NC Lawmakers Consider Law against Salvia Divinorum

Salvia divinorum has already been outlawed in 14 states, including California, Virginia and Florida. Now North Carolina lawmakers are considering a law to make the state the fifteenth to ban the herb.

The Salvia divinorum plant is a member of the mint family and was used in traditional religious rituals by Mazatecs Indians in Mexico. In the mid-1990s, it started appearing for sale in head shops for as little as $14.

College students in North Carolina generally smoke the herb to enjoy its hallucinogenic properties without the worry of the criminal penalties (and need for a criminal defense attorney) associated with other drugs. However, a bill has now been proposed in the state legislature that would make Salvia divinorum a Schedule I drug. As a Schedule I drug, the penalties for the sale, use or possession of Salvia divinorum would be equivalent to those imposed for the sale, use or possession of drugs such as LSD or heroin.

State Sen. Bill Purcell, a retired pediatrician, introduced the bill. Although he says he does not have reason to believe the herb is being widely abused, he is concerned about undocumented reports of people who have become violent or suicidal after smoking it.

Purcell’s thoughts about Salvia divinorum may be fueled, in large part, by videos users have posted on the Internet. A search on YouTube easily finds hundreds of videos featuring people smoking the hallucinogenic herb.

Salvia is currently regarded as a “drug of concern” and is being studied by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. So far, few reliable studies have been done regarding the use and effects of the drug.

Bryan Roth, a professor of pharmacology at UNC-Chapel Hill, told The News and Observer he has begun studies on Salvia and chemical derivatives of the herb to see if they could be used to develop anti-psychotic drugs. He believes his research could help people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, depression and schizophrenia. Roth says that a law making Salvia divinorum illegal in North Carolina would halt his research.