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Salvia Divinorum

The Canadian government has proposed a ban on a herb that is sacred to a tribe of Mexican Indians. In March, Health Canada published a notice of a proposal to place the halucinogenic herb, Salvia divinorum, on Schedule III of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. If this proposal is adopted all forms of the herb, including live plants, will be illegal to possess in Canada.

For now plants remain legal to grow in Canada and are available to purchase from Richters.

The proposal to ban Salvia divinorum comes after years of public handwringing over the safety of a halucinogenic substance found in the leaves. The news media have published reports of young Canadians taking salvia for the short but intense highs it produces, and many have called for the drug to be made illegal. Famously, a video of pop icon Miley Cyrus allegedly depicting her smoking the psychoactive drug went viral on the Internet in late 2010, and some believe it was this video that finally prompted Health Canada to act. Salvia has been banned in other countries, notably Australia and a several European countries and U.S. states; but it is still legal in most countries.

The call to ban salvia in all its forms is a textbook example of overreaction by the regulatory authorities. As was the case with ephedra, kava, yohimbe and others, the abuse of unnaturally concentrated forms of this herb has caused authorities to unfairly implicate and ultimately ban or restrict access to the herb in its natural form. In the case of salvia, it is the active constituent, salvinorin A, in concentrated or purified form, that is typically smoked for its halucinogenic properties. Salvia leaves in their unaltered natural state are only mildly psychoactive and cannot produce the intense highs that are frequently associated with salvia abuse. What abusers of salvia take are high potency extracts and powders of potency 5X, 10X, 20X or more. If leaves are smoked for psychoactive effects they are typically fortified with pure salvinorin A in order to increase potency.

If limits must be placed on the salvia drug in its purified or concentrated forms, we are opposed to banning the live plant. The rights of plant collectors, gardeners and herbalists who wish to grow plants for their culinary, medicinal, historical or religious significance must be protected. We believe that the government has a duty to regulate in a manner that avoids compromising the rights of Canadians who are not at risk. Those who have an honest interest in growing the plant ought not be prevented from doing so by an overreaching ban on all forms of Salvia divinorum.

The comments period ended March 6, 2011.

Stephanie Chandler, Regulatory Policy Division, Office of Controlled Substances, Health Canada ( was responsible for receiving comments.

The official Canada Gazette notice of the proposed policy to ban Salvia divinorum is posted here.

Our comments to the proposal can be found here. Comments from other organizations such as B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy are posted here and here.

[Updated Apr. 15, 2011]

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