At first, News Hits thought the Michigan Legislature is attempting to outlaw spit. We've long known that a lot of pols want to control what we do with our bodies, but were nonetheless reduced to scratching our noggin as we tried to figure out what our solons could actually have against saliva. But then we took a closer look and saw that the actual legislative target is a currently legal hallucinogen called salvia divinorum.
Translated from Latin, the drug's name means "sage of the seers." A website dedicated to the plant (salvia.net) tells us that its "psychoactive properties have been known to the Mexican Mazatec Indians for ages ..." and that its effects range from uncontrollable laughter to a sense of "profound understanding" to feelings of "total confusion or madness."
"In recent years," the site says, "salvia has become increasingly popular amongst explorers of nonordinary states of consciousness."
Sort of like News Hits itself.
Earlier this year, the Michigan House voted 106-0 to approve House bill 5700, which seeks to criminalize use of the plant by classifying it as a "schedule 1 Narcotic," putting it in the same league as drugs such as marijuana, heroin, ecstasy and LSD. If the bill makes it into law, getting caught just using the stuff could land you in jail for up to a year, with a $1,000 fine to boot.
Although currently legal under federal law, eight states have already outlawed salvia; Michigan is among 16 other states seeking to criminalize its use and sale.
The legislation is currently awaiting approval by the Senate Committee on Health Policy.
The Metro Times contacted Speaker Pro Tempore Michael Sak, the Grand Rapids Democrat who sponsored the original House bill. Asked to explain the specific negative effects associated with salvia, Sak told us that the drug led to "extreme hallucinations, with psychological and physical impact." When we pressed him to be more specific, Sak instructed us to "go to YouTube, and look up 'crazy ass salvia video.'"
We hold the research being done by all the exemplary psychedelic experimenters at YouTube in as high regard as anyone, but we asked Sak if he could produce any literature produced by actual, you know, scientists with medical degrees and things like that. Sak, saying he didn't have any peer-reviewed literature to share with us, suggested we find some on our own.
A search of scholarly journals didn't help much. The Clinical Journal of Psychopharmacology tells us salvia is indeed a hallucinogen, and that its effects are strong. Little else is understood about this member of the mint family. ("For a minty fresh mind!" strikes us as a helluva good advertising slogan, however.)
There are not, as of yet, any rigorous studies showing salvia use leading to mental disorders or physical damage. According to the Associated Press, there's no record of anyone dying while actually on the stuff.
Anecdotal reports make various claims about the drug either alleviating or leading to psychosis and depression. U.S. government statistics put salvia's rate of use among the population far behind most other illegal recreational drugs, such as ecstasy, LSD, marijuana, heroin and cocaine.
During our research, News Hits found a nice story about the issue by Neal McNamara in City Pulse, an alternative newspaper in Lansing. McNamara actually tried the stuff, but reported it didn't really do all that much for him. A little "light euphoria" maybe, but certainly no "purple dragons" or any other heavy head trips.
We also have to tip our hat to McNamara for pointing out a not-so-small irony: A major contributor to Sac's 2006 campaign was the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.
According to information posted on the Web by the nonprofit National Institute on Money in State Politics, the association was Sak's No. 1 supporter in 2006, giving his campaign $5,948.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com