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“It makes things that are bothering you become clear,” says Mazatec Garden’s Jeffrey Bottoms. Some users report that salvia relieved their depression or helped them break bad habits. A 2001 case report in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology described a 26-year-old woman whose chronic depression disappeared after she started taking small doses of salvia three times a week. Arena Ethnobotanicals CEO John Boyd says he tried to give up cigarettes many times over the years and finally quit the week after his first salvia experience. Doblin notes that Canadian Quakers who have used salvia during meetings “felt that it deepened the silence and made people speak more from the heart.”
Although Siebert does not put much stock in spiritualism, he recognizes that other salvia users see their experiences in religious terms. “It seems so real that people often interpret it at face value and think they have actually had some kind of spiritual journey,” he says. “I don’t personally believe that’s what is really going on. But that doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful for people.”
By contrast, Worcester County, Maryland, Commissioner Linda Busick is sure a salvia experience cannot possibly be meaningful, at least not in a good way. “It’s supposed to be inducing spiritual growth,” Busick scoffed in a 2008 interview with the Salisbury Daily Times. “It’s certainly detrimental to anyone who uses it. I don’t know of any beneficial effects that it has.” Van Ingram, the Kentucky drug control official, is on the same page. “Anything that makes you see visions or things that are not there,” he told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer last year, “is hardly harmless.”
Anything? As Boire notes, “The visionary state goes back millennia, and it cannot be prohibited. Every night we enter into a visionary state. Every book you read, everything that goes through your sensory apparatus, creates a type of vision.” Doblin adds: “Seeing visions is the core of a lot of different religions, and whether that’s harmful or not depends on the context, the support, how people interpret the visions. Seeing things that are not there is not necessarily harmful. This whole idea that different is bad, that a change in consciousness is in itself harmful, is really one of the fundamental problems inherent in the drug war.”
Senior Editor Jacob Sullum (email@example.com) is the author of Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (Tarcher/Penguin).