CUP Ottawa Bureau Chief
In a Feb. 21 release, the government indicated it intends to add salvia to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, thereby making it illegal to possess, sell, import, export and grow the plant. Christian Paradis, minister of natural resources, described salvia in the release as having the “potential for abuse, especially among young people.”
Otherwise known as Salvia divinorum and salvinorin A, and colloquially as magic mint or diviner’s sage, salvia is a plant in the mint family and is normally smoked to experience “mild hallucinogenic sensations,” as described by a fourth-year University of Ottawa student.
“Salvia gives an intense, but short-lived high,” explained the student, who wished to remain anonymous. “It is more accessible in this way than marijuana, as it won’t leave you hungry and giggly for an hour afterwards.”
Related: “Leave salvia alone“
According to a Feb. 4 government notice from Health Canada that first proposed the ban, little is known about the health risks related to salvia. The report lists dysphoria, out-of-body experiences, unconsciousness, short-term memory loss and hallucinations among its known effects.
“The term hallucinogenic can also likely be misleading or poorly understood,” the student added. “Users aren’t interacting with others and seeing things that aren’t there; rather, they strongly experience their sense of self. A comfy chair becomes engrossing to the point that you feel you’re a part of it, or you spend two minutes wondering intensely why you can’t remember how to stand up.”
Salvia is currently considered a natural health product and technically is only allowed to be sold if it has been reviewed and authorized by Health Canada. Nevertheless, as it has yet to be added to the CDSA and become fully criminalized, it can often be found in shops as accessible as convenience stores.
The Feb. 4 notice also cites the Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, which indicated that 7.3 per cent of youth aged 15-24 had used salvia as of 2009.
“Because its psychoactive effects resemble those of other substances included in … the CDSA, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin, Health Canada is concerned that the ready availability and use of S. divinorum poses a risk to the health and safety of Canadians, particularly youth,” read the notice.
“I think it’s foolish,” said the U of O student, referring to salvia’s pending criminalization. “There isn’t a present or growing threat from salvia, nor is there a danger or harm to its users. Criminalizing it puts more money into the pockets of smugglers and organized crime who will take up the latent demand, and costs us more in terms of the social cost of increased prosecution of well-intentioned and harmless citizens.”
Salvia has already been regulated or restricted in some U.S. states and several countries, including Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Sweden, according to Health Canada.
However, the herb will not go under an immediate ban: Stakeholders and members of the public have until March 21 to comment on the proposal, after which the federal regulatory process could continue for up to two years.
image: Danielle Siemens/The Sheaf