Best-selling drug popular with all ages

By Emily Sokolik

An increasingly popular drug with the capacity to produce hallucinations, time distortions and spiritual experiences can be found at The Smoke Shack, 208 E. Green St. in Champaign. The drug is legal in Illinois.

Salvia Divinorum comes from a plant native to Oaxaca, Mexico and is sold as a hallucinogenic herb typically in the form of a dried, powdered leaf. The Mazatec Indians have used the drug for ritual purposes for centuries.

Salvia is one of the best-selling items in smoke shops across Champaign, said Ashley Cairel, The Smoke Shack employee.

“We have a hard time keeping it in (stock),” she said.

Salvia’s effects vary from one user to the next. Some experience relaxation, illogical thinking or uncontrollable laughter, according to the book “Divining Ecstasy: The Magical and Mystical Essence of Salvia Divinorum,” by Sean Shayan. For some, the experience can be intense and unpleasant. Effects may include severe loss of contact with reality or loss of consciousness. Some users report no effect.

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William, sophomore in LAS who asked to be referred to only by his first name to protect his privacy, was expecting a dramatic result from salvia. The drug did not live up to his expectations.

“The stuff we smoked was not that great,” he said. “My friend got really depressed and didn’t want anyone to look at him. I laughed a lot and couldn’t control my laughter.”

Since testing on the drug has been minimal, there is little known about the long-term effects of salvia, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Web site.

Salvia’s effects typically last between five and 15 minutes.

“It depends on your body chemistry,” Cairel said. “One out of four people won’t feel anything.”

The strength of the drug varies according to potency. First-time users are advised to begin with a low potency level, Cairel said. Unpleasant and frightening side effects can occur if too high of a dose is used.

The long-term effects are still being studied. Josh Gulley, professor of psychopharmacology at the University, said he was unaware of any studies dealing with the consequences of salvia.

“I doubt anyone knows,” he said. “It is rare for people to take this drug very often or for very long.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration, however, has begun to compile information about the potential harmful effects of the drug. Salvia can damage the lungs and throat since the substance is often smoked. High doses of the drug may lead to memory loss or unconsciousness. Like other psychoactive substances, salvia may increase the risk of schizophrenia. According to the DEA, the purity of the drug cannot be guaranteed given that salvia is unregulated.

USA Today reported Monday that parents of a 17-year-old blame their son’s suicide on the drug.

Presently, salvia is legal in all states except Missouri and Louisiana. Efforts are underway to outlaw the drug nationwide, said Vicki Lenahan, district director for Illinois State Sen. John J. Millner (R-28).

Millner introduced a bill to the state senate in January that attempted to add salvia to the list of illegal controlled substances. He pursued the bill after law enforcement officials approached him with concerns about the effects of the drug, Lenahan said. The bill has not been made into law, but legislative efforts are continuing to have the drug banned.

“I would think it’s going to become illegal,” Lenahan said. “I know there are probably some positive aspects, but it really has the potential to be serious.”

Many states are experiencing difficulties banning salvia because it might have a negative impact on research, Lenahan said.

Cairel added that salvia is difficult to test for because traces of the drug last in the bloodstream for a maximum of only 24 hours. Marijuana can be detected in the body weeks after use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“If you smoke it, tomorrow you can’t find it,” Cairel said.

Salvia is only available for purchase by those 18 and over in Illinois, but is popular with a wide range of ages.

“A guy comes in and uses it for his adult dinner parties,” said Cecille Isadro, employee at The Glass Dragon smoke shop, 628 S. Fifth St.

In Champaign, one gram of the drug ranges in price from $15.99 to $50, depending on the potency.