Herb Sparks Interest As Legal _ For Now _ Hallucinogen Associated Press - August
31, 2001 http://www.psycport.com/stories/associatedpress_2001_08_31_-----_9315-2702-LegalHallucinogen..html
MALIBU, Calif. (AP) - A Mexican plant that contains the most powerful natural hallucinogen known is being sold legally over the Internet and is drawing the interest of medical researchers and law enforcement.
Anecdotal accounts of use of the herb, called Salvia divinorum, describe hallucinogenic trips that make the user feel like an inanimate object or worse. You've heard of watching paint dry, how about feeling like paint drying?
``I don't know anyone who has ever taken it and said, 'Gee, that was fun,''' said Dr. Ethan Russo, a Missoula, Mont., clinical neurologist and expert on psychotropic herbs.
The plant's effects can vary from mild to extreme, making even regular users wary.
Experts said interest in the plant, a member of the sage family, springs from its use as a ritual herb by an Indian tribe near Oaxaca, Mexico. Other hallucinogens, like the South American brew ayahuasca, have similar followings.
``People get captivated with the idea of using hallucinogens as a way of connecting with the spiritual world as used in indigenous cultures,'' said Jim Miller, curator and head of the applied research department at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.
For now, the hallucinogenic plant is legal and is commercially grown in its native Mexico, as well as in Hawaii and California. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration is reviewing it.
``We are gathering information on it to see if it needs to be controlled,'' said Rogene Waite, a DEA spokeswoman in Washington.
Some, like Russo, find it an intriguing resource for exploring the brain's chemistry.
How Salvia divinorum produces its hallucinogenic effects is unknown, since its active component, Salvinorin A, does not work on any neurotransmitter sites affected by other hallucinogens, including THC, the active component of marijuana. Nor does it contain nitrogen, which makes Salvinorin A unusual as a psychoactive molecule.
``We don't know much about its toxicity - we just don't know much about it, other than the experiences that many report, which don't sound very pleasant,'' said Dr. Alan Trachtenberg, who works for the substance abuse office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
No federal laws govern the plants, even though, by weight, the active component of Salvia divinorum is more powerful than that found in peyote, psilocybin mushrooms or any other natural hallucinogen, Russo said.
Although related to the sage used in cooking, Salvia divinorum is an entirely different plant.
There is no evidence that use of the hallucinogen is increasing, according to the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment in Rockville, Md. Nor do drug treatment experts report problems with people abusing the little-studied plant.
``We don't know much about treating it because we don't have people showing up with an addiction to it,'' said Trachtenberg.
Indeed, most of those who do try it apparently never repeat the experience, doctors said.
``It's not pleasant in anyone's conception that I have ever spoken with,'' Russo said.
The drug's effects last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour and more. During that time, users can lose all perception of reality. Salvia users and foes alike emphasize it should never be taken while alone.
``It seems to be something that completely alters - and not in a completely happy direction - people's consciousness,'' Trachtenberg said.
Traditionally, the leaves of the plant are chewed by Mexico's Mazatec Indians during ritual ceremonies to produce mild hallucinations.
In contemporary usage, however, users exploit the plant's potency by smoking its dried leaves or ingesting extracts in tincture form, which boost its effect by allowing it to be more readily absorbed by the body.
When taken in that way, Salvia divinorum can produce extremely intense hallucinations.
Daniel Siebert, an amateur botanist in Malibu who grows, sells and uses the plant, collects subjective ``trip'' reports on a Web site. He said users can feel as if they have merged with inanimate objects. One person reported feeling like fresh paint as it was spread on a wall.
``It's definitely not something people can do very often, because the effects are very profound,'' said Siebert, 40, who uses the plant every two months on average.
Russo, the clinical neurologist, said he hoped the drug was not outlawed.
``That would be crazy on numerous levels - first, we don't even know how this stuff works,'' Russo said. ``It's possible Salvia and Salvinorin A can lead us to a better understanding of our own neural chemistry.''
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Last updated: 09/09/2001 - 11:32 PM