Salvia divinorum, a green leafy plant native to the mountains of southern Mexico, has hallucinogenic properties that, according to the National Institute of Health, can cause short but intense delusional episodes. It is legal in Massachusetts. Now, a bill is making its way through the Legislature to ban the sale or possession of the plant.
In the video, the teenager lights up a bong and inhales the smoke. Seconds later, his eyes glaze over.
His friends laugh and talk to him, but he doesn’t really answer. He sits across from them, but essentially he’s not even there.
Nor is he breaking the law.
Almost everywhere in America, the drug taken by the teen, known as Salvia divinorum, is legal, cheap, even available on eBay.
Salvia divinorum, a green leafy plant native to the mountains of southern Mexico, has hallucinogenic properties that, according to the National Institute of Health, can cause short but intense delusional episodes.
Now, a bill is making its way through the Legislature to make the plant illegal in Massachusetts.
The proposal gained approval from the Legislature’s Committee on Public Health on Tuesday, and it could be put to a vote by lawmakers later this year.
Salvia divinorum is not the salvia that gardeners know, typically seen in garden centers throughout New England.
Teenagers are documenting Salvia highs on video and posting them on YouTube by the thousands. The videos have been watched more than a million times.
With every view, Salvia’s popularity can only rise, said state Rep. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, who has sponsored the bill to make the sale or possession of Salvia a crime. The bill would also ban Khat and Kratom, two other legal drugs that are readily available online.
From YouTube, deMacedo said an experimenting adolescent is just a click away from ordering the drug on eBay.
“Everyone who has seen the YouTube videos agrees, this is a dangerous substance,” deMacedo said. “To me, leaving it legal, we’re sending a message that it is OK.”
Eight states have banned or restricted the sale of Salvia divinorum, while several more, including Massachusetts, will consider regulations in the coming year.
However, while its long-term health effects have not been studied, its short-term use has raised some concerns.
The drug was listed as one contributing factor in the suicide of a Delaware teen, though according to published reports, the autopsy showed no traces of Salvia in his system.
Locally, hospitals have had no reports of overdose or adverse affects from its use.
South Shore Hospital has not treated any emergency room patients suffering from an adverse use of Salvia, said Dr. John Benanti, chief of the emergency department.
In fact, until this week, Salvia divinorum was unknown to Benanti and his medical staff.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health also has no record of anyone seeking medical treatment for use of Salvia, said spokeswoman Donna Rheaume.
“Alcohol and marijuana continue to be the drug of choice for adolescents,” she said.
But there is some evidence the drug is finding its way to Massachusetts.
Within the past year, two or three patients have reported using Salvia in combination with other drugs, said Dr. John Knight, the director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
A year ago, Knight said none of his patients reported using it.
Salvia is appealing to some, he said, because doctors cannot detect it with current drug tests.
“It’s new, which I think is part of the appeal,” Knight said. “People don’t know what it is, so there is a feeling that they won’t get caught.”
It is also easy to buy.
On March 11, Plymouth County Sheriff Joe McDonald ordered Purple Sticky Brand Salvia and a half-ounce of Kratom on eBay.
They arrived at the Hanover Police Department a week later. The $6 of Kratom was packaged in a plastic sandwich bag and mailed from Springfield, Idaho.
Another 433 Salvia items were up for sale on eBay on Friday, with an ounce of dry leaf listed at $19.99 plus shipping.
If police officers can buy it, Hayes said teenagers on the South Shore certainly have as well.
“In our area, just by the fact that you can get it through eBay and have it sent to your house, we know people are using it,” Hayes said. “If it’s not illegal, it makes it seem more palatable.”
Andrew Lightman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.