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Salvia Divinorum: Stronger Than LSD, And Legal

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009 Salvia Divinorum: Stronger Than LSD, And Legal

Inexcess reported back in October 2008 on the usage of Salvia Divinorum also known as psycho Sage. Anti-drug organisers are very concerned with the amount of images and videos on the internet in relation to the drug as reported in the Mail (06 04 09) by Philip Sherwell.

For the purposes of this report, we are going to look at a sound engineer from south London Lee Hogan. Picture a friend who kneels on the floor holding the stem of the pipe and uses a cigarette lighter to burn a tea-smelling herb. The herb glows red, and as it does so, Hogan places his mouth over the aperture of the pipe. He breathes in deeply, taking a lung-full of smoke.

Marijuana is smoked in a similar way, however this weed is far more potent and harmful and in the same context, a most powerful hallucinogenic herb known to man. It’s also perfectly legal.

After a few seconds Hogan leans back in his ‘chair and lets out a deep, slightly manic laugh. He hugs himself and starts to giggle. The giggle then transforms into a whimper, which, in turn, becomes a series of high-pitched squeaks. He is trying to talk, but makes no sense whatsoever. Then, mouth hanging wide open, he looks around the room. His eyes have glazed over and he doesn’t seem to know where he is. As he slowly manoeuvres himself in his chair, his head rocking from side to side, he looks like a man who has just been hit over the skull by an iron bar.’

It was indeed at this point that he confessess to imagine that he was a toy soldier carrying a rifle and dressed in a tall black hat, red coat, white trousers and black boots. His friends, known in salvia-speak as ’sitters’ – present to make sure that the user does not harm himself or others. They look like the enemy that has presented itself on his imaginary battlefield.

In just over a further minute, Hogan is falling out of his chair shuffling along the floor on his knees. He is also forty, one of the eldest salvia users in this country, he is also proud of his alternative existence.

Like thousands of others Hogan buys his product on the internet and he records his experiences for the video-sharing website YouTube.

Apparently this is the latest stage, watching young people out of their minds on salvia. In addition Titles such as Horrible Salvia Trip speak for themselves. ‘What we are witnessing is no less than the world’s first internet-driven drugs explosion,’ says Dr John Mendelson, a San Francisco-based clinical pharmacologist who is conducting medical trials into how the drug works on the brain.

Salvia, a genus of the mint family, is commonly referred to as sage and derives its name from the Latin ’salvere’ (to save), so called because of the herb’s ancient reputation for healing properties.

Growing to more than 3ft in height, Salvia divinorum (’sage of the seers’) has large green leaves and white flowers and is native to the Mazatec region of southern Mexico. The native shamans have for centuries chewed the plant’s leaves to induce visions as part of spiritual and healing ceremonies and it is know in the Mazatec language as ’ska Maria Pastora’ – a reference to the Virgin Mary that bears testimony to the fusion of traditional Indian customs and Roman Catholicism. It remained almost unknown outside the region until Daniel Siebert, a Californian ethnobotanist who was studying the use of herbs in spiritual traditions, came across the plant during his research in the Seventies.

Today, it is sold as an extract: the ‘10x concentrate’ is 10 times the potency of the unprocessed leaf. Prices for a gram on one British website range from £10 for the 5x extract to £35 for the 50x extract. In return, the website promises a whole range of ‘out of body’ experiences including: the sensation of travelling through time; encounters with divine beings; a flight over astral landscapes; and the chance to find some of life’s hidden answers and secret knowledge.

Research has shown that the herb could trigger serious psychiatric problems. ‘I am very concerned about the use and misuse of Salvia divinorum because it contains an active ingredient that can trigger hallucinations,’ says Professor Fabrizio Schifano, an expert in drug addiction based at the University of Hertfordshire. ‘For some vulnerable individuals, this may mean the onset of a psychotic episode.’

Kathy Chidester has no doubt that Prof Schifano’s fears are justified. Three years ago, her 17-year-old son, Brett, committed suicide after smoking salvia.

A straight-A student, Brett was at school in Wilmington, Delaware, and planning to study architecture at university. His relationship with his girlfriend was going so well that they were already talking of marriage. In late January 2006, he called her and suggested a picnic the next day as both had no lessons scheduled. But Brett never made the date – a few hours after the call, he zipped himself into a tent inside his father’s garage, lit a charcoal grill and asphyxiated himself.

Straight away, Mrs Chidester suspected salvia was to blame. ‘A few months earlier, one of his cousins had told me that he was smoking some weird herb,’ she recalls. ‘I looked through his computer history and found that he had been going online to buy salvia.

By her own admission, it was the first had ever even heard the name. ‘I confronted him. I asked him why he was doing it and he replied: “Mom, the shamans in Mexico have been using it for hundreds of years. And besides, it’s legal”. That was always the point he made, that it was legal.’ After Brett’s death, Mrs Chidester found a note that he had written on his computer about his salvia use. Read together with the end of his suicide letter, it confirmed her fears. ‘Once one surrenders the five earthly senses and the mind, they are free,’ he wrote of salvia’s effect (he used to smoke the 20x extract). ‘Salvia allows us to give up our senses and wander in… time and space. One bleak point remains to be established: Once we give up our senses and regard them as useless, we must also give up other things and regard them as meaningless… Also, and this is probably hard for most to accept, our existence in general is pointless when compared with everything else there is in existence.’

Brett’s suicide note was basically a ‘love letter’ to his mother, father, girlfriend and friends, Mrs Chidester said. At the end the handwriting went ‘weird and sloppy’ as he signed off: ‘How could I go on living once I had learned the secrets of life?’ The medical examiner subsequently listed salvia as a contributory factor on his death certificate. ‘A psychologist who analysed the suicide note told us that he was under the influence of a drug when he wrote it,’ his mother said.

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