Canada Moves to Ban Salvia, Everyone's Favorite Terrifying Psychedelic

The Conservative government reportedly plans to continue its buzzkilling ways by making salvia divinorum an illegal drug.
July 15, 2015, 7:00pmUpdated on July 16, 2015, 3:50pm

The Salvia divinorum plant, just out there growing, totally unaware of the fuss being made over it. Photo via Flickr user Luis Pérez

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

In keeping with its promise to ban every fun drug in Canada, the Conservative government is now moving to make it illegal to posses and sell everyone's favorite terrifying hallucinogen.

Salvia divinorum, known to its friends and enemies alike simply as salvia, is a psychoactive plant that has been eaten and inhaled for hundreds of years by Mazatec shamans and now mostly smoked by rich pop stars and kids who can't find weed.

The news, first reported by Global, means that the legal gray zone in which salvia currently exists will soon come to an end. A government source confirmed to VICE that the ban would be introduced within days.

At present, stores can sell salvia over the counter and online, and it is generally billed as a natural health product. The government has always objected to that, and noted that no strain of salvia had been approved for sale—a requirement for any natural health product—meaning that anyone selling the plant is doing so illegally. The police shrugged ("nothing we can do about it," the RCMP told CBC). Without making the drug outright illegal, there is little cops can do to enforce Health Canada regulations.

That's what the government plans to do in the near future.

It's a part of a general push by the Harper government to ensure that if teens use stupid drugs, the cops have the ability to arrest them.

In June, Ottawa announced that it would look to make it easier to allow the Health Minister to ban "designer drugs" as soon as they appear, instead of after every media outlet in the country has written a bunch of trend pieces warning that they can turn you into a zombie or make you kill your grandmother.

They've already managed to ban poppers, for some reason.

While the salvia ban might not be surprising, it's worth noting that the plant doesn't actually appear to be dangerous.

When researchers at John Hopkins University conducted a small-scale study on the drug, using four people with prior experience with hallucinogens, they found that salvia "produced no significant changes in heart rate or blood pressure, no tremors, and no adverse events."

While that's no clear indication of how salvia could affect, say, someone with undiagnosed mental health issues or someone who decides to get behind the wheel (which "could be disastrous," they note), ingesting the plant doesn't appear to have any obvious health impacts and doesn't appear to be addictive.

The serious side effect appears to be the desire to jump out windows.

That said, the drug might actually be helpful.

"Animal studies show that [salvia] has unique effects in the brain," the Hopkins study reads. "Some scientists believe that the drug or a modified version of it may lead to medical advances in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, chronic pain, and drug addiction."

You're now imagining mice taking salvia and tripping tiny mice balls.

The number of horror stories about salvia are few, but have gotten significant attention.

One American 17-year-old took his own life in 2006, and his parents became convinced that salvia was to blame, although there appears to be no other reported instances where salvia led to depression, let alone suicide.

But while salvia is now generally known as a less-intense, quasi-legal, more-safe version of LSD, that's not what many salvia aficionados want the drug to be known for.

VICE reached an online vendor of salvia to ask about his thoughts on the upcoming ban. He didn't want his name used for this article. We'll call him Jean, after Jean Bassett Johnson, the American anthropologist credited with documenting traditional Mexican practices, which included salvia.

Jean says his business isn't about hawking a potent hallucinogen so that bored teens can make dumb YouTube videos of their trip.

"This plant is not considered to be a drug, it's considered to be a spiritual tool," he says. "It is used as a spiritual tool for people who are meditating."

Jean's website clearly marks the plant as "not for internal consumption" and he says he frequently turns away customers who are under 18, or who seem like they just want to smoke the plant and get weird.

Generally, he says, the plant is burned as incense while you meditate, and can help bring you to the "astral plane," where all sorts of artistic and personal insight is available for the enlightened.

If someone is just going to do bong hits to try and see unicorns, Jean says, "they are going into a realm of a place where they didn't want to visit." He adds that salvia shouldn't be sold by anyone to those idiots.

But, obviously, Jean doesn't think it should be banned outright—he wants it studied and regulated so it can continue to be used for its enlightening purpose. It appears as though the government won't listen.

"It's not good," Jean said after learning the news. "That means I have to shut down."

Which is a shame, as Jean says he has never heard anything bad from his customers.

"Never. I'll be sincere with you. Never, ever. When it's done properly, people are just there to discover," Jean says. Even so, he adds, "whether it's good or bad, it's part of their experience now."

Even if part of that bad experience may involve thinking everyone looks like Miley Cyrus's boyfriend.

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