Ever since the scandalous video of Miley Cyrus taking bong hits and “tripping out” hit the web, sales of a South American plant, called salvia divinorum, have jumped and L.A.-area head shops have reported many customers asking for “the stuff Miley was smoking,” according to TMZ.
Now, many of you may be wondering what salvia is. Well, known as salvia divinorum, this leafy “houseplant” is a highly-potent relative of sage and mint plants. But unlike its spicy cousins, salvia leaves are sold as a legal alternative to marijuana because of the hallucinogenic effects people can experience from smoking it.
Nicknamed Sally-D, Magic Mint and Diviner's Sage, salvia is smoked and looks similar to marijuana. It is a hallucinogen that gives users an out-of-body sense of traveling through time and space or merging with inanimate objects. Unlike hallucinogens like LSD or PCP, however, salvia's effects last for a shorter time.
In a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins, they report that the effects of salvia are “surprisingly strong, brief and intensely disorienting.”
The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, involved four paid healthy volunteers – two men and two women – who had taken hallucinogens in the past. The researchers found the effects of salvia began almost immediately after being inhaled “with a peak of strength after two minutes, and very little effect after 20.” But, the more you inhale the drug, the more powerful the results are.
Researchers said they were particularly “struck” by the reaction of two of the volunteers who rated the strength of a high dose of salvia “as strong as imaginable for this drug.” They pointed to the fact that it was unusual for people with prior “hallucinogenic experience” to report such results. And even though heart rate and blood pressure were unaffected during these experiences, the researchers warn smoking salvia could be “disastrous” especially if someone was driving while on the drug.
“With salvia, the subjects described leaving this reality completely and going to other worlds or dimensions and interacting with entities,” Matthew W. Johnson, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, said in a news release. “These are very powerful, very intense experiences.”
We’ve been warning America’s youth about the dangers of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, LSD and even heroin for decades, but in this rapidly-advancing world of technology we live in, teenagers are getting more creative, finding new ways to get high with herbs available online – and worst of all: it’s perfectly legal. But at what cost to their health?
In 2008, a federal survey found almost 2 million people have admitted to using salvia to get high in this country alone, and 3 percent of men aged 18-25 said they’d used it in the past year. The problem is that we don’t know enough about salvia to determine the dangers posed by smoking it. What we do know, is that in animal studies, salvorian A, which is the active compound, has unique effects on the brain, according to researchers, and some experts believe a modified form of it may lead to treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain and drug addiction. But remember, the form of salvia that people are smoking is often a highly-concentrated version of the drug, which can lead to risky behavior, in some cases, with devastating results.
A study published in 2006 in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teenagers who had used herbal products, even dietary supplements, were six times more likely to have tried cocaine and nearly 15 times more likely to have used anabolic steroids than those who have never used an herbal product.
Currently, the Drug Enforcement Administration has included salvia in its list of “drugs and chemicals of concern,” but in most states, it still remains legal.
So in the meantime, parents, it’s up to you to stay vigilant and be the DEA agents by making sure this highly hallucinogenic substance doesn’t end up in the hands of your children. If it does, there's no telling what could happen.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.