Illinois adds salvia to list of banned substances

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

CHICAGO -- A law taking effect in Illinois on New Year's Day makes possession or sale of a plant called Salvia divinorum a felony.

The plant can cause hallucinations within seconds after it's smoked, licked or chewed. Violators will face legal consequences as harsh as those for heroin or LSD.

Some retailers say the change in the law has caused a spike in sales of the herb.

"People are stocking up because of the ban," said Sebastian Pogorzelski, co-owner of The Highway, a Chicago tobacco store. "They're saying, 'Wow, that's crazy, I'm going to come in and buy some more."'

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, said legislation was needed because federal drug laws don't address the substance. Only a handful of states have adopted laws regulating it.

"We decided to move forward rather than waiting for someone to be killed because of it," Reboletti said.

But advocates say the plant should be available for religious or scientific use. It has been used in religious ceremonies by Mazatec Indians in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.

In Carbondale, Crystal Basler, owner of The Country Goddess, a religious-supplies store, said she has sold salvia in both leaf and extract form for about a year. Until recently, most purchasers were middle-aged adults rather than teenagers.

"Some people describe (the effect) as they get very relaxed, kind of like taking an anti-stress pill," Basler said. "The leaf is very, very mild. There's no reason to ever make the leaf illegal. A lot of women buy it for PMS depression."

The herb's long-term effects are still unknown, said Dr. Neil Farber, an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin who has researched the herb.

But it can be as potent as LSD, causing visions and improved moods in some people, Farber said. It also can cause loss of balance and coordination, and alter perception.

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