Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Salvia lands on the front page

It’s not often I get to deal with a controversial subject about plants. But I couldn’t help noticing that N.C. Sen. Bill Purcell has introduced a bill to add salvia divinorum to the Schedule I statute for drugs in this state. Schedule I is reserved for the worst of all the drugs like heroine, methamphetamine and cocaine. Marijuana is only rated as a Schedule VI. Obviously this would mean no one could grow salvia divinorum or face criminal prosecution.

How did this come about? It seems that YouTube may be to blame. There were several videos posted of college kids smoking the herb and doing a variety of stupid things. Sen. Purcell likened the use of salvia to the beginning of marijuana use and wants to stop it before it starts.

According to a New York Times article written in September about salvia use, there are no studies suggesting that salvia is addictive or its users prone to overdose. Pharmacologists have been working with the herb because they believe it could open new frontiers in medical use. Like all herbs, salvia has been used medicinally for centuries.

Gardeners have grown various types of salvia as long as there have been gardeners. Pliny the Elder wrote about the plants in ancient Greece. That was a long time ago. Salvia is a genus of plants in the mint family which includes common sage. The ornamental species are commonly referred to as salvia. There are an additional 900 species of perrennials and annuals.

Salvia divinorum is commonly refered to as Mexican mint. It is native to Oaxaca, Mexico. Mostly what we grow in our gardens is Salvia officinalis or common sage, with a Mediterranean heritage. They both have woody blue-green stems and purple-blue flowers. Officinalis has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries as well. It just hasn’t had the bad press that its cousin has had recently.

But many herbs could be considered dangerous if used incorrectly, like many other substances. We all know that SuperGlue is bad if you inhale it but it hasn’t been taken off the shelves. People have used draincleaner to kill themselves and others but it is still available.

Ephedra was banned in the U.S. because FIVE (5) people died while taking it. By comparison, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and many other over-the-counter and prescription painkillers and fever reducers, cause approximately 56,000 injuries, 25,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths every year. Medical professionals have concluded that long-term use, or large doses of the drug can damage the liver, leading to liver failure or death.

Hmm . . .

Is there some difference between chemicals that kill people in this country and herbs that kill people?

Apparently so.

Joyce Lavene

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