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'Magic Mint' Fails to Double Users' Pleasure

A hallucinogen derived from the Salvia divinorum plant — Sally D on the streets — is the latest worrisome drug, however research shows that the buzz, no pun intended, isn't quite living up to the hype.
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With the media consumed by economic woes, terrorist threats and celebrity deaths, it’s been quite a while since we’ve had a scare about a dangerous new drug that is tempting our teenagers. But the hallucinogen Salvia divinorum, aka Sally D, seems poised for a breakthrough.

Sometimes referred to as “magic mint,” the sage plant is primarily grown in the mountains of Mexico where it is sometimes used in shamanic rituals. When its leaf is ground up and smoked, it produces an intense but short-lived sensation of disorientation, with the effects wearing off in as little as a minute and no more than a half-hour.

Recent articles in the Christian Science Monitor and USA Today (which, in an odd burst of enthusiasm, labeled the substance “one of the hottest drugs in the USA”) report a growing number of states — 11 to date — have either outlawed or restricted the use of the otherwise legal substance. “All the young kids know about it, and none of the parents know anything about it, so it’s clearly becoming an epidemic of sorts, insofar as kids are accessing it and talking about it freely,” a Massachusetts state representative told the Monitor.

An epidemic of sorts? Newly published research suggests otherwise.

A paper titled “Trippin’ on Sally D,” in the upcoming Journal of Criminal Justice, features the results of a 2006 survey of 641 undergraduates at a large public university in the American Southeast. It reports that 6.7 percent of respondents reported using Salvia divinorum in their lifetime, and only 3 percent reported using it over the past 12 months.

“This is a slightly lower number than the only other university prevalence study found,” notes the paper, written by Bryan Lee Miller, Chris Gibson and David Khey of the University of Florida and O. Hayden Griffin III of the University of Southern Mississippi.

While some media accounts have referred to the substance as a “legal substitute” for marijuana, the survey finds pot users are in fact its primary market. “White males who are frequent smokers of marijuana and have extremely low self-control were most likely to have experimented with Salvia,” the authors note.

An earlier paper by some of the same researchers, published last year in the Journal of Drug Education, noted that fewer than one-quarter of the students surveyed had even heard of the drug.

The survey confirms previous reports that the temporary vacation from reality the drug provides is a pleasant experience for some, but an unpleasant one for many others. When Salvia divinorum users were asked if they would like to partake of the substance again, 51 percent said no, 32 percent answered maybe, and only 17 percent said yes.

If all this suggests to you Sally D is an epidemic in the making, we’ll feel compelled to ask what you’re smoking.

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