The salvia scare

Federal government moving to ban psychedelic herb

The federal government is moving toward banning the sale, production and possession of Salvia divinorum based on the potential long-term effects on youth users. Cindy Titus

The Canadian federal government is moving towards banning the sale, production and possession of salvia divinorum, stating concern about the lack of knowledge regarding the dangers or long-term effects of using the hallucinogenic substance.

Shelly Glover, Member of Parliament for St. Boniface, said the concern began in 2008 when Health Canada asked questions about salvia in its Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS) and the Youth Smoking Survey.

“Some of those results came back in 2010 (and indicated) that there has been a spike in people aged 15-24 in using salvia as a hallucinogenic,” said Glover.

According to the 2009 CADUMS, 1.6 per cent of Canadians reported using salvia in their lifetime and 0.2 per cent reported use in the past year. 

The number of youth aged 15-24 who had used salvia within their lifetime was 7.3 per cent and 0.5 per cent of adults reported having ever used the substance.

Glover, a mother of five children, said another reason for concern is the recent number of YouTube videos demonstrating first-time user reactions to the herb.

Among the most famous is the December 2010 video of pop singer Miley Cyrus using the substance.

“I know that kids are influenced by other people their age or celebrities,” said Glover. “It’s our responsibility as the government to take proactive measures to keep our children safe.”

It bothers me that 13-year-olds can walk into a store and buy salvia.

Matthew Dod, seasoned drug user

Matthew Dod, a seasoned spiritual drug user, agrees with Glover on keeping kids away from the substance, but does not see a need for a salvia ban.

“I think salvia is one of the least dangerous drugs that we’ve seen,” he said. “Sure, it puts you in a vulnerable state for a little while, but so does alcohol.”

Dod, who has tried salvia, explained that most people use it only once because of the intensity of the experience.

He said that within the first five minutes that a person is typically under the influence of salvia, there can be bursts of uncontrollable nervous laughter, hallucinations and strange sensations of feeling pulled or pushed. 

He believes that the short active time frame of the substance makes it less dangerous than other drugs, but he would be more comfortable with an adult experiencing the sometimes frightening hallucinations than a teenager.

“It bothers me that 13-year-olds can walk into a store and buy salvia,” he said. 

The Joint Head Shop on St. Anne’s Road is one of the only places in Winnipeg that salvia is available for sale, other than on the Internet.

Store owner Bartosz Stras is not concerned by the situation.

“I don’t think it’s dangerous,” he said. “It’s sold as an incense product, not something to be inhaled – but yes, people will abuse it.”

He said that the product, which is priced between $40 and $70, is not as popular as people may think. If it is banned, it will not greatly affect Stras’s business.

“Health Canada governs us in that right and they govern what we can sell as an herb,” he said. “If they want to ban it, then we’ll comply.”

Still, Glover thinks that shop owners should take more responsibility for the products they sell.

“$69.99 is pretty expensive incense, don’t you think?” she added.

Published in Volume 65, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 10, 2011)

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