Salvia: Dangerous and Frightening

Salvia: Dangerous and Frightening

A powerful hallucinogenic herb that is sold legally in the majority of the United States is gaining popularity among teenagers and young adults. It can be ground up and smoked like marijuana, but produces effects similar to those of LSD. A member of the sage family, Salvia contains a potent hallucinogen called Salvinorin A. Dr. Bryan Roth, a biochemist and neuroscientist at Case Western Reserve University, says it is “the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogenic drug.”

Researchers have found that Salvinorin A works in the same location in the brain as morphine and other opioids. “What we found is quite remarkable and unprecedented among naturally occurring drugs of abuse,” Roth said. “This compound seems to have absolute specificity for a single receptor site on the brain.”

People under the influence of salvia can experience frightening hallucinations, and their emotions can rapidly change. “Even experienced hallucinogenic users say that the effects of Salvia divinorum are qualitatively and quantitatively different than any other hallucinogenic that they have ever taken,” Roth said. “It appears to cause an experience that we have dubbed ‘spacio-temporal dislocation.’”

This means that if the dose is strong enough, users feel as though they have been transported to a different time and place, something many first-time users find too intense and frightening. “Most people who do it hoping to have just an interesting high find it confusing and disappointing,” said Daniel Siebert, who has done extensive research on Salvia. He worries that teens and young adults will assume it provides a high similar to marijuana, when it is in fact as potent as LSD. Many people who smoke or chew Salvia don’t like it and won’t do it again, but many risk-taking teens will still try it.

A handful of states have banned Salvia and many others are considering bans, but legislation to make it a controlled substance has failed twice in Congress. As a result of early studies that suggest that research on Salvia and Salvinorin A could lead to new drugs that could be used to treat Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, some scientists are worried that classifying Salvia as a Schedule One drug of abuse could slow or halt their research. But most people agree that the drug needs to be regulated.

Regardless of the herb’s future, it is imperative to educate people about the dangers of Salvia—parents should talk to their kids about this drug and its negative effects, and explain that it’s much more frightening and undesirable than it might initially seem.

Source: NPR, David Schaper, Scientists See Research Value in Salvia, May 2009


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