No One Is Suggesting Salvia Made Him Do It—Except Us


A recent New York Times story about Jared Lee Loughner's fondness for the psychedelic plant Salvia divinorum begins with a statement that clearly is not true: "No one has suggested that his use of a hallucinogenic herb or any other drugs contributed to Jared L. Loughner's apparent mental unraveling that culminated with his being charged in a devastating outburst of violence here." In fact, prohibitionists such as conservative commentator David Frum, Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid, and Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens were quick to blame Loughner's crime on "marijuana and other mind-altering drugs." And the Times, despite its opening disclaimer, immediately lends support to this theory:

It is striking how closely the typical effects of smoking the herb, Salvia divinorum — which federal drug officials warn can closely mimic psychosis — matched Mr. Loughner's own comments about how he saw the world, like his often-repeated assertion that he spent most of his waking hours in a dream world that he had learned to control.

Salvia is a potent but legal drug marketed with promises of producing a transcendental spiritual journey: out-of-body experiences, existence in multiple realities, the revelation of secret knowledge and, according to one online seller, "permanent mind-altering change in perception."

Mr. Loughner, 22, was at one point a frequent user of the plant, also known as diviner's sage, which he began smoking while in high school during a time in which he was also experimenting with marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and other drugs, according to friends. Mental health professionals warn that drug use can both aggravate and mask the onset of mental illness….

It remains unclear what, if any, role salvia played in shaping Mr. Loughner's views. But the shootings have once again drawn attention to a drug that — for little more than the cost of a pack of cigarettes and without the hassle of showing a driver's license — a growing number of young people here and throughout much of the country are legally buying and using.

If these paragraphs do not suggest that salvia "contributed to Jared L. Loughner's apparent mental unraveling," what function do they serve? And while "it remains unclear what, if any, role salvia played in shaping Mr. Loughner's views," that uncertainty does not stop the Times from suggesting that mass murder might be one side effect of smoking salvia—yet another reason to be concerned about its legal availability.

There is nothing at all "striking" about the similarity between the salvia experience and a waking dream. The same could be said of many psychoactive substances, especially psychedelics. As for the warning from "federal drug officials" that the effects of salvia "can closely mimic psychosis," that is what they say about every drug they do not like, especially psychedelics. In fact, an old-fashioned synonym for psychedelic ("mind-manifesting") is psychotomimetic ("psychosis-imitating"), which reflected the belief that scientists could learn about psychosis by studying subjects under the influence of drugs like LSD, since both states feature perceptual changes, "disordered" thinking, and hallucinations (although psychedelic users do not typically experience true hallucinations, since they usually recognize that the drug-induced visions are not real). But the superficial resemblance between psychosis and a psychedelic trip tells us nothing about the alleged role of salvia in Loughner's "mental unraveling," let alone the general risks of using the drug.

In my 2009 Reason article about "The Salvia Ban Wagon," I showed how alarmist press coverage like this New York Times story had encouraged state laws prohibiting sale and possession of the drug.

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  1. But the shootings have once again drawn attention to a drug that ? for little more than the cost of a pack of cigarettes and without the hassle of showing a driver’s license ? a growing number of young people here and throughout much of the country are legally buying and using.

    It’s so nice that the Times could take a break from pointing blame for the shooting at “violent rhetoric” so that they could…point blame at drugz that you can “get without a driver’s license”.

    I am so tired of the media. They have become the scum of the earth, wallowing in the filth with the politicians.

    1. “Have become”? It’s not really a recent thing, dude. They’ve been the scum of the earth at least since the days of Pulitzer and Hearst.

      1. OK, “are” rather than “have become”.

        1. You should use the stand by scare story’s “a growing number”, or “increasingly”.

          Beat ’em at their own game.

          1. Holy shit! The article linked above actually says “a growing number”, sweet.

            Didn’t see that before.

  2. Salvia is a potent but legal drug marketed with promises of producing a transcendental spiritual journey

    And there are companies which make “herbal” pills marketed with the promise of making your dick enormous.

    1. Please tell me more.

    2. Comment has been flagged as spam

  3. It remains unclear what, if any, role salvia played in shaping Mr. Loughner’s views.

    But that won’t keep us from our sacred duty of hysterical finger-pointing.

    And we don’t know for certain if his use of the drug led him to purchase a Glock semi-automatic bullet-spraying pistol, but we will always believe it did. And if you were as wise as we, you’d believe that, too.

    1. I believe the technical term is “Bullet-hose.”

      1. You call, Sug?

      2. High-powered, automatic, high-capacity, military-style, sniper assault weapon capable of spray-firing hundreds of Teflon(tm)-coated, armor-piercing, cop-killing bullets across playgrounds and taking down airplanes from up to a mile away. From the hip. And equipped with a shoulder thing that goes up.

        I’ve actually seen MSM reports of 22 mm handguns and 9 caliber guns. As if we needed any further evidence that the vast majority of journos don’t have the first fucking clue about guns.

        1. Not like us swinging dicks.

  4. he spent most of his waking hours in a dream world that he had learned to control.

    Wait, are we talking about Ben Bernanake or Harry Reid?

    1. ->Bernanke. I obviously haven’t learned to control *my* world.

    2. Ben Bukkake Harry Reid? Ah, life is but a dream.

  5. They obviously don’t know anything about this drug. Anybody who has smoked salvia knows that even if you get a good hit you only get a the full effect for a couple of minutes. You would need to take a hit while driving down the highway to do any damage to anything.

    1. It’s also *not fun*. No euphoria, total blitz of unreality mindfuck, but total red herring. It’s short lived dissassociative nightmare crazy world and does not affect perception of reality. Mushrooms on the other hand…


      1. Shrooms be crazy. They’re responsible for both the most euphoric and the most terrifying moments of my life.

    2. Bullshit! Is there any evidence that Salvia causes psychosis? No, I didn’t think so. I’ve used this drug, its not any different than other psychoactive compounds. Apparently there is some evidence that if the user is already pre-disposed to psychosis, or is already psychotic, then these types of compounds can exacerbate symptoms or encourage psychotic episodes.

      1. I’m fairly certain you meant to reply to the post below.

        1. ChicagoSucks,
          If this was a response to my post. It is also consistent with it…So I am unclear what is “bullshit”. Exacerbate symptoms in a paranoid schizophrenic, for instance, and you may end up with violence that would otherwise not have occurred. While psychosis raises the risk of an individual committing homicide…that rise in relative risk appears to be mediated by drug abuse.

    3. That’s what occurred to me too — he would have essentially needed to take a big bong rip of salvia immediately before the shooting to qualify as “under the influence” of something so short-acting.

  6. Wait…is the premise here that the article got the facts wrong? The epidemiological evidence makes it pretty clear that a combination of psychosis and drug abuse dramatically raises the relative risk of a person going on to commit homicide.

    I don’t see anything in the portion of the article above which implicates the drug beyond that…crazy people doing drugs are often violent and dangerous…even if crazy people, in general, are not dangerous.

    1. “The epidemiological evidence makes it pretty clear that a combination of psychosis and drug abuse dramatically raises the relative risk of a person going on to commit homicide.”

      1. Don’t have it with me here…but I provided a link on a couple of previous threads on this topic…you shouldn’t have to search back too far.

  7. Why is it so rare for people to acknowledge that the causal connection probably goes the other way: drug use is one side effect of psychosis.

    1. THIS. I have always argued than people who have a tendency for psychosis are often drawn to drugs, particularly marijuana and psychedelia. Drugs don’t make you crazy, but they can prime and ignite your crazy.

      The dumb thing about this article is implicating salvia. Pot and shrooms are far superior reinforcers of the crazy paranoid thoughts lurking in the corners of the schizo mind. This is just an excuse to BAN SALVIA NOW!


    2. Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs.

    3. It’s cyclical.

    4. drug use is one side effect of psychosis.

      It’s called “self medicating” in the biz.

    5. Or that drugs are just fun and/or interesting and a whole lot of people in all stations in life use and enjoy them?

  8. Let’s see:

    We’re not saying right wing rhetoric caused the massacre, but the right wing should shut up anyway.

    We’re not saying the availability of handguns caused the massacre, but there should be more gun control anyway.

    We’re not saying all mentally ill people are dangerous, but we should have laws allowing us to lock them up anyway.

    We’re not saying violent video games or heavy metal music contributed to Loughner’s condition, but we..well, we kinda are saying that.

    We’re not saying salvia had anything to do with Loughner’s condition, but we should outlaw salvia anyway.

    We’re not saying ANYTHING actually caused Loughner to massacre people, but we’re pretty sure the incident gives weight to OUR position on any number of things.

    1. It’s amazing how much stuff these people want to ban/control/restrict. It’s everything.

      1. I heard that at night, HE SLEPT IN A BED!!!

      2. It’s not that surprising if you consider progressivism as one of the earliest forms of fascism.

      3. They don’t want to ban the things that they want to make mandatory.

    2. Looks like you’ve got a solid understanding of the left’s position on the issue.

  9. It’s unclear how many, if any, sheep the NYT staff fuck daily…..

    I can do it too!

    1. Well constructed innuendo. You’re a natural!

      1. “We will probably never really know for sure whether the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 was on Jared Lee Loughner’s mind as he took aim on that fateful day in January. The fact remains, however, that the Act raised U.S. tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods to record levels.”

    2. “It’s unclear how many, if any, sheep the NYT staff fuck daily…..”


  10. It’s like the old saying, “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

    If you ask the SPLC whether Loughner was influenced by right-wing extremism, the SPLC will swear that he was.

    If you ask the Brady Campaign whether lax gun control contributed to the tragedy, they’ll say “Of course it did!”

    If you ask Mothers Against Drunk Driving their opinion, they’ll tell you the incident proves that drunk driving is very bad.

    Organizations with one-track minds are very scary.

  11. A day or two after the shooting, everyone’s favorite radio ranter, Michael Savage, was telling me with absolute assurance that it was salvia that cause Loughner to go apeshit. Dr. Savage was so certain of it that you would have to be a complete moron not to see the obviousness of that cause and effect.

    The dulcet tones of Savage’s ethnobotanical knowledge coming through my car speakers was like a siren song, leading me crashing right into the truth of what he was saying.

    1. “The Complete Book of Homeopathy: The Holistic & Natural Way to Good Health,” Garden City Park, N.Y.: Avery, 1989
      I’d pass on suggestions by the author of that book. Yep.

    2. Hah, I never listen to Savage, but I’m pretty sure I caught part of that episode just flipping through channels in the car. It’s sort of humorous to get a slight glimpse of that mentality every now and then.

  12. “it remains unclear what, if any, role salvia played in shaping Mr. Loughner’s views,”

    This is why we have the government we have today. The media largely cannot function– that is their brains are simply wired– to find institutional fault with every tragedy that happens.

    There is no individual action. There is no simple explanation to describe the actions of one disturbed individual in a free society: a society that allows you to say what you want, exercise your 2nd amendment rights because your bizarre behavior did not meet the requirement that you lose said rights.

    There are only institutions which guide human behavior, and those institutions have holes that must constantly plugged and policed by a central authority.

    1. “it remains unclear what, if any, role salvia played in shaping Mr. Loughner’s views,”

      What disturbs me about that sentence is the suggestion that they believe drugs, alone, could influence someone’s ideology, as opposed to their emotions or state of mind. Buh?

      Well, maybe they know something we don’t. [/conspiracy lunatic]

  13. Mental health professionals warn that drug use can both aggravate and mask the onset of mental illness….

    If drug use can mask the onset of mental illness, isn’t that good? Because wouldn’t you have to act non-crazy to mask being crazy? Yet Health Professionals (TM) warn us about this?

    1. If drug use can mask the onset of mental illness, isn’t that good?

      I think the keyword is “mask”. You’re still sinking into psychosis, but during the moments you’re high, the symptoms aren’t readily visible… for a while, and only while you’re under the influence.

  14. Man! They’re banning shit I’d never even heard of. Salvia, 4Loko.

    1. That drug-fueled fugue state in which you keep yourself has you missing out on so many new sources of fuel for your fugue state.

  15. Makes me wonder what would happen if you mixed caffeine and salvia.

    1. You’d get Loughner Loko.

    2. Nothing, probably. You’re so far away from reality on salvia that feelings like “alert” and “hyper” are completely irrelevant. Figuring out which way is up and why you’re flowing into the couch are much higher priorities.

      Salvia blows.

      1. You can’t blow salvia! Enjoy your sinus infection.

      2. Sounds pretty damn good to me…I need to try that shit before it becomes illegal and I risk my security clearance just for flowing into my couch.

  16. I am pretty sure you get a free Glock semi-automatic when you buy Salvia!

    1. One could use the barrel of a Glock to smoke salvia. Could Loughner have been trying to get people high but in his drug addled psychotic state murdered them instead? Our experts say it may well be true.

  17. It seems to me that Loughner targeted Giffords only because she is the congresswoman for his district. Had nothing to do with her party. With that, one wonders how the media would have reacted if is congresscritter was a republican? What if he had shot McCain? NYT and Olbermann probably would be saying, “we don’t condone what Loughner did, but McCain had it coming”.

    1. If it had been a Republican, clearly it was just a disturbed individual ala John Hinckley, Jr, or Squeaky Fromm.

  18. Everyone is pointing the blame at everything except the real problem…Government. Get rid of all governments, and these crazy incidents will reduce dramatically.

  19. “And the Times, despite its opening disclaimer, immediately lends support to this theory”

    They did that with “right-wing rhetoric” too. They’ve adopted the “I’m not a racist, but [racist statement]” mode of discourse as SOP.

    Granted, anyone who wonders whether the NYT is worthless need only consider that they regularly publish the writings of Thomas Friedman.

  20. Thanks for this. I had similar thoughts about that article but your statement here is concise and makes good points about broader views of “hallucinogens.”

  21. NY Times to DEA –

    Yes, you can cum in my mouth.

  22. While I have contempt for those who jump on any “ban wagon” at the drop of a hat, I am curious about the role salvia may have played in the fairly obvious disintegration of Loughner’s grip on reality.

    Loughner’s friends and girlfriends from his mid- to late-teens describe him as fairly normal and functional — capable of holding relationships and completing schoolwork. But in a short number of years he transformed from this normal, social kid with a grasp of reality to a loner psychotic who creeped out most people that he encountered. How did so much damage happen so fast?

    This is not to say that I am sure salvia played a role, or even that I am X% confident that it did. I’m just curious about it, and I believe this curiosity is rational and justified by the facts.

    LSD almost certainly played a role in the Manson Family, helping Charles Manson in his efforts to induce psychosis in his followers. And drugs that simulate psychosis have apparently caused permanent psychosis in a small subset of vulnerable people who showed no signs of mental illness prior to taking the drug. (This has happened with overdose, repeated use, and on rare occasions even just one typical use.)

    Do we really know enough about salvia to be confident that it did not play a role in Loughner’s psychosis? If it did, could we not perhaps learn something about this presently mysterious subset of people who don’t react like the rest of us to drugs like LSD? Could “salvia +” perform in a similar way as “LSD + Manson ideology” did on alienated young adults? The similarities are far from superficial.

    Wouldn’t it be best to investigate the issue (rationally, of course, with no secret agenda toward a predetermined course of action) rather than strike the pose that any possible connection between psychosis and drugs that induce psychosis is so ridiculous that it deserved to me mocked?

    Well, perhaps I am psychotic for expecting any discourse that is not infected by ideology (whether reflexively anti-drug or reflexively pro-drug), even from a publication titled “Reason.”

    1. Drink!

      But to seriously respond, I’ve used Salvia. I’m not psychotic, as far as I know. Yeah, it should be studied. However, the real thrust of the NYT position is to ban (or at least severely restrict) the plant now, based on the mere suspicion that it might have played a role in the history of one psychotic murderer. Legitimate study progresses infinitely more slowly and with more difficulty under a ban than it does otherwise. Cannabis and LSD are clear examples of this. For a cultigen with centuries of ties to human use like Salvia, we should presume it to be safe until we have clear evidence otherwise.

    2. I don’t think anyone here would object to clinical research on salvia or any other drug. Learning facts doesn’t hurt anybody.

      Sullum’s response is not to the academic theories about the interplay between drug use and mental illness, or to further research. His response is to the false pretense of neutrality and the smug paternalist outlook displayed in the NYT piece.

    3. even from a publication titled “Reason.”


      The reason that no one is investigating the link between psychedelics and homicidal behavior is because there is no statistically significant correlation between the two. You have chosen two cases, that while horrific and noteworthy, don’t represent the vast majority of drug users.

      These media hyped “tragedies” are outliers, but they grab your attention, so that is what you remember.

      …Also, most schizophrenia presents in young men roughly around Loughner’s age(some later,and more earlier). Pre- onset symptoms, which can be hard to detect, can show about 2 years prior. Not to mention the various supposed causes of the disease, which vary depending on the expert being asked. The cause is a very complicated interaction between different hereditary factors and the environment.

      So, yes, someone can be a relatively normal person through their adolescence and by their mid 20s be ‘crazy’; drugs or no drugs.

      1. “These media hyped ‘tragedies’ are outliers, but they grab your attention, so that is what you remember.”

        Actually, Manson’s use of LSD on his followers was systematic and used on a large number of people in his clan. We’re not talking about the random effect of a drug on just one person with an unusual brain chemistry.

        We can see the difference between mere “induced psychosis” and “induced psychosis + LSD” in the difference between Scientology and the Manson Family. Scientology uses similar coercive techniques (Manson studied Scientology just before starting the Family), but there is a limit to what Scientologists can be manipulated to do. There was virtually no limit to what Manson Family devotees would do for Charlie. The evidence strongly suggests that LSD was instrumental in the destruction of reality-perception, ego and will in Family members.

        Agreed on “the vast majority of drug users” point, but I think it’s a straw man. As far as I can tell, nobody at all in this debate is claiming that all, most or even many users of salvia will become psychotic killers after smoking it. It’s a given that we’re talking about an exceptional case (Loughner).

        At question is whether salvia played a role in Loughner’s psychosis and whether that matters. Reason’s position seems to be: It’s silly to think that it did, and anyway it doesn’t matter, and talk like this can lead to regulation, so stop talking about it.

        1. We must keep our terms straight, Freddie. I wouldn’t say that Manson devotees or Scientologists are experiencing “psychosis”. They could be described as brainwashed or persuasively coerced, but not psychotic.

          The methods for ego suppression on the Manson scale need not involve drugs at all. The question of whether or not drugs helped Manson control his followers is an academic one. That people could be put in a state like that without drugs is proven. For every acid soaked murdering hippie there are many more that use starvation, abuse, and other coercive measures to ensure an obedient flock.

          Manson’s family didn’t kill because of the drugs, but rather because Manson ordered them to kill. Did the drugs make Charlie a murderer? Possibly, but I think he was killer who got his kicks by making nice white kids do his dirty work. Not to say he wouldn’t have done it himself eventually.

          These mass killers, though they all show similarities, are each a data set of one. The causes and conditions that led up to their murders are singular, and great danger comes from making too many generalities.

          So the NYT does with a hammer what should be done with a scalpel. With their sleazy supposedly journalistic tone(we’re just asking questions here) comes the inevitable call for legislation. As libertarians we have seen this all to often. Look for “Christina’s Law” that bans large magazines, or salvia, or being insane, or whatever so that in the future we can prevent tragedies like this. Until the next one.

          Have you taken LSD(or any other hallucinogen), and if so; did your experience inform your judgement on such matters?

    4. Typical onset of Schizophrenia occurs in the teenage/young adult years (average of 18 years old in men and mid-20’s for women). It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a “normal” high school teen would turn into a paranoid psycho in a short number of years.

      1. Have to acknowledge this as the best argument against salvia’s involvement. Clearly, if Loughner never did any drugs of any kind, the pattern of his behavior would still match the known typical pattern for the onset of schizophrenia. What happened to Loughner doesn’t require any further explanation than the obvious.

  23. How long before the DEA Emergency Schedule Ones Salvia after an article like this – frankly I’m surprised they haven’t done so already.

    1. When I first heard of people doing salvia in the 90s I thought that it might be legal for a year or two more max. That it has made it this long is a miracle.

      Is the DEA in the pocket of big sage.

  24. If it saves just one life….ya know

  25. Frum is as much a conservative as Bill Maher is a libertarian.

  26. Pothead convicted of insanity-induced crimes…;h=bfd7c

    CALGARY ? Withdrawal from marijuana triggered a psychotic episode in a pot head who went on a crime spree which included sexually assaulting a woman, a judge has ruled.

    Provincial court Judge Marlene Graham, in a written decision released Tuesday, found Yvon Joseph Larocque was legally insane at the time and therefore not criminally responsible.

    “I find … the accused committed the acts that formed the basis of each of the offences charged,” Graham said.

    “But he was at the time suffering from a mental disorder, so as to exempt him from criminal responsibility,” she said.

    Larocque admitted causing a traffic collision before breaking into two Calgary homes, in on of which he sexually assaulted a woman, and in another he molested a young boy.

    But he had little recollection of the Oct. 17, 2006, events which occurred just weeks after he had stopped taking marijuana so he could continue his relationship with his girlfriend.

    Larocque, then 41, was a habitual, daily user of marijuana with no criminal record, who abruptly stopped smoking drugs two to three weeks prior to a “series of strange and violent events,” Graham said.

    She noted his girlfriend, Ling Li, testified Larocque began behaving bizarrely shortly after he quit doing drugs after she gave him an ultimatum.

    Medical testimony showed that by the time Larocque broke into the two homes he was suffering a drug-induced psychosis which rendered him incapable of appreciating what he was doing.

    In the first break-in Larocque, believing he was God, told a woman he was her husband and they were going to make love.

    “He believed that woman was given to him … he believed he was God,” Dr. Yuri Metelitsa testified last year.

    “He was experiencing command hallucinations … voices telling him what to do,” Metelitsa said.

    After fleeing the woman’s Saddleridge home, Larocque entered another residence, laid down on top of a young boy and kissed him.

    Graham ordered Larocque, who is free on bail, to appear before a provincial review board to determine a disposition, which will likely involve further treatment.

  27. I’ve notices that the media in general likes to pretend that they “dont count” as advocates or political participants in the political discussion. So when teh NYTimes says “nobody” is suggesting something, they mean that no “real” participant such as a lobbyist, official, politician, or public figure is saying it. They exclude things the media itself is saying because the media isn’t supposed to “exist” as a patyiciant in the dicussion. They are just supposed to be mediating the information flow.

    Of course, any moron can tell that they ARE particpants, and they certainly DO shape the debate, and even do so intentionally, as part of what they consider their public mission to “educate” and “inform”.

  28. Salvia doesn’t just “mimic psychosis” researchers have now proven it CAUSES psychosis, sometimes in a single use.What part of that discovery is so very hard for you to understand?

    1. Naturally you would be able to cite the peer reviewed paper where you read this claim. Right?

  29. If you believe salvia divinorum should remain legal in the State of New York, please consider signing this petition. THANK YOU!!…..ork-state/

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