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Prohibition Could Prevent Promising Medical Studies

Salvia has recieved recent media and legislative attention and is becoming criminalized at a fast pace. Researchers worry as there is promising data into possible medical uses for the powerful substance. According to the New York Times September 9, 2008 article,("Hallucinogen's Popularity May Thwart Medical Use") "Pharmacologists who believe salvia could open new frontiers for the treatment of addiction, depression and pain fear that its criminalization would make it burdensome to obtain and store the plant, and difficult to gain government permission for tests on human subjects. In state after state, however, including here in Texas, the YouTube videos have become Exhibit A in legislative efforts to regulate salvia. This year, Florida made possession or sale a felony punishable by 15 years in prison. California took a gentler approach by making it a misdemeanor to sell or distribute to minors."

The article states, "When the federal government this year published its first estimates of salvia use, the data astonished many: some 1.8 million people had tried it in their lifetimes, including 750,000 in the previous year. Among males 18 to 25, where consumption is heaviest, nearly 3 percent reported using salvia in the previous year, making it twice as prevalent as LSD and nearly as popular as Ecstasy. Recent studies at college campuses on both coasts have yielded estimates as high as 7 percent. The herb's presence on military ships and bases has prompted enough concern about readiness that the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology was asked to develop the first urinalysis for salvia and is now testing 50 samples a month. Though research is young and little is known about long-term effects, there are no studies suggesting that salvia is addictive or its users prone to overdose or abuse. Reports of salvia-related emergency room admissions are virtually nonexistent, likely because its effects typically vanish in just a few minutes. In the meantime, 13 states and several local governments have banned or otherwise regulated the plant and its chemically enhanced extracts."

The article adds, "Such laws could pose a substantial burden to researchers at institutions like Harvard and the University of Kansas who are convinced that salvia's active compound, Salvinorin A, holds great promise and will aid in the development of new lines of pain and psychiatric medications. In 2002, Dr. Bryan L. Roth, now of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discovered that Salvinorin A, perhaps uniquely, stimulates a single receptor in the brain, the kappa opioid receptor. LSD, by comparison, stimulates about 50 receptors. Dr. Roth said Salvinorin A was the strongest hallucinogen gram for gram found in nature. Though Salvinorin A, because of its debilitating effects, is unlikely to become a pharmaceutical agent itself, its chemistry may enable the discovery of valuable derivatives. 'If we can find a drug that blocks salvia's effects, there's good evidence it could treat brain disorders including depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, maybe even H.I.V.,' Dr. Roth said. Many scientists believe salvia should be regulated like alcohol or tobacco, but worry that criminalization would encumber their research before it bears fruit. 'We have this incredible new compound, the first in its class; it absolutely has potential medical use, and here we're talking about throttling it because some people get intoxicated on it,' said Dr. John Mendelson, a pharmacologist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute who, with federal financing, is studying salvia's impact on humans."

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