Salvia Divinorum: Personal and social consequences

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 3:32 pm

As it only recently became widely known in the United States, Salvia divinorum has had limited use. There have been no reports of hospital or emergency room treatment of users for adverse reactions. Negative personal or social consequences of its use have so far gone undetected. Nevertheless, if use of Salvia becomes more widespread, these facts may change.
It is worthwhile to recall that the use of hallucinogens in the United States has had marked social and personal consequences in the past. In the 1960s, hallucinogen use became widespread, especially on college campuses. Promoted by Timothy Leary, a psychology instructor at Harvard, and others, LSD was hailed as the source of psychic awakening, happiness, fulfillment, creativity, and other good things. Other hallucinogens such as peyote and mescaline were also employed in the service of attaining allegedly greater insight and understanding. However, Leary lost his position at Harvard, and other frequent voyagers on “acid trips” found that their supposedly expanded awareness and understanding did not translate into greater success in the everyday world.
“Turn on, tune in, drop out” became the mantra of those who preferred the reality found through hallucinogen use to that of participation in ordinary social life. A subculture of users emerged. Terms such as hippie, flower child, acid head, and others came to describe those mostly young people who withdrew from mainstream society. Centers of the subculture arose in East and West Coast cities. Many of these youths joined protest movements, such as those in support of civil rights and against the Vietnam War.
Eventually, a number of negative repercussions of this social ferment became evident. Hospitals and emergency rooms began reporting adverse reactions to hallucinogen use. Accounts of users becoming permanently psychotic or suicidal were publicized and sometimes sensationalized in the press. In certain individuals, repeated use of hallucinogenic drugs resulted in changes in personality. Some developed a passive, noncompetitive attitude and withdrew from participation in various aspects of society. Such behavior was often associated with involvement in the subculture, in which values and behavior differed from the social norm and drug use was common. Many users began to abuse other drugs besides hallucinogens, including marijuana, hashish, methamphetamine, and heroin. Young people without means of support wandered on the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities. Some went through periods of poverty and even starvation. Some became victims of crime. Others became criminals themselves. Parents feared that those of their children who had become involved in the subculture would remain permanently dysfunctional and fail to obtain education and gainful employment.
Although many young people who joined the hallucinogen subculture went on to hold jobs, marry, create families, and be responsible adults, there is little doubt that many young people were harmed and their lives permanently set back. In consequence, LSD was classified as a Schedule I substance, and its possession and distribution were made crimes. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) was created to promote scientific research into drug abuse and addiction.
In the decades following the 1960s, the use of hallucinogens subsided. The American economy went through difficult times, and the concerns of youth turned away from protest and toward finding good jobs and achieving financial stability. In the 1990s, however, there were signs that interest in hallucinogens may have emerged again. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse has indicated that usage of hallucinogens is again on the rise.
It is too soon to know whether Salvia divinorum will play a role in a new wave of hallucinogen abuse. That this will not be the case is suggested by reports by Siebert and others that the effects of the substance are often unpleasant and users do not seek to repeat the experience. Still it is useful to recall the upheavals that once took place, in order that knowledge of the past may help to prevent the repetition of it.

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