A bill passed by the state Assembly, now in the state Senate, would make selling the hallucinogenic drug salvia to anyone under the age of 18 a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Salvia divinorum, not to be confused with the ornamental plants also called salvia, has gained popularity among high school and college students in recent years.
The drug, an herb in the mint family native to Mexico, is legally available to people of all ages in California.
Though the high from the salvia leaf by itself, whether smoked or chewed, is relatively short-lived and mild, the drug is much more commonly used in a concentrated form that has far stronger hallucinogenic effects, such as out-of-body experiences.
Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, introduced the legislation to restrict the sale of salvia to minors. His bill would allow law enforcement to stop the spread of salvia before it becomes a greater source of drug abuse among teenagers, he said.
The drug Salvia divinorum has very dangerous and potentially life-threatening consequences, he said.
Adams expects the bill to arrive at Gov. Schwarzeneggers desk in a few months.
It is important to distinguish between salvia leaves chewed by natives and the chemically concentrated form that can increase the drugs potency by 10 or 15 times, said Dr. Charles Grob, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
A small dose of the concentrated form of salvia induces a unique hallucinogenic state unlike that caused by other hallucinogens, he said.
When you smoke the potentiated plant, people experience a very, very bizarre state. They become very dissociated, they have out of body experiences, they merge with the floor or a piece of furniture. People become very frightened, agitated or confused, said Grob, who has studied hallucinogenic drugs.
Grob said that though he in no way recommends salvia use, he is not convinced making it illegal to minors will protect them, because he said an underground market with less quality control will emerge.
What I do support is better efforts at education and research. We know very little about this, he said.
Compared to other recreational drugs, the medical effects of salvia are not well-understood, Grob added.
Because of this, according to a statement from Assemblyman Adams office, some opponents of restricting access to the drug worry it would hinder scientific research on medical uses of salvia.
But Adams said the risks posed by salvia, such as losing of control of ones body, are too great to postpone the legislation.
The long-term effects are not known, but the short-term effects are all too evident, he said.
Dr. Howard Samuels of Wonderland Treatment Center in Hollywood Hills testified before a Senate committee in Sacramento last week, and he sees firsthand how salvia, often in combination with other drugs, affects lives. He strongly advocates making salvia illegal.
It is so unpredictable and dangerous that you actually need someone to sit with you to make sure you dont harm yourself, and yet this drug is legal, he said, adding that by allowing salvia to remain legal, the federal government and the state government is saying this s safe, which is a joke.
Matt Nazareth, cofounder of the UCLA chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a group that advocates for students who have lost financial aid because of drug-related crimes, said that though his organization has no formal policy on salvia, he expects members of his group would support Adams bill.
Being under 18, you really arent prepared for any drug at all, especially a psychoactive one that messes with your mind a lot like salvia does, he said.
Salvia use among college students and teenagers is part of a larger drug abuse problem our society needs to address, Samuels said, adding that drug abuse should not interfere with education.
Thats not why people are supposed to go to college, thats not one of the reasons people are supposed to go to high school, but thats one of the issues that every kid that goes to college or high school has to face, he said.