A Meditation on Salvia Divinorum, Passing (Podcast)
[Uptight legal disclaimer: I am not by explaining my experience suggesting that you, yes you, little Timmy, smoke salvia. Surely, if you do it, then your head will explode. Besides, if you really are little, Timmy, it will make your ‘nads shrink. Seriously, people who behave recklessly with salvia around have gotten hurt. So you over there, yes, you, little Timmy’s mom, reading over his shoulder, don’t you even think of suing me when you find little Timmy exploring with his stash. Because I clearly said it would make little Timmy’s head fall off and his ‘nads shrink. It’s not my fault. It’s all that heavy metal music. And Dungeons and Dragons. And the existence of gay people somewhere in the next county. P.S. Ask Timmy what ‘nads are.]
In June of 2006 I decided, after much reading, consideration, consultation and chastisement, to inhale.
Specifically, I made it my business to inhale salvia divinorum, a plant of the mint family that has a hallucinogenic effect. My experiment with salvia (recorded in two podcasts) was motivated by curiosity upon the discovery that somehow a hallucinogen had made it into the 21st Century without being declared illegal. Indeed, shortly after my move to Columbus in that year I’d noticed signs advertising salvia in the head shops that line High Street in my neighborhood, in between the the x-rated novelty stores and the bondage shop, two doors down from the purveyor of ironic sculpture and across the street from the club with the best 80s night in Columbus.
I learned enough to know that there was a bad way and a better way to try salvia. The bad way: in a foul mood, unsupervised, in a unfamiliar and uncomfortable place, and using concentrated liquid extract that doesn’t leave room for error in dosing. The better way: in a leavened mood, with someone watching, in a familiar and comfortable place, and smoking leaf to obtain a slower, more controllable dosing. Home, not club. Yo Yo Ma playing Bach Cello suites in the background, not Rob Zombie channeling the torment of hellfire. With the right set and setting, and with the right equipment (a torch to burn the leaves at a sufficient heat, a water pipe to keep me from burning my lungs), I was ready to go.
My experience, as you can hear for yourself, was a mainly positive one. My mood was elevated, although I found it somewhat difficult to maintain rational concentration as much as I’d have liked. My perceptions were altered in a most interesting way. In vision, I found that lines of demarcation between light and dark colors in my vision were accentuated and glowing in rainbow colors of their own. Those glowing lines in my vision appeared to gain depth in some fourth dimension, and if I allowed myself to go with the flow I could feel my body moving along with those glowing lines through that fourth dimension while remaining still in the three dimensions I experience every day.
I use the words “appeared” and “feel” carefully, because it’s important to remember that’s what the experience was… all about appearance and feeling, an internal experience. I have no notion that I was unlocking a key to a bigger world, or anything mystically spirit-filled like that. After the effect wore off, I wasn’t really a changed man, except for the mundane sort of change we all manage through the accumulation of new experience. In the more than two years since, I haven’t had an urge to smoke salvia again. I haven’t gotten addicted to any illicit drugs, although I still drink more coffee than I’d like. Not once have I had a flashback. Neither have I developed a tendency to mousse my hair in weird directions, pick up an axe and go running naked through the neighborhood screaming about the nuthatches.
In fact, to tell you the truth, I’d mostly forgotten about salvia until I found out this week that here in the state of Ohio, the state House has passed and the state Senate is considering a bill, HB 215, that would make salvia divinorum an illegal drug. Specifically, it would classify the herb as a “schedule 1” drug, putting it in the same category as heroin, hashish, cocaine, and some interestingly-spelled narcotic called “thebacon” (how about thesausage?). State analysts have determined that during the current economic crash outlawing salvia divinorum would cost the state of Ohio over $100,000 per year.
Placing salvia divinorum in the same legal category as “thebacon” rouses my curiosity. Declaring a non-violent activity illegal raises my eyebrows, especially when research is beginning to uncover evidence that salvia divinorum may actually be psychologically therapeutic in some circumstances. Legislators are throwing around bullying arguments that colleagues who don’t vote to outlaw salvia divinorum are endorsing it while the Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy states outright that there is an “absence of good hard cold information” on any potential harmfulness of salvia. Without good hard cold evidence of harm, what is the government doing restricting the use of this plant?
When the government tells me that I can’t do something, and it doesn’t have solid evidence of the harm in doing so, then I feel somewhat inclined to do it in defiance. Freedom gets rusty when it isn’t exercised; undue restriction leaves me chafing and with a not-so-fresh feeling.
So in the spirit of liberty, with the window on this particular liberty closing, I’m doing the deed again.
As you can tell by the fact that I’m posting this, I’m not dead. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you my hair isn’t wigged out and I’m not toting an axe.