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"Hallucinogen's Popularity May Thwart Medical Use":
The New York Times has this very interesting story. For some videos of folks on the hallucinogen in question, go here.
Not My Usual Name:
I smoked Salvia in college. It was very, very intense, but a short-lived experience. It was also very non-social. A personal experience.

I don't see how it could have any long-term appeal. It's not a "party" drug, and it tends to make people nontalkative and antisocial after using it just once.....it's kind of a Debbie Downer.

For me, I hated it. Absolutely hated it. I felt physical pain after smoking it (hot lines burning through my body) and a very, very unsettling disconnection from reality. I would never touch it again. . . but from what I have read, it's otherwise harmless, and should therefore not be regulated by Big Brother.
9.9.2008 3:53am
Hoosier:
Of course, *I* first read it as "saliva." 'Cause I ain't too bright.

And, wowsers, the guy in the picture looks like Dave Grohl.
9.9.2008 7:26am
TruePath (mail) (www):
So the thing with Salvia is that you need to smoke it VERY FAST. If you just smoke it slowly the way you would weed or the way a careful reasonable person might it tends to just make you feel a bit weird. However, if you smoke a whole bunch of the 10x extract as fast as you can you will sometimes get an EXTREMELY intense experience. I tried about every (well discounting the weird Shulgin chemicals that are too obscure/uninteresting to make it into the market) drug there was back in my college days (except DMT ) and by far Salvia gave me the most intense experiences I've ever had.

Usually the really intense experiences seemed to occur when I had also had some weed or especially when I had done some acid. When it hit me strongly I would find myself totally unable to comprehend the world around me (e.g. i couldn't remember anything about my place in the world or whether it was people or couches who went around and did things or even language...wonder if that is how it feels to be a newborn). The strongest experience ever was on LSD as well and it left me with the totally convincing feeling that I'd experienced an entire lifetime as someone else while on the drug (e.g. my soul had gone and done such and such). Of course this was merely a drug fueled perception not reality. Those dippy people who take a hallucinagen and then become convinced that what they felt tells them about god/reality/dippy idea X rather than being the result of being chemically altered give people who try hallucinagens a bad name.

In any case Salvia is not a party drug by any means. It isn't even very fun. For all I was into experiencing being as high as humanly possible at that time in my life (but only occasionally since I still had to do my massive caltech workload) salvia just wasn't very pleasent. Not only is the high itself merely weird rather than pleasant and left an awful after feeling for about an hour. Frankly Salvia use is a direct consequence of criminalizing LSD and other hallucinogens. I know I would probably never have tried it if it wasn't one of the few powerful drugs one could buy legally. LSD is probably the safest and one of the more pleasant hallucinogens and by making that illegal you push them to more dangerous drugs.

Not that Salvia is particularly (acutely) dangerous (no idea if chronic use has problems...but it's not a chronic sort of drug). This NYT article is a perfect example of the sort of fallacious reasoning and emotional blindness that created the idiotic drug policy we have today.

I mean the fact that people lapse into incoherence is hardly a good justification to ban something. What's going on is that people who have never used drugs, particularly these types of drugs, don't understand what is going on and it thus frightens them. I mean to many people who haven't tried this sort of thing it seems perfectly plausible that if a drug can cause you to lose that much control it might also cause you to think you're in a video game and it's okay to shoot your friends. Also, many people simply have a very deep fear of that extreme loss of control which plays in even when they see other people doing it. Of course we should really be making these conclusions based on the statistical evidence but it's fear and emotional salience that really determine votes.

Also this illustrates one of the other major phenomena in drug perception/regulation: the family member desperate to find some outside factor to blame. Now Salvia use may or may not significantly increase the likelihood of depression but if this guy was taking Salvia several times a week he almost certainly was smoking out of a desire to escape the unhappiness he already felt. Now in the case of suicide the grieving family members are desperate to believe that there was nothing 'wrong' with their relative and that it wasn't loneliness, too much pressure, or other factors they might feel responsible for. If your child is miserable/depressed many people would feel responsible for this (whether true or not) or at least responsible for not realizing but if it was just the drug then it's easier to say it wasn't the way you treated them.

Frankly, I think it's awful journalism to even mention these grieving family members. These are individuals who have every reason to be biased in their beliefs but whose opinions resist reasoned refutation. It seems impolite at the least to tell some grieving relative that they are/may be wrong about the deceased not being unhappy before the drugs and possibly make them feel worse. At the very least it is negligent to mention these anecdotes without offering ones about alcohol for comparison.

Sigh, add these factors to the 'I can't let my mom hear me defending that' factor and I have little optimism about reforming drug laws to something more rationally based.
9.9.2008 7:54am
Kirk:
Regarding the closing line of the article:
How do you make policy in the absence of good hard cold information?
Clearly Dr. Madras has never been a legislator.
9.9.2008 8:43am
Kirk:
I should add that, despite her job title ("a deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy"), she's not much of a bureaucrat, either. :-)
9.9.2008 8:52am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
So if people are self medicating that means Drs. can't use a drug?

When are they going to apply that rule to aspirin?
9.9.2008 9:29am
Curt Fischer:

For some videos of folks on the hallucinogen in question, go here.


I did and the results were, for the most part, not pretty. The one guy who has the whole series of videos is kind of entertaining, though. "Driving on salvia"..."Gardening on salvia"... It's somewhat amazing to me how quickly the effect seems to wear off. In the span of a 3-4 minute video, the guy gives his setup pitch, takes his hit, rapidly devolves into semi-consciousness, wakes up, and finishes the video with some kind of one liner.
9.9.2008 11:17am
Hoosier:
It's somewhat amazing to me how quickly the effect seems to wear off.

It appears to be like nutmeg. Short buzz, and definitely not worth the hangover.
9.9.2008 11:41am
Kirk:
I am amazed at the quick response of some of these legislatures; and depressed at the thought that decades into the future all these passed-in-haste measures will still be bloating the law with their presence.
9.9.2008 11:48am
scosm:
This was my favorite line in the article.


At a legislative hearing near Dallas in August, Mr. Anderson argued that by not banning salvia, governments were communicating that it is benign.


Now that is a great way to legislate!
9.9.2008 12:21pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
TruePath:

could you expand on that?
9.9.2008 1:28pm
tdsj:
In the summer of 2001, the Times ran an article on salvia. The gist was basically: "hey, check out this new drug -- people say it's great, and it's legal! You can buy it online!"

Needless to say, I ordered some immediately. sagewisdom.org.

I tried a couple different ways -- extract under the tongue, also smoking. I found the whole thing to be pretty worthless. It did something... just nothing very fun or interesting for me. Seemed sorta like a scam to me -- lots of puffed-up claims about dramatic effects and mystical experiences, but a far more banal reality.

On the whole, if I want a very short and meaningless high, I'd prefer just to have a cigarette.
9.9.2008 2:08pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
What I find most peculiar is the point of view that underlies the headline. It isn't actually the drug's popularity that is interfering with medical use; it is the bizarre reaction of legislators who move to ban a drug as soon as it comes to their attention, without any evidence that it is a danger to society.

As people who have tried it say, it isn't likely to become a party drug. It isn't addictive, and doesn't produce the kind of effects that make it really attractive to lots of people.
It strikes me as rather similar to peyote, another drug that is neither dangerous nor likely to become widely and frequently used. I have eaten peyote. It does produce mild hallucinogenic effects, but it does not make you high at all. It is very bitter and not pleasant to eat and makes most people nauseated. The idea that if peyote were freely available people would start using it widely is insane.
9.9.2008 3:47pm
Connie:
I thought salvia was a sugar substitute. No, really.
9.9.2008 3:47pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
What I find most peculiar is the point of view that underlies the headline. It isn't actually the drug's popularity that is interfering with medical use; it is the bizarre reaction of legislators who move to ban a drug as soon as it comes to their attention, without any evidence that it is a danger to society.

Drug policy is one of those areas where we really are Puritans-- the definition of a Puritan being someone who is consumed with the thought that someone, somewhere, might be having more fun that they are.

You can see this in the medical marijuana debate. The objection to marijuana vs., e.g., Marinol is that pot is actually pleasurable. Apparently, there's some rule that someone made up that one's medicine cannot be pleasurable.

This story contains the same elements.
9.9.2008 3:56pm
Christopher M (mail):
It's pretty ridiculous to try to make policy, or even form an opinion of a psychotropic drug's effects, based on videos of people under the drug's influence. The whole point of this kind of drug is that there's a whole lot more going on in the user's head than is externally manifested. I haven't used salvia, but I've used other hallucinogens and dissociatives -- and I've seen videos of myself taken while I was tripping. Unsurprisingly, I looked and sounded kind of silly, and mostly just like I was slighty dim. The internal experience, of course, is nothing like this. It can be interesting, scary, transcendent, or painful. The basic parameters of human existence (self, the flow of time, one's sense of being situated within that flow, etc.) can all change in interesting ways while one stares blankly into the middle distance. I'm not making an argument about drug policy here, just noting that videos of people using psychotropic drugs are an awful source if you want to get a sense of what they're like and why people would use them.
9.9.2008 5:03pm
Frater Plotter:
I thought salvia was a sugar substitute. No, really.

That's stevia.

Mistaking one for the other will have consequences possibly not as serious as mistaking oil of wintergreen (which is poisonous) for wintergreen extract (minty flavoring), as Gourmet magazine once did.
9.9.2008 8:04pm
corneille1640 (mail):

Drug policy is one of those areas where we really are Puritans-- the definition of a Puritan being someone who is consumed with the thought that someone, somewhere, might be having more fun that they are.

Homer Simpson: Isn't marijuana illegal?

Dr. Hibberd: Only for people who enjoy it.
9.9.2008 9:37pm
Bill McGonigle (www):
Connie: Stevia.
9.9.2008 11:18pm
Fub:
Christopher M wrote at 9.9.2008 4:03pm:
It's pretty ridiculous to try to make policy, or even form an opinion of a psychotropic drug's effects, based on videos of people under the drug's influence. The whole point of this kind of drug is that there's a whole lot more going on in the user's head than is externally manifested.
But that might require a legislator to do something beyond his intellectual capability, like read a 40 year old law review article.
9.10.2008 8:20pm