Salvia in California

Photo by William Camargo

In recent years, salvia, or Salvia divinorum, has gained recognition and raised curiosity among prospective users. Authorities are also compiling information on the hallucinogen, said University Police Detective Robert Botzheim.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website, salvia is native to “southern Mexico and Central and South America.” Its main ingredient, salvinorin A, activates “kappa opioid receptors in the brain,” altering the user’s sense of perception. These receptors are different than those activated by other opioids like heroin and morphine, according to the site.

This hallucinogen, which was first used by ancient Mazatecs in Mexico, can be chewed, drank as tea or smoked, which is the preferred method of salvia users, said the store manager of a local Fullerton smoke shop who requested not to be named.

Spencer Beshoff, 20, a business major, said he experimented with salvia in high school because he was curious and because it would not appear in the random drug tests administered by his school.

Botzheim said the reason Beshoff’s high school did not look for salvia use is because authorities were not as knowledgeable about it as they are today, and it’s not illegal.

“A couple years ago, there was very few police officers who were looking for this kind of drug,” said Botzheim. “And even now, it’s not illegalized, so there’s not a real push to look for it.”

Botzheim cautions students using the substance for recreational purposes because of its strength and previous cases where salvia has proved to be dangerous, as in cases he has heard where individuals stopped breathing.

Although salvia remains legal in California and no federal law prohibits its sale or use, 22 other U.S. states have made it illegal, Botzheim said.

Past legislation in California, such as AB 259, banned the sale of salvia to minors, according to the Official California Legislative Information website. The bill, which took effect Jan. 1, 2009, is the only salvia-related bill that has been approved in California.

Botzheim said in order to test for salvia, officers must specifically look for the substance. However, not all forensic units are set up to test for it and Cal State Fullerton is not planning on purchasing test kits anytime soon because it remains legal.

Botzheim also said there have not been any instances where CSUF’s University Police arrested student salvia users. However, there was one student six months ago who may have been under the influence of salvia, but no blood was drawn from the student, so it was not confirmed.

Despite the gradual increase in curiosity of salvia, smoke shops like Twilight Zone Smoke and Gift Shop do not have a constant demand for it because of its strength, according to the store manager.

“It’s usually a one-time drug, because when they smoke it, they’ll never try it again because the intense euphoria it gives, so it’s usually a one-timer,” said the store manager.

Nushin Alavi, 21, a psychology major, knows four peers who have smoked salvia, some of whom smoked only once because of their bad experience with it.

“They were curious as to how it felt—the effect of it,” said Alavi. “It’s a hallucinogen so they wanted to see what it’s like. Some of them did it more than once and some of them had a bad trip so they didn’t do it again.”

According to Beshoff, he only tried salvia twice because of how it made him feel.

“The second time I took a less version of it,” Beshoff said. “I don’t know how to describe it, and it kind of just made me feel, just kind of high, but not in a good way ‘cause I couldn’t really control my arms or anything. The first time, especially, I felt like I—I fell over my side and couldn’t move. It was kind of weird. Wasn’t very fun, I thought.”

About Vanessa Martinez