Legal hallucinogen concerns policeJanuary 17, 2007
Legal hallucinogen concerns police
by David Hutton
Saskatoon police are concerned about a legal hallucinogen sold in hemp stores and on the Internet, but local users defend the powerful herbal psychedelic as a mind-altering but safe trip.
The herb is Salvia divinorum, known more commonly as Salvia, magic mint or the diviner’s sage. It’s an unregulated hallucinogen that is legal to possess, distribute and consume in most places in the world and can be bought over the Internet or in hemp stores. In Canada, Salvia is not regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but it is banned in Australia. Several U.S. states are considering a ban.
Saskatoon police admit they haven’t had any specifi c problems with Salvia and can’t do anything about it, but they say it may only be a matter of time before something happens.
"Stores shouldn’t be selling it to anybody, period," says Sgt. Jerome Engele with the Saskatoon police integrated drug unit. "It’s legal and that’s a problem.
Unless drugs have some kind of medicinal purpose, they shouldn’t be sold. It’s caused epileptic seizures and put people in comas in other places.
"Stores that sell the stuff should be held liable if anyone is injured as a result." Health Canada has been monitoring the national and international trend of Salvia use but says the long-term effects of the hallucinogen are unknown.
According to Health Canada, it has been known to cause unconsciousness and short-term memory loss, but the department is not aware of any dependency.
"If it ever came to the point where there was an infl ux of use and police and health-care professionals said this substance posed a threat, then we would take appropriate action," says Health Canada spokesperson Jason Bouzanis.
"For now, we’re continuing to collect relevant information specific to this substance." Salvia has been used for hundreds of years by the Mazatec indigenous people of Mexico for spiritual trips and is usually chewed or smoked. Around three years ago, it made its way into commercial sale in Canada. It gives users a short but powerful hallucination, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes.
Dr. Bryan Roth, director of the psychoactive drug screening program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, says Salvinorin A, Salvia’s active hallucinogenic compound, is unique and activates a different brain receptor than other drugs, such as LSD. He says that causes a "profound effect on the human consciousness." The price of Salvia ranges from $15 to $150 in stores and on the Internet, depending on the potency.
"It’s a religious-type experience," says Kerry Kunka, owner of B.O.B. HeadQuarters, a hemp store on Broadway Avenue. "It slows you down and gives you a chance to really experience yourself.
"In western society we’re getting out of touch with the spiritual part of life.
There are two ways to look at society and some people don’t want to see freethinking in the world and want everyone to conform." A student user in British Columbia described the experience of using Salvia as "reality shattering" and says he "found God" on his lunch break.Kunka says his store only sells Salvia to people 18 or older and includes a warning label that tells users they may experience mild headaches and insomnia.
The store sells roughly fi ve or six grams of Salvia a week, according to Kunka.
"It’s not a party drug," says an employee at B.O.B. HeadQuarters, who says he’s tried Salvia around 10 times. "I always warn people not to trick friends into smoking it.
"I don’t agree with Salvia being banned. That’s only going to force it underground and create a black market."