At U. Arizona, Salvia Users, Opponents Speak Out

This story was written by Adam Curtis, Arizona Daily Wildcat

Justin Irvine is a clerk at a University of Arizona areasmoke shop.

"I tried it twice and nothing happened. Then on the third time, I lost my mind for about 15 minutes and swore off it forever," Irvine said of his experience with the drug that is becoming more and more popular among college-aged youths.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has been studying whether or not to schedule Salvia as a controlled substance for over 10 years, but Anthony Coulson, assistant special agent at the Tucson office of the DEA, believes it will be controlled on a national level within five years.

Coulson said that even though Salvia is sold in small amounts, it "does have serious side effects" and "not to play with this stuff."

According to a report by the New York Times, 13 states have either banned or controlled the drug in some way. Public awareness has also heightened about the drug due to more than 5,000 YouTube videos depicting users experiencing the effects of Salvia. This has led to an increase in interest in the drug from both people who might try it and from people who want to ban it.

In 2006, a 17-year-old Delaware student committed suicide while under the influence of Salvia. The parents of the student found comments in his journal that they claim linked the drug to his belief that existence is pointless, according to the New York Times report.

Alhough the "absence of sound judgment" is one of the serious risks of taking Saliva, there have been very few calls to UA Poison Control Center from users reporting problems from taking the drug, said Jude McNally, managing director.

McNally attributes this to Salvia's very short duration, meaning that "bad trips" end before people call for help.

He noticed a 300 percent increase over the past 18 months in the number of inquiries about Salvia that the Poison Control Center receives.

The majority of these calls are strictly informational and come from a wide variety of people, including concerned parents, law-enforcement officers, students and teachers, McNally said.

The effects of Salvia vary from person to person and also based on the potency of the drug, he said.

Salvia can either be sold in pure leaf form or, more commonly, in extracts that range from five to 100 times more powerful than the original leaf, Irvine said.

"A lot of people, the first couple times they try it, don't really understand the proper way to use it, so it doesn't work the way it's supposed to," Irvine said, "so a lot of people do try it a few times" in order to get the full effect.

After they get the full effect, "about two-thirds of people decide they don't like it at all and never want to do it again," he said.

Many users report feeling overheated, itchy, uncomfortable, being tugged in a certain direction or feeling disassociated from different parts of their body, said Brett, a senior at UA who agrees that Salvia is not something he would want to do again.

Nathan, a former UA student, took Salvia at a high school baseball game and experienced mild hallucinations followed by a severe headache, which lead him to label it a "pointless drug" and never do it again.

While Nathan and Brett wished to remain anonymous due to the negative connotations of the drug, they agreed to share their personal experiences and impressions of Salvia.

Nathan said he knows at least 20 people who have tried the drug. Nsone of them continue to use it or has used it more than five or six times in their life, he said.

Though some assert that the level of interest in Salvia has increased in Tucson, there is no evidence that te level of use has changed significantly in the past five years, Coulson said.

As Salvia becomes a hot topic in mainstream media and on the Internet, more and more people are finding out about it. This means that more people are asking questions about it, trying it for the first time and trying to get it outlawed, Coulson added.

A local smoke shop manager, who chose not to be identified, noted that sales have remained fairly consistent until somebody writes a story about the drug. Then sales pick up for a while before normalizing.

Salvia is getting much more coverage in the media than it used to, Nathan said, which could contribute to its apparent rise in popularity.

Though Salvia is legal in Arizona, McNally reminds students that it is a largely unstudied substance and that taking it recreationally is taking a huge unknown risk.

Salvia may promise a brief euphoric effect in small doses, but "I don't see where it is worth the risk," McNally said.