TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - On Web sites touting the mind-blowing powers of salvia divinorum, come-ons to buy the hallucinogenic herb are accompanied by warnings: "Time is running out! ... stock up while you still can."
That's because salvia is being targeted by lawmakers concerned that the inexpensive and easy-to-obtain plant could become the next marijuana. Eight states including North Dakota have already placed restrictions on salvia, and 16 others, including Florida, are considering a ban or have previously.
"As soon as we make one drug illegal, kids start looking around for other drugs they can buy legally. This is just the next one," said Florida state Rep. Mary Brandenburg, who has introduced a bill to make possession of salvia a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
North Dakota lawmakers last year passed a bill that makes salvia divinorum a schedule I controlled substance, a category that includes such drugs as heroin and marijuana. A person who makes, delivers or possesses a schedule 1 controlled substance is subject to a felony charge.
Some say legislators are overreacting to a minor problem, but no one disputes that the plant impairs judgment and the ability to drive.
Native to Mexico and still grown there, salvia divinorum is generally smoked but can also be chewed or made into a tea and drunk.
Called nicknames like Sally-D, Magic Mint and Diviner's Sage, salvia is a hallucinogen that gives users an out-of-body sense of traveling through time and space or merging with inanimate objects. Unlike hallucinogens like LSD or PCP, however, salvia's effects last for a shorter time, generally up to an hour.
No known deaths have been attributed to salvia's use, but it was listed as a factor in one Delaware teen's suicide two years ago.
"Parents, I would say, are pretty clueless," said Jonathan Appel, an assistant professor of psychology and criminal justice at Tiffin University in Ohio who has studied the emergence of the substance. "It's much more powerful than marijuana."
Salvia's short-lasting effects and fact that it is currently legal may make it seem more appealing to teens, lawmakers say. In the Delaware suicide, the boy's mother told reporters that salvia made his mood darker but he justified its use by citing its legality. According to reports, the autopsy found no traces of the drug in his system, but the medical examiner listed it as a contributing cause.
Mike Strain, Louisiana's Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner and former legislator, helped his state in 2005 become the first to make salvia illegal, along with a number of other plants. He said the response has been largely positive.
"I got some hostile e-mails from people who sold these products," Strain said. "You don't make everybody happy when you outlaw drugs. You save one child and it's worth it."
An ounce of salvia leaves sells for around $30 on the Internet. A liquid extract from the plant, salvinorin A, is also sold in various strengths labeled "5x" through "60x." A gram of the 5x strength, about the weight of a plastic pen cap, is about $12 while 60x strength is around $65. And in some cases the extract comes in flavors including apple, strawberry and spearmint.
Web sites such as Salviadragon.com tout the product with images like a waterfall and rainbow and include testimonials like "It might sound far fetched, but I experience immortality."