Feds Watching Closely
What does the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency say about all this? Right now, not much.
DEA spokesperson Rogene Waite says that some of the substances in question are currently "under review" by the DEA and remain legal under federal law. Waite does say the DEA has salvia in its crosshairs and is currently evaluating factors listed in the Controlled Substances Act to determine whether to list salvia as a controlled drug, thereby making it illegal to possess.
"Just because something is not illegal or regulated by the DEA doesn't mean it's not dangerous," Waite notes.
The Food and Drug Administration echoed Waite's sentiments. Michael Herndon, FDA spokesperson, says that herbs, mushrooms, and seeds sold on the Internet do not need to be approved by the FDA before they're offered for sale. However, Herndon says, if the FDA receives complaints that people have become sick as a result of consuming what they purchased, the FDA will consider investigating.
Injuries, Deaths a Rarity
Reported injuries or overdoses related to the ingestion of natural stimulants and hallucinogens are rare. "Emergency room visits are infrequent," says John Qaqundah, a practicing hospital pharmacist and assistant clinical professor with the School of Pharmacy at the University of California-San Francisco. He says that most ER visits stemming from the use of hallucinogens involve bodily harm: Someone falls down and bruises a bone.
Reports of deaths due to salvia are almost nonexistent, but the parents of Brett Chidester, a Delaware teen who committed suicide in 2006, think his salvia use led to his death. "I believe the use of salvia was reshaping Brett's mind, distorting how he viewed himself and the world around him," Kathleen Chidester says. "I think he just snapped." Though an autopsy did not find salvia in Brett's system, his death certificate lists use of Salvia divinorum as a contributing cause of death, says Jay Lynch, communications director for Delaware Health and Social Services.
Salvia is not the only natural intoxicant whose use may have contributed to a teen's death. In August 2003, 17-year-old Thomas Opazo of Santa Clara County, California, died of pulmonary edema related to "acute morphine and codeine intoxication." The boy's parents, who posted a redacted copy of the coroner's report on a Web site called Poppy Seed Tea Can Kill You, say that their son died from drinking poppy-seed tea--a mixture whose active ingredient can easily be purchased online (or in any grocery store) along with a recipe for brewing the tea.
And in 2007, 15-year-old William Hodge of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was found floating just beneath the surface of a lake. The official cause of death in the case was drowning, but news reports said that Hodge had been drinking jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) tea in a state park with friends during the hours shortly before he died, and his mother, Toppin Hodge, believes that datura's disorienting effects led to her son's death. New Mexico's state Office of the Medical Investigator reported that investigators had found an almost empty container of jimsonweed tea at the campsite where William Hodge and his friends had been spending time just prior to his death. Jimsonweed grows wild in the Albuquerque area and in many other parts of North America.