Brett Chidester's death is a sad event in a world full of such events: I'm not convinced that the blame can be directed toward smoking of an herb.
Delawareonline ¦ The News Journal ¦ Legal high new worry for parents
In the daily search for reasons behind their 17-year-old son's suicide, Dennis and Kathy Chidester keep coming back to the same answer: salvia divinorum.The herb, a cousin of the flowering sages enjoyed by backyard gardeners, contains the world's most potent natural hallucinogen, as strong as LSD. The drug is legal in most states, including Delaware, and easily available through hundreds of Internet sites, including eBay.That aura of legitimacy lulled Brett Chidester, a straight-A senior at Salesianum School, into thinking smoking salvia leaves was safe, even while convincing himself that he had gained incredible insights into the universe, his parents said.
That's the one thing I didn't want to do,“ he said, his voice cracking. ”I found him in there, dead. He had taken a charcoal grill and ... carbon monoxide poisoning.“
Brett's essay, suicide note and actions before his death still leave his parents with more questions than answers.
”We just won't have any answers, and we have to learn to accept that,“ Kathy Chidester said. ”But my gut feeling is it was the salvia. It's the only thing that can explain it.“
Right, nothing to do with the emptiness of modern existence, nothing to do with pressures of school, family, becoming an adult, girlfriends, no - just smoking an herb whose effects last 15-30 minutes.
As an amateur historian with a keen interest in the cultural response to drugs in American society, I've seen this pattern before. First, a drug (marijuana, alcohol, LSD, MDMA, etc.) is demonized as causing violent anti-social behavior, mostly by the use of thinly-sourced sensationalistic news articles like the one cited above, which ran in the Deleware News Journal. Then pressure 'builds' on legislatures to 'do something', never mind the facts, never mind most adults were partaking with few adverse effects. Alcohol was already such an ingrained part of American society - Prohibition didn't last very long. Marijuana - not so lucky.
”You type 'salvia divinorum' in a search engine and you get 10,000 hits, most of which are head shops on the Internet,“ said Thomas E. Prisinzano, a medical researcher at the University of Iowa. ”That's not good. People are going to abuse it.“
-of course one could do the same for automobiles (over 60 million hits), or coffee grinders (over 2 million hits). Is that ”not good“? What's the point of search engines anyway?
A cashier at a local pipe store says,
”...As far as I know, the only place you can get it is the Internet. Probably the reason it's legal now is most people don't know about it.“
As the drug becomes stigmatized in the press and in Congress, legitimate research is discarded. LSD, for instance, had promising applications in the study of mental health (Cary Grant, for instance, used it frequently in psychotherapy, and found it quite therapeutic), alcoholism, and elsewhere, good luck even filling out a grant to study LSD these days - you'd become a target of the DEA just by signing your name on the application.
Prisinzano, who earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Delaware in 1995, is studying whether salvia's main ingredient, salvinorin A, could be used to create a nonaddictive painkiller. Also, he said, understanding the way salvia creates hallucinations could help scientists better understand Alzheimer's disease and mental illnesses that alter patients' perceptions of reality.
”It's actually become a hot area of research,“ said Bryan Roth, a leading salvia researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In 2002, he discovered how salvinorin A travels through the brain.
One salvia user described watching a mountain lake turn into a desert, Roth said. Another said she found herself in a room with an alternate future behind each door. She picked one door and saw the death of her child, he said.
”Depending on the dose, it can cause a mild sense of distortion,“ Roth said. ”In the extreme, people are basically shot out into another reality, another place and time.“
Smoke Salvia while you can - won't be long before smokers will be declared enemy combatants of the state.
”Pharmako/Poeia : Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft“ (Dale Pendell)
Chapter on Salvia excerpted here, read it for yourself and decide.
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