Specialist: make legal substance a drug

Angelo Gargaro

Say “high” to a legal drug some students are using at Kent State.

Salvia divinorum, which literally means “the diviner’s sage,” is a plant that can be grown anywhere, but is indigenous to Mexico and South America.

Rachel Meklemburg, alcohol and other drug specialist at Townhall II, organizes and teaches classes on drug and alcohol awareness.

“(Salvia) is becoming more widely available and widely known,” Meklemburg said. “(However,) it’s mostly on the ‘hush-hush.'”

Meklemburg said the most popular ways salvia is taken is either by chewing or smoking. The Mazatec Indians in Mexico traditionally used it for its medicinal and hallucinogenic properties, she said.

Soumitra Basu, professor of chemistry and biotechnology, said he has a concern with the usage of the drug.

“Mechanistically, it is not well understood,” Basu said. “There is no long-term or even short-term study to really see what the effects are. The studies that are reported are very qualitative in nature.”

Basu said some studies on mice showed no organ damage; however, this doesn’t always mean there is no danger to humans.

“I am not aware of any of these mood elevators that will not have any kind of side effects — eventually they will always have some kind of side effect,” Basu said. “If you look at the reported effects, none of them are normal. I should definitely not condone it.”

He said, however, salvia has potential for positive usage as a pain reliever and to fight drug addiction.

“It is very important to know that this is potential — it has not been proven yet,” Basu said. “At this point, there is no scientific evidence that can be used for that purpose.”

Basu said salvia should be considered the same as an illegal drug.

Lt. Carl Sweigert of the Kent State Police Department said he hasn’t seen any cases on campus involving salvia.

“Just because I don’t know about it doesn’t mean it’s not necessarily going on around here,” Sweigert said. “The two drugs we see the most often are alcohol and marijuana.”

The drug is still legal, but in May 2007, Representative Thom Collier introduced House Bill 215 to the Ohio State Legislature. If passed, this legislation would classify salvia as a Schedule I drug.

“A Schedule I drug is highly addictive in nature, there are no medical values and there is no testing going on with the substance,” Meklemburg said.

Schedule I drugs include marijuana, heroine and ecstasy, she said.

Although the drug is not illegal, Sweigert said one could still get into trouble by taking it.

“Where you might get in trouble is when you can’t handle (the effects) and you start freaking out,” Sweigert said. “All of a sudden someone is calling the police or the emergency medical services because they don’t know what you’re on, or they may even know what you’re on but you’re not handling it, and you’ve tied up police officers and emergency medical people. In that case, you might get cited for disorderly conduct.”

A Kent State student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he has used salvia several times.

“I tried salvia because I heard a lot about it from some of my friends,” he said. “They all made it seem like it would be a really cool experience.”

The number of students using it is difficult to determine. He said people who use salvia don’t talk about it much.

“I wouldn’t say a lot of students are trying it,” he said. “It’s still really underground, and the people who are using it want to keep it that way. The more people who try (salvia), the better chance it will become a concern and then illegal.”

Salvia may be entering the college scene, however, Sandy McKown, an intervention counselor at Theodore Roosevelt High School, said she hasn’t seen any cases involving the drug on the high school level.

“That’s the concern: being a high school in a college town,” McKown said. “I think that things do trickle down for the university.”

McKown works with students who break the student conduct code for tobacco, alcohol and drugs. She said there’s no policy at the high school covering salvia specifically. However, students are not allowed to be in possession of tobacco or anything resembling tobacco on school grounds.

Since salvia is a plant resembling tobacco, McKown said possession of it on the high school property would break the student conduct code.

Basu said salvia divinorum extract is the sought after source of salvinorin A, which is the active chemical in salvia.

Regular divinorum leaves infused with the extract is said to produce a much stronger effect than plain leaves.

Extracts come in varying degrees of potency: 5x, 10x and 20x. This means the number of times more powerful the extraction is compared to regular leaves.

Midnight Oasis, a shop on South Water Street, sells salvia extract, ranging from 10x to 70x. The owner of the shop, Chris Todd, declined comment for the story.

Sweigert said he is not concerned about a shop selling salvia so close to campus.

“The geography doesn’t affect the fact that it is legal or illegal. What alarms me is that nobody knows what the long-term effects are,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of research has been done, so I would always be alarmed on behalf of anybody who would put something into their body when they don’t know what the end results may be long-term or short-term.”

Not only are the long-term effects unknown, but salvia itself is still unheard of to many people. Sweigert said he contacted the Portage County Drug Task Force to see if they had any reported cases on the drug and they were unaware of it.

Contact general assignment reporter Angelo Gargaro at [email protected].