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Salvia Divinorum: US Military Bases in England, Okinawa Say No to Sally D

US Marine commanders in Okinawa and US Air Force commanders in England have moved this month to ban salvia divinorum, the fast-acting, short-lived hallucinogen that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Although there is no general stricture against salvia in the US armed forces, the bans are the latest in a small but growing list of military bases or commands that have banned the substance.
salvia leaves
In Okinawa, Marine Corps Bases Japan issued an order banning salvia and other "legal highs" on September 10. The other substances included in the order were mitragyna speciosa korth, spice, blue lotus, convolvulaceae argyreia nervosa, lysergic acid amide, amanitas mushrooms, datura, absinthe, and 5-MEO-DMT. The order prohibits the use, possession, or distribution of those substances by Marine Corps personnel and base workers.

The new order builds on Secretary of the Navy Instruction 5300.28D, which prohibits abusing lawful substances, such as cough syrup, edge dressing and keyboard cleaner to produce "intoxication, excitement, or stupefaction of the central nervous system." Both the Navy order and Marine Corps Bases Japan order are general orders under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Violators face administrative action, court martial, or both, with a maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge, two years in the brig, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

The driving force behind the new order, officials stated, is to eliminate any uncertainty that substances used to "get high" are prohibited. They also cited fears that the drug use could alienate their Japanese hosts.

"Any substance abuse can affect individual and unit readiness," said John Velker, the director of the Marine Corps Community Services Substance Abuse Counseling Center, adding that people turn to drugs for various reasons. "There is a better way to live and deal with frustration than trying to get high."

Two days later, Col. Jay Silveria, commanding officer of the 48th Fighter Wing, based at Britain's RAF Lakenheath and RAF Feltwell air bases, issued an order banning salvia and an herbal concoction known as Spice. Violators could be booted out of the Air Force or court-martialed.

"The presence of persons, in a military environment, who engage in drug abuse through the use of either salvia divinorum or Spice, seriously impairs the ability to accomplish the military's mission," Silveria wrote in the order. "Members who abuse drugs such as salvia divinorum or Spice adversely affect the ability of all units at the 48th Fighter Wing."

"This order spends a little time talking about these two products in an effort to warn people," said Air Force Lt. Col. John Hartsell, the staff judge advocate at RAF Lakenheath. "It's something we got to keep the airmen away from. "It is one of those things that has kind of come up in the United States and has begun to pop up randomly in Europe."

While the Department of Health and Human Services estimated in February that 1.8 million people, most of them young, had tried salvia divinorum, it doesn't appear to be a big problem with airmen in England. Hartsell said he was aware of only one incident involving a serviceman using salvia.

While salvia has been banned in some US states, it is not a controlled substance under federal law. But at least four US Air Force bases -- Malmstrom AFB in Montana, Hill AFB in Utah, Nellis AFB in Nevada, and Tinker AFB in Oklahoma -- have already banned it.

Salvia is Potent, But is it Dangerous?

The Washington Post has a trainwreck of an editorial calling for preliminary discussion of prohibiting salvia. They seem to think the DEA’s job includes evaluating drugs scientifically and that videos of people getting high on YouTube prove that salvia is dangerous. The one thing that’s missing is any evidence of the drug actually hurting anyone.

Pete Guither rips it into confetti, so I’ll hold my breath. My thoughts on salvia hysteria are here.

Salvia Divinorum: Nebraska Shopkeeper to Go on Trial For Selling "Intoxicants" in Magic Mint Case

Sometimes no publicity is good publicity, but it's too late for that for Lincoln, Nebraska shop-owner Christian Firoz. Firoz runs Exotica, a Lincoln boutique, and back in March, as the Nebraska legislature was pondering legislation that would ban salvia (it died without a vote), Firoz was quoted in a March Lincoln Journal-Star article about an up-tick in interest in the fast-acting, short-lived hallucinogen after the ban effort received local news coverage.
salvia leaves
That resulted in a visit from undercover officers from the Lincoln police, who purchased salvia at the shop, then returned with arrest and search warrants. Firoz was charged not with selling salvia, but with violating a state law against selling substances "which will induce an intoxicated condition ...when the seller, offerer or deliverer knows or has reason to know that such compound is intended for use to induce such condition."

That prompted Firoz' attorney, Susan Kirchmann, to seek dismissal of the charges, arguing that the law is so vague ordinary people can't understand what is prohibited and must guess at its meaning. But the state countered that Firoz was not selling cleaning chemicals with no idea they were to be used to get high. Instead, he was knowingly selling salvia his purchasers would use to become intoxicated, they argued.

Last week, Lancaster County Judge Gale Pokorny sided with the prosecution. In a September 10 order, Pokorny ruled that Firoz must stand trial because he knew what he was selling.

"This judge is of the opinion that Mr. Christian Firoz knew precisely that the Salvia Divinorum he was selling was a 'substance' his purchasers were buying intended for human ingestion for the sole purpose of achieving mind altering intoxication," Pokorny wrote.

"While there may be others who potentially might be caught up in some confusing terminology contained in these two statutes, Mr. Christian Firoz does not appear to be one of them."

Firoz will go on trial for unlawfully selling a legal substance next month. He faces up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. Meanwhile, the first prosecution of anyone on salvia charges anywhere in the United States is set for next week in Bismarck, North Dakota, where at last word, Kenneth Rau was set to go to trial Monday on felony salvia possession charges.

Conference: Psychedelic Drugs in Medicine, Art, Spirituality and Culture

Horizons 2008 Horizons is a forum for learning about psychedelics. It seeks to open a fresh dialogue about psychedelics and challenges society to rethink their role in history, culture, medicine, spirituality and art. After a successful debut in 2007, it is now an annual event. Speakers and artists have been announced and tickets are on sale now! Psychedelics are a unique class of psychoactive drugs that have been used by humans for thousands of years. Millions of people in every corner of the globe have used them to alter their consciousness in search of introspective contemplation, spiritual insights, creative exploration and physical and psychological healing. In the 1950s and early 1960s, legal research with psychedelics spurred important discoveries in science and psychology. During the 1960s, psychedelics entered worldwide popular culture. Fueled by the wild social dogmas of the era, recreational use become commonplace. Questions about their safety, medical value, history and implications in politics and culture were unfortunately answered with numerous myths spread by both their users and the media. Times are changing. The freewheeling sixties are now a distant memory and the hype of the millennial rave fever has finally been laid to rest. Now, a small group of dedicated researchers and activists has orchestrated a renaissance in psychedelic research that is re-shaping the public's understanding of these unique substances. Horizons brings together the brightest minds and boldest voices of this movement to share their research, insights and dreams for the future. Learn more about Horizons, speakers, the 2007 event or other resources for psychedelic knowledge. Speakers (in alphabetical order) * Allan Hunt Badiner - Co-editor of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics * Rick Doblin, Ph.D. - Founder/president of MAPS * Robert Forte - Divinity scholar, editor of Entheogens and the Future of Religion * Alex Grey - Artist and co-founder of Chapel of Sacred Mirrors * Allyson Grey - Artist and co-founder of Chapel of Sacred Mirrors * Roland Griffiths, Ph.D. - Psilocybin researcher, Professor of Behavioral Biology and Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine * John Halpern, M.D. - MDMA, psilocybin and peyote researcher, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School * Sean Helfritsch & Isaiah Saxon - Video artists, creators of Bjork's Wanderlust 3D music video * Dan Merkur - Psychoanalyst, author of The Ecstatic Imagination * Dimitri Mobengo Mugianis - Ibogaine therapist * David Nichols, Ph.D. - Founder of Heffter Research Institute, Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology at Purdue University * Daniel Pinchbeck - Author of Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl * Sasha and Ann Shulgin - Pharmacological pioneers, authors of Tikhal and Pikhal Reception Friday, September 19 8pm - midnight. Performance at 10pm. Free with a Horizons conference ticket, $10 otherwise (cash only). An evening of celebration, art, performance and friends featuring some of New York City's finest creative talent. Featuring: (in alphabetical order) large-scale inflatable installations by AKAirways, the GamelaTron, the world's first and only full robotic Gamelan orchestra and live silkscreening by Peripheral Media Projects. For more information, including tickets, see:
Fri, 09/19/2008 - 8:00pm - Sun, 09/21/2008 - 6:00pm
55 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
United States

Press Release: Horizons Presents Groundbreaking Research and Perspectives on Psychedelic Drugs in Medicine, Art, Spirituality and Culture at Conference September 19-21, at Judson Memorial Church

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 15, 2008 CONTACT: Kevin Balktick at or 646-537-1701, or Neal Goldsmith at Horizons Presents Groundbreaking Research and Perspectives on Psychedelic Drugs in Medicine, Art, Spirituality and Culture at Conference September 19-21, at Judson Memorial Church Experts from across North America gather to discuss the ongoing renaissance in the exploration of psychedelic drugs. Presenters include medical researchers from several of North America's most prestigious universities, world-renown artists, religious scholars, bestselling authors and other key players. Horizons is the largest psychedelics conference in the Americas. Psychedelics are a unique class of psychoactive drugs that have been used by humans for thousands of years. Millions of people in every corner of the globe have used them to alter their consciousness in search of introspective contemplation, spiritual insights, creative exploration and physical and psychological healing. In the 1950s and early 1960s, legal research with psychedelics spurred important discoveries in neuroscience and psychology. During the 1960s, psychedelics entered worldwide popular culture. Questions about their safety, medical value, history and implications in politics and culture were unfortunately answered with numerous myths spread by both their recreational users and the media. The freewheeling sixties have become a distant memory and the hype of the millennial rave fever has faded as well. Now, a small group of dedicated researchers and activists has orchestrated a renaissance in psychedelic research that is re-shaping the public's understanding of these unique substances. Horizons brings together the brightest minds and boldest voices of this movement to share their research, insights and dreams for the future. Notable presenters include John Halpern MD from Harvard Medical School, Roland Griffiths Ph.D. From Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, David E. Nichols MD from Purdue University, Isiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch, the video artists responsible for Bjork's most recent 3-D music video and pharmacological pioneers Alexander and Ann Shulgin. The venue, Judson Memorial Church, is a historically significant, landmarked location. It has a long history of promoting the arts, free speech and progressive politics. For more information please go to:
New York, NY
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If Salvia Isn’t Toxic or Addictive, What’s the Argument for Banning it?

The New York Times has a fascinating piece on the growing hysteria surrounding salvia. Researchers are studying its medical potential, college kids are tripping on YouTube, and state legislators are trying to outlaw it entirely.

All of this may soon provoke an illustrative glimpse at the philosophical dimensions of drug prohibition, in that salvia is powerfully psychoactive, yet shows no signs of addictiveness or toxicity. It isn’t causing crime or medical emergencies. The short duration of its effects allows users to indulge without becoming incapacitated to the point of impacting their daily lives. In short, salvia simply doesn’t fit into the pre-existing categories that drug warriors have carved out in order to justify prohibitions against other popular recreational drugs. So what will they say about it?

Though states are moving quickly, Bertha K. Madras, a deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said federal regulators remained in a quandary.

"The risk of any drug that is intoxicating is high," Dr. Madras said. "You're one car ride away from an event that could be life-altering. But in terms of really good studies, there is just very little. So what do you do? How do you make policy in the absence of good hard cold information?"

Is that a trick question? I give up, Bertha. How? This is the same woman who opposed distributing overdose prevention kits, based on the theory that overdoses might be good for people. So I'm sure she’ll eventually find a solution here that won’t require copious doses of scientific methodology. Rarely in the history of the war on drugs have facts or common sense ever gotten in the way of someone trying to outlaw something. Tell Joe Biden it makes you think you’re a unicorn and he’ll have the Saving American Lives from Volatile Intoxicants Act on your desk by nightfall.

But if salvia is ultimately banned at the federal level simply because it makes you insanely high for 5 minutes, one might interpret that as a long-awaited acknowledgement that the war on drugs really is just an attempt to control our minds.

Salvia Divinorum: North Dakota Man, First in Nation Charged With Magic Mint Offense, Sees Charges Reduced

Kenneth Rau, the Bismarck, North Dakota, man with the dubious distinction of being the first person to be charged with a salvia divinorum possession offense in the US, got some good news last week. At an August 13 court hearing, prosecutors announced they were dropping charges of possession with intent to distribute, which could have earned Rau 10 years in prison (20 if a school zone charge were added on).
salvia leaves
Rau still faces a charge of salvia possession, which could still see him imprisoned for up to five years. He also faces misdemeanor drug paraphernalia and marijuana possession charges.

Salvia, a perennial herb native to Mexico with potent, if short-acting and generally unappetizing psychoactive properties, is not a controlled substance in the US. But in the last few years, almost a dozen states have moved to regulate its sales or ban it outright. The North Dakota legislature banned it last year.

Rau always claimed he was unaware of the new North Dakota law when he bought eight ounces of salvia leaves for a high bid of $32 on eBay this spring. Prosecutors once claimed the eight ounces amounted to hundreds of doses, thus the possession with intent charge, but Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia Feland said in court last Wednesday that the amount Rau possessed was really only about eight doses.

Rau is scheduled for a September 22 trial date.

Feature: Prosecutors Want Five Years for North Dakota Man Who Bought $32 Worth of Salvia Divinorum on eBay

Kenneth Rau, the Bismarck, North Dakota, man who suffers the dubious distinction of being the first person in the United States prosecuted under laws criminalizing the possession of salvia divinorum, has been offered a plea deal under which he would serve five years in state prison, he told the Chronicle this week.

(Update: Charges have been downgraded to possession -- Rau still faces up to five years, but as a charge he can fight, not a plea bargain -- DB via Phil, 8/19.)
Kenneth Rau
Salvia is not illegal under federal law. The DEA considers salvia a drug of interest, but despite several years of observation has yet to move to place it under the Controlled Substances Act. A DEA spokesman told the Chronicle recently that the plant is being reviewed to see if it meets the criteria for inclusion on the list of controlled substances.

But driven by little more than the now infamous YouTube videos of young people under the influence acting strangely and the story of one Delaware youth whose parents blamed his suicide on salvia, state legislators have not waited for the DEA's measured considerations to act. Since Delaware became the first state to ban salvia, at least eight others, including North Dakota, followed suit. Moves are currently afoot in a number of other states to join the club, with Florida and Virginia being the latest states to pass laws criminalizing the plant.

Salvia became illegal in North Dakota on last August 1, after a bill sponsored by three Republican lawmakers, state Sens. Dave Oelke and Randel Christmann and state Rep. Brenda Heller, sailed through the legislature earlier that year. None of the three legislators responded to Chronicle requests for comment this week.

Rau has said he did not know the drug was now illegal when he bid on an eight-ounce bunch of salvia leaves and was pleasantly surprised when his $32 bid came in highest. The local TV station's web site has inadvertently supported Rau's contention. When the Chronicle first wrote about Rau's case in April, that site's online version of the news report about Rau's arrest was still pulling up salvia ads by Google. (From the east coast at least it is still doing so as of this writing.) Rau emailed the link to Drug War Chronicle, proving that the salvia ads are showing up on computers in North Dakota.

Burleigh County States Attorney Cynthia Feland did not respond to Chronicle calls seeking confirmation or denial of the plea deal. Rau said the deal was offered through his attorney, Benjamin Pulkrabek, from just across the Missouri River in Mandan.

"My lawyer told me she offered me five years if I pleaded guilty," said Rau. "He said he didn't think I would take it, but he had to ask. He was right -- I am not going to accept that. I just don't think depriving someone of his freedom for some dried plant leaves is right."

Rau, a bottling plant worker with an interest in herbalism, altered states, and religion and spirituality, was arrested by Bismarck police on April 9 when they searched his home looking for his adult son, who was on probation for drug charges. Police found a marijuana pipe, eight ounces of salvia leaf, a quantity of amanita muscaria mushrooms, and a number of other herbal products.

Although Rau bought the salvia leaf on eBay for $32, he faces a possible 20-year sentence after being charged with possession of the now controlled substance with the intent to distribute, based on prosecutors' assertions that the leaf contained hundreds of possible doses. He also faces a marijuana possession charge for the pipe. Although prosecutors originally charged him with possession of psilocybin because of his amanita muscaria mushrooms, they have since figured out that amanita does not contain psilocybin and have dropped that charge.

Salvia divinorum, a member of the Mexican mint family, has been used by Mazatec shamans for hundreds of years. Smoking or chewing the leaves, or more commonly, concentrated extracts, can produce intense, albeit short-lived hallucinogenic experiences. While the plant has become notorious through YouTube videos of young people smoking it and behaving strangely, it is also of interest to "psychonauts," or people attempting to explore consciousness through herbal means.

Researchers say that while salvia's effects on consciousness may be disquieting, the plant has not been shown to be toxic to humans, its effects are so potent it is unlikely to be used repeatedly, and its active property, salvinorin A, could assist in the development of medicines for mood disorders.
salvia leaves (courtesy
Daniel Siebert is a salvia researcher and host of the salvia information web site Sage Wisdom. In Siebert's view, while salvia should be subject to some sort of regulation, sending someone like Rau to prison for years for possessing it is almost obscene.

I think salvia should be regulated in the same way we regulate alcohol," he said. "Its effects are quite different, but there are some parallels in terms of the possible dangers from its use. Like alcohol, people can exhibit dangerous behavior if they take excessively high doses. That's why we prohibit driving while intoxicated or allowing minors to drink. But it's obvious that many, many people can enjoy alcohol without getting into trouble with it, and they should not be subjected to harsh penalties. Neither should adults who want to use salvia."

Not that the drug will ever be a popular recreational drug, he said. "Salvia can be very strange and interesting, but it's not something most people consider fun, it's not a recreational kind of experience," he said. "Most people find it bewildering; it's not something most people are motivated to repeat. It won't ever become a popular drug. The main reason people seem interested in it is because the media keeps putting out these sensational stories comparing it to LSD or marijuana. That creates a misleading impression, and people who try salvia expecting something like that are usually disappointed."
salvia (and criminal defense) ads on web version of ND news station report on Rau's bust
"Siebert was sympathetic to Rau's predicament. "I'm shocked and appalled that they can put people in prison for using salvia for personal use," he said. "The drug had just been made illegal there, and he says he didn't know it was illegal. I think that's believable -- most people wouldn't know about an obscure law being passed."

Kenneth Rau now faces a lonely struggle. North Dakota is not noted for its abundance of attorneys skilled in defending cases involving arcane plants, and national organizations have yet to respond to his entreaties for help, Rau said.

Still, Rau is trying to get a defense together. "I'm hoping to take depositions from people like Dr. Andrew Weil or Daniel Siebert or other experts," he said. "I'm looking for attorneys in their vicinities who might be willing to take a deposition."

And he hinted that he may also attempt a jury nullification strategy. "My defense will be to fall back on the fact that the jury is the ultimate judge of the law," he said. "They don't have to listen to the judge; they have the power. Let the jury decide what kind of state they want to live in," he said.

No trial date has been set yet. In the meantime, Rau continues working full-time for a soft drink bottler and subjecting himself to court-ordered humiliations. "I'm trying to live my life," he said. "I've got a full-time time job and another one on the weekends. I also have to take pee tests twice a week and pay them $26 a week for that privilege, on top of trying to pay for lawyers."

Salvia Watch: Magic Mint Now Illegal in Kansas, But Alabama Bill Dies

Efforts in state legislatures to ban or otherwise restrict the sale and possession of salvia divinorum, a fast-acting, short-lived psychedelic member of the mint family, continue apace. So far, ten states -- Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Delaware, Maine, North Dakota, Illinois, Virginia, and Kansas -- have passed laws criminalizing or restricting the sale and possession of salvia. More than a dozen other state legislatures are considering criminalizing the drug.
salvia leaves (courtesy
One state where that won't be happening this year is Alabama, where bills sponsored by Sens. Hank Erwin (R-Montevallo) and Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) that would have scheduled salvia like marijuana failed to move in the legislature. They died Tuesday night, the last day for bills to be passed in the chamber where they were introduced.

This marks the second year Alabama solons failed to act on a salvia measure. But Erwin and Bedford are undeterred and say they will be back again next year. They cited concerns for young people in seeking to criminalize the substance.

That was enough for the Kansas legislature and Gov. Kathleen Sibelius (D), who late last month signed into law a bill criminalizing salvia possession and sale in the Jayhawk State. That law went into effect last week.

The DEA, which is in charge of scheduling drugs at the federal level, has been reviewing salvia's status for several years, but has yet to determine that it qualifies as a dangerous drug needing scheduling under the federal Controlled Substances Act. But clearly, that isn't stopping legislators from going off half-cocked. A simple-minded and sensationalist press has been part of the problem, too, as Slate's Jack Shafer noted in Salvia Divinorum Hysteria, which is well worth the read.

Video: CBC Sunday: Albert Hofmann - Psychedelic Pioneer

From the CBC News website: The Swiss chemist who discovered LSD, Albert Hofmann, died this week at 102. We examine the legacy of the man who became a hero to a rebellious generation, and look back at the history of this controversial drug - now in the midst of a research revival.

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