one, because salvia isn’t regulated in Arkansas. Stout said the police department is focused on illegal drugs and until salvia becomes illegal, Fayetteville police aren’t monitoring it.
Just don’t take it to Missouri.
What is Salvia?
Salvia divinorum, also known as Diviner’s Sage, Magic Mint or Maria Pastora is an herb sold in the United States that can cause hallucinations. It is traditionally used by the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico, who use the herb for ritual divination and healing. The active constituent of salvia is salvinorin A. Currently, neither salvia nor any of its constituents, including salvinorin A, are controlled under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
In the U.S., plant material is typically either chewed or smoked. When chewed, the leaf mass and juice are maintained within the cheek area with absorption occurring across the mouth lining. Effects can appear as soon as 30 seconds and can last 30 minutes.
Studies have reported the effects as:
- Perceptions of bright lights, vivid colors and shapes, as well as body movements and body or object distortions.
- Dysphoria, uncontrolled laughter, a sense of loss of body, overlapping realities, and hallucinations.
adverse physical effects may include a lack of coordination, dizziness, and slurred speech.
Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
Salvia’s Legal Status
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency considers salvia a drug or chemical of concern and monitors its use. While the federal government has not made the substance illegal, a number of states have made possession a crime.
In 2005, Louisiana made it illegal to purchase or distribute salvia. Both Delaware and Missouri have added salvia and salvinorin A into schedule I of the states’ drug regulations. Schedule I substances have no medical value, have a high potential for abuse and are illegal.
In 2006, Tennessee and Oklahoma passed legislation on Salvia divinorum. Maine and North Dakota have also recently passed legislation controlling Salvia divinorum and/or salvinorin.
On Jan 1, 2008, the Illinois General Assembly made salvia and any extract of the plant a schedule I drug.
Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Illinois General Assembly
YouTube users have done much to spread salvia’s buzz online, fueling the controversial plant’s popularity. Simply typing the word “salvia” into a search bar brings up about 4,260 videos submitted by the public. Those depicted in the videos are often teenagers or young adults. Many of the videos are comedic — young people laughing and trying salvia for the first time to mixed effects. Often they seem to play up the effects for the camera or their peers.
“It’s like everything’s made out of pudding, except for it’s clear pudding because it’s air,” says one laughing girl depicted in a video after apparently trying salvia for the first time. www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4-XAcxOqkI
Other videos are darker, showing people with clear discomfort on their face, or wide-eyed confusion. In “Guy Gets Tricked into Smokeing[sic] Salvia, a man appears clearly disoriented and panicked after he presumably smokes salvia at a festival in a park. www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHqKS8ap9Ss.
One video, described as a short student documentary, gives some background on salvia and appears to chronicle three volunteers’ experiences of smoking the substance for the first time. www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwH1AvKtdcw.
Source: Staff Report