Could not authenticate you.followers
The drug salvia gained much publicity in December after teen pop star Miley Cyrus was allegedly smoking it from a water pipe in a video posted on YouTube. Salvia, a hallucinogen which has effects similar to LSD, is made from an herb that commonly grows naturally in Mexico and South America. It is sold openly and legally at many smoke shops and souvenir stores on Hollywood Boulevard and other places, and is a growing concern amongst federal law enforcement officials.
Salvia is legal in California, however, and is not a controlled substance under federal law. Rusty Payne, a spokesperson for the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), said people should be aware of the dangerous effects of salvia. The DEA classifies it as a “drug of concern”, and the agency is currently studying the substance for possible inclusion on the federal list of controlled substances.
“We think it is bad stuff,” said Payne, who is based in Washington D.C. “It’s a plant that produces hallucinogenic effects, and just because it is not illegal under federal law does not mean it is safe. We think people should stay away from it, we don’t think it is safe.”
Federal legislation to outlaw salvia was introduced in 2002 by Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA), but the bill was ultimately dropped after being considered in various committees. Payne said that neither the federal government or state agencies keeps track of statistics involving overdoses or crimes related to salvia, and he added he is not aware of any deaths caused by the drug. Payne said salvia is most commonly smoked, but there are leaves of the plant available for use in tea, and orally as a liquid. The drug is sold in different concentrations, and its effects vary depending on the dosage. Payne said salvia has not yet been tested thoroughly by the U.S. food and Drug Administration, but federal officials are currently in the process of initiating testing and research. He said the process for having a drug placed on the list of federally controlled substances is lengthy, and requires significant coordination by the DEA, the FDA and the Health and Human Service Department. Although the process of studying the drug has begun, there is no timeline for completion, and once the study is complete, it must be vetted by Congress before becoming law.
“There are a lot of different factors that go into this,” Payne said. “We have to be sure that this will stand up in court, so we have to make sure that our research and the science is legitimate. We look at the substance’s use, it’s potential for abuse and other factors. It’s a long process that is very meticulous.”
Salvia, scientifically known as Salvia divinorum or salvinorin A, is a member of the mint family of plants. According to research conducted by the DEA, it produces hallucinogenic effects, but is different than LSD and similar drugs in that it stimulates different portions of the brain. The effects are also much shorter with salvia — anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes depending on the dosage — compared to several hours with LSD. According to a report by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health published in 2008, it is estimated that 1.8 million people ages 12 or older have used salvia.
Some states have passed legislation regulating the sale possession and use of salvia, including Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Virginia. Other countries that have regulated the drug include Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Sweden. Former California State Assemblymember Anthony Adams had proposed legislation to ban salvia, but that bill also failed, and no other state legislation is currently pending. Ron Owens, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, said the department has not completed any studies on salvia and added that the drug is “not on our radar.”
Local law enforcement officials with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also said salvia is not considered to be a problem, other than if someone were to be caught driving under the influence of the substance, according to Lt. Lawrence Del Mese, with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station.
“There is so much going on here [in West Hollywood] that I haven’t heard about any major problems involving salvia,” Del Mese said. “The problem would occur if we had someone driving under the influence of it, which would be treated like any other situation of driving under the influence of drugs. It may not be illegal, but if someone is driving while impaired, that would be illegal.”
Det. Burt Feldtz, head of the narcotics unit for the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, said he is aware that salvia is widely sold at shops on Hollywood Boulevard, but added that there is nothing the police can do to prevent the sale and use of the substance. Feldtz added, however, that salvia “is scary stuff,” and said it is something that deserves closer evaluation.
“In Hollywood, we see a lot of weird drugs like LSD and everything else, as opposed to some divisions within the city where they primarily deal with marijuana or cocaine,” Feldtz said. “I don’t know much about it, but [salvia] doesn’t sound good. They say it gives you a euphoric feeling for about 30 seconds, and it is sold in a lot of the hookah clubs. It appears at this point to be more of a curiosity.”
Salvia can be purchased at several shops in Hollywood, and some openly advertise it their front windows. It is available in a variety of concentrations at Black Myst, a smoke shop and hookah lounge located at 6702 Hollywood Blvd. Srinivas Pakthasarathy, an employee at Black Myst, said salvia has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, and said the only harmful effects are caused by the carcinogens that occur when the substance is smoked and inhaled. He said customers must be 18 years old to purchase salvia, and they do not allow it to be smoked on the premises. Pakthasarathy added that he has seen an influx of people seeking to buy salvia since the Miley Cyrus video was made public, and said the customers range from teens and young adults to people in their 50s and 60s. Prices range between $11 to $160 per gram, depending on the concentration level. He added that the recommended use is to smoke the drug at home in a dimly lit room, because it can bring on a dream-like state that lasts for a several minutes.
“The question is, ‘what is an acceptable drug, and what is not acceptable?’ Salvia is no better or worse than anything else, like alcohol or cigarettes, but those are legal,” Pakthasarathy said. “It is not to be consumed in public and we tell people that. It has been used for eons for medicinal purposes, and now people use it recreationally. You can get it at any of the smoke shops on Hollywood Boulevard.”
Payne added that people should be very cautious about salvia, and that it will likely someday be illegal throughout the United States.
“It’s bad stuff, you shouldn’t do it, but there is nothing we can do about it right now,” Payne added. “It’s frustrating because people think we can just wave a magic wand and make this stuff illegal, but it’s a long and complicated process, and we are not at that point yet.”
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.