Drug Policy

How Hysterical Do You Have to Be for Newsweek to Suggest That You're Overreacting to a Drug Menace?

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This doesn't quite make up for Newsweek's anti-crack hysteria circa 1986 or its anti-meth hysteria circa 2005, but the magazine's latest issue includes a careful, balanced story about Salvia divinorum that could serve as a model for how the press should handle controversies involving psychoactive substances. Noting salvia's longstanding use as a Mazatec folk remedy, its modern use as an aid to introspection, and its medical potential, author Brian Braiker says media attention attracted by YouTube videos of teenagers smoking salvia "is spooking legislators and law enforcement" into banning the plant and arresting people for possession. A few excerpts:

Used in small amounts, salvia…contains no known toxicities. But when its extract is smoked in larger dosages, it can yield frightening results….

But is strict regulation the best way to deal with salvia? Obviously, any impairing agent could lead to accidents. But there have been no recorded injuries or deaths resulting from its use, as drug-reform activists like Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance point out. "Most people who do it don't want to do it again," says Nadelmann. The salvia panic "is essentially an extension of the old drug-war debate in that there's this knee-jerk reflex on the part of legislators to criminalize first and ask questions later, if ever. There's no stopping to listen to scientific evidence, no cost-benefit analysis of the effect the law would have." California wants to ban the sale of salvia only to minors, a move that Nadelmann supports….

Condemning the drug to Schedule I status (the same class as heroin or cannabis), as some legislators have suggested, would make it virtually impossible for the medical community to obtain for research. It seems that sober thinking is needed on both sides of the debate.

My previous post on "the salvia panic" are here, here, and here.

[Thanks to the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman for the tip.]