Drug Policy

Warning: This Drug May Cause a Very Gentle Relaxing

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Last week The New York Times ran a surprisingly sane story about Salvia divinorum, the psychedelic herb that's been banned or restricted in 13 states. The lead departs from the usual approach of anti-drug propaganda drug policy journalism by describing a salvia trip that features "convulsive laughter" provoked by a vision of "little green men" in a boat, as opposed to psychosis, murder, self-mutilation, blindness from staring at the sun too long, or an accidental plunge from a multistory building. Another salvia user is "transported into a dream state..as if drifting down a rain forest river" with "a beatific smile spread lightly across his face." He describes the experience as "just a very gentle letting go, a very gentle relaxing." The Times is appropriately skeptical of claims that salvia can lead to suicide and sums up the drug's risks this way:

Though research is young and little is known about long-term effects, there are no studies suggesting that salvia is addictive or its users prone to overdose or abuse. Indeed, a salvia experience can be so intense, and at times so unsettling, that many try it just once, and even devotees use it sparingly.

Reports of salvia-related emergency room admissions are virtually nonexistent, likely because its effects typically vanish in just a few minutes.

The article, by Kevin Sack and Brent McDonald, notes that scientists are worried about legal restrictions on salvia, which could impede "promising research into its possible medical uses," such as "treatment of addiction, depression, and pain." Except for the obligatory reference to salvia's alleged street names ("Sally D and Magic Mint"), the piece is quite different from what we've come to expect when mainstream news outlets cover drug fads.

In May I noted another refreshingly calm salvia article in Newsweek. Other reason coverage of salvia here, here, and here.