Journey in a bottle or a bad trip?

Salvia, which incenses some lawmakers, is difficult to put into words.

by Maureen Landsverk

âÄúA consciousness-expanding journey unlike any other âĦâÄù says U.K. journalist Gaia Vince. Matt Snyders of City pages recounts that âÄúâĦ all existence was a blanket blowing idly in the wind, and we were all a part of it, our consciousnesses the stitching holding it together.âÄù These are accounts of trips on Salvia divinorum, one of the more powerful mind-altering substances still available most places internationally. Snyders and Vince bought, smoked and tested the drug all in the name of a more comprehensive public awareness. Seeking to follow in their bold footsteps, to emulate their stint at gonzo journalism, I made the decision to try Salvia myself. The result, in short, was indescribable âÄî an episode beyond the power of the written word. Even pictures would fail to convey a dynamic understanding; numbers are meaningless. The walk to the head shop on 14th Avenue seems ages ago, as do the anticipation and the indecisive internal debate. All have vanished in a blurred mirage of the past. Moments after the first hit, the smiles and expectant looks of glee in the faces surrounding me melded to one. I became my environment, almost like the momentary adoption of Shintoism, in which I shared a spirit, a soul, with the ground, with the ceiling, with the friends beside me. I was struck with an innate realization that the world, our lives, the Christmas tree in the corner, it was all concentric, circular, inter-connected. It all made sense. For the first time in months, it seemed as though there was a purpose to the overly adulated classes through which I had been fighting sleep. An immediate flashback reminded me of a recent lecture on idealized architectural order in which we learned ecological guidelines as outlined by Barry Commoner. One rule in particular was illuminated: âÄúno free lunch.âÄù Every action has a predetermined consequence âÄî a clear concept that was rapidly coming to find new meaning. This brought up an image of a Post-it note I had seen at work the day before with the quote: âÄúThe worst thing you can try to do is cling to something that is gone, or to recreate it,âÄù by Johnette Napolitano. This little nugget of truth and profundity applies to everyday life, to all problems, from very basic personal concerns to elevated international crises and sadly, also, to my trip on Salvia. I will simply say that the ensuing minutes progressed in a similar fashion, with colliding planes (geometric surfaces as opposed to aerial beings), hilarity and a climactic self-realization, which disappeared in the apple-scented wisps of smoke as swiftly as it had come. These effects âÄî mild in relation to my selection of a lesser potency variety of Salvia (7x, on a scale of 5 to over 60) âÄî are apparently reason enough to ban Salvia divinorum in some countries, as well as 12 states. Cultivated primarily in Mexico and portions of South and Central America, Salvia is a psychoactive drug originally used by Mazatec Indians to achieve a state of âÄúdivine inebriationâÄù during spiritual and religious rituals. Methods of consumption have evolved since the indigenous use of Salvia to produce stronger and more effective results in users. What was primarily a substance crushed and liquefied is now commonly smoked or chewed in a quid. Though widely accessible and legalized throughout much of the world, Salvia is restricted in select countries, such as Australia and Belgium. Several states have officially banned the substance, including North Dakota and Illinois, and many more are now considering legislation that will enact a prohibition, Minnesota being one of them. Although many national politicians have attempted to restrict SalviaâÄôs expanding popularity, Minnesota remains a free-range state. Despite recent action to criminalize the possession and distribution of the substance, the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated a total of 1.8 million U.S. citizens have taken the otherworldly jaunt. A state bill proposed by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, which would have enacted a statewide ban, was shot down in committee before reaching the Minnesota House of Representatives. This is the third consecutive failed attempt to ratify such limitations in the state of Minnesota. Daniel Siebert, an independent researcher, ethnobotanist and pharmacologist, claims to have identified the active ingredient in Salvia divinorum: Salvinorin A. Being an adamant supporter of the responsible use of Salvia, he believes the bad rap stems from carelessness and misuse of the substance. âÄúMore and more people are smoking excessively high doses and being careless. [They] are experimenting with it in a party atmosphere while drinking with a lot of friends around, and theyâÄôre finding it confusing and disorienting.âÄù Though the disclaimer on the back of the âÄú100 percent premium Oaxacan Salvium ExtractâÄù package may bear the mythic âÄúFor Incense Use Only,âÄù responsibility and common sense are the only requirements to safely consume, other than the obvious age constraint. In reality, the only hurdle to clear in the way of safe and enlightening drug use is your own judgment. Making informed decisions is already a constant in our lives âÄî an indispensable practice. From alcohol to Zovirax (in the case of a Herpes infection), all drugs and mind-altering material should be moderated; they must be approached with clarity and conscientiousness, and Salvia, while an exceptionally unique experience, is by no means an exception. Maureen Landsverk welcomes comments at [email protected]