Big Dig Draft: Salvia: The Strange World Of Legal Highs

by Myles Tanzer

Fifty-two worn out playing cards were laid out around a cup that was quickly being filled up with beer. The ten kids sitting around the cards picked them off one by one and followed the rules of the game they were playing, it’s called Kings and it’s common to the college set.

After going through about 50 cards, the floor was far stickier than it was before – the crowd was much more drunk. Everyone was done with Kings now, so Cody pulled out a 2 inch wide plastic blue case and got to work. He filled the apartment’s communal bong with fresh water and stuffed the chamber with ice cubes. He packed the bowl with the stuff from the case, filled up the tube with milky smoke, and then inhaled. A moment later the twenty year old was transported to a world where he was seven years old and lost in New York City. This isn’t reefer madness, this is the strange and legal world of Salvia.

Salvia Divinorum is a hallucinogenic herb mostly imported from South America and Mexico. Although it’s in the mint family of plants, it’s generally regarded as having a bad taste when smoked. It is usually, and best, smoked through a bong, and when done right the user experiences about 15 minutes of hallucinations, laughter, and a feeling of getting “pulled.”
Scientists have yet to find any long term or short term major negative effects of Salvia but it is starting to get banned state by state. So far about 10 states have banned Salvia, including Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. A gram of 20x Salvia extract is goes for about $40 and can be found at pretty much all head shops nowadays and even at places common places like gas stations.
Salvia’s entrance to mainstream culture is largely due to the surfacing of a video of pop star Miley Cyrus smoking the herb on the gossip website TMZ. But owners of shops that sell Salvia have said her “endorsement” of the drug hasn’t done much for Salvia sales. A guy who only goes by the name of Mad Dog, the proprietor of St. Marks Place jewelery and smoke shop Dots N.Y., said that since the Cyrus video hit the web sales haven’t changed one bit. “She’s a teenager that got a little high,” he said, “so what.”

But Salvia gives its users more than an average high. The manager of Addiction NYC, another store on St. Marks Place that sells Salvia, says that “you can’t do this stuff everyday. It’s not like weed where you can smoke it everyday.” And users of the drug agree.

An NYU sophomore named Matt smoked salvia for the first, and only time, in his friend’s basement during his Sophomore year of high school. They used a toy block converted into a pipe to smoke. He inhaled the smoke and held it in much like Cody did. But then something strange happened. Matt explains, “Then I fell to the ground, I lost control over my body. From then on, I don’t really remember what happened but I was having this seizure on the ground – like shaking. When I came out of it, I could remember where I went and I know that it was a different world. If felt like I was in a different place, a different reality. For the next half hour, I was back in my basement but I was still stoned and I was coming out of this other reality and I was just so convinced that I was in the wrong place.”

This sense of being misplaced in a universe is something that some users experience. Cody thought he was lost in an alternate New York. A 19 year old friend of Matt’s named Jimmy smoked salvia on a beach and imagined a world where he had a wife and kids. The comedown was filled with tears as Jimmy thought he had lost a lifetime and his loved ones that seemed so real.

With such strong reactions to it, Salvia evokes strong opposition from Anti drug groups and politicians. John Flanagan, a New York State Senator from Long Island, has especially strong feelings against the drug. He stepped up his campaign against Salvia after it was reported that Arizona shooter Jared Loughner was a user of the drug. Flanagan has been advocating for the ban of Salvia since 2005. He has had a few measures passed but the laws haven’t taken into effect.

Flanagan issued a public statement after the shootings that said “our state should use this as a warning and ban this substance as soon as possible.”

But previous users of the drug, even though they don’t even like it, don’t think that Salvia should necessarily be banned. Matt said, “Other people do it and they have fantastic experiences from it so I don’t want to take away that feeling from other people.” But Cody thinks of the users in a different way, “It’s more of a novelty thing for people to say they’ve done it. I don’t think it’s about the experience for a lot of people.”

After Cody’s “novelty” was over he looked around the room and picked up the bong. He asked with a wide grin, “Anyone else?”


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