The Canadian government has banned a herb that is sacred to a tribe of Mexican Indians. On August 12, 2015, Health Canada published an amendment to place the hallucinogenic herb, Salvia divinorum, on Schedule IV of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This change makes all forms of the herb illegal to produce, sell, import or export, starting in February 2016. Simple possession of dried salvia and salvia extracts will remain legal, but the cultivation of plants will be illegal, even for non-commercial, personal use.
The proposal to ban Salvia divinorum comes after years of public handwringing over the safety of a hallucinogenic 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. It is the active constituent, salvinorin A, in concentrated or purified form, that is typically smoked for its hallucinogenic properties. Meanwhile salvia leaves in their unaltered natural state are only mildly psychoactive and cannot produce the intense highs that are frequently associated with salvia abuse. Abusers of salvia typically ingest high potency extracts and powders that are 5X, 10X, or 20X more powerful than natural leaves. If abusers instead smoke leaves, the leaves are typically fortified with pure salvinorin A in order to increase potency.
While we are not against limits being 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. Unfortunately, despite receiving many comments urging the government not to ban salvia, the government has elected to ban it anyway, forcing Richters to stop growing the plant, starting in 2016.
The official Canada Gazette notice of the ban is posted here.
For now plants remain legal to grow in Canada and are available to purchase from Richters until November 2015.
Our comments to the original 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 Aug. 12, 2015]