Parents Blame Exotic Plant for Son's Suicide

The hallucinogenic plant remains legal despite protests from worried parents.

ByABC News
October 3, 2007, 5:04 PM

Oct. 3, 2007— -- If you go to the YouTube Web site and type in the word "salvia," you enter an underground world. Young people are sharing their experiences with the drug known as salvia over the Internet.

Salvia divinorum, as it is called, packs a powerful hallucinogenic punch, unlike anything else out there. The videos on YouTube show people using it and getting high.

"The experience is usually not pleasurable. It's usually kind of frightening and disorienting," said Daniel Siebert, one of the world's pharmacological experts on salvia. "It can be scary. Some people are better able to handle it than others."

Siebert admits that he has researched, used and sold salvia over the Internet for years.

"I sell this [salvia] for $65 a gram," Siebert said.

Salvia is an ordinary-looking herb native to the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. It was used by the Mazatec Indians for spiritual healing. Here in the United States, minors are increasingly smoking it to get high and posting their "trips" on the Internet.

In January 2006, Dennis Chidester's 17-year-old son Brett committed suicide by zipping himself inside a tent in his father's garage, lighting a charcoal grill and asphyxiating himself.

"When I saw that tent in my garage, a light bulb went off. I said 'something's wrong,'" Dennis said. "I tried to give him CPR but rigor mortis had set in."

Brett was a straight-A high school senior. He had a job and a girlfriend. He was a together kid.

"I never saw that there were any signs that there was anything wrong," said Kathleen Chidester, Brett's mother.

Kathleen believes her son's salvia trips were reshaping his mind -- the way he saw himself, his life and the world.

"I think he just snapped," Kathleen said. "I think he had smoked salvia to such an extent that something happened in his brain."

Salvia was found in Brett's vehicle by police the day he committed suicide. No other drugs were found, and there were no traces of any drug in Brett's system, according to the autopsy.

Brett Chidester's parents are now speaking out and campaigning to have salvia outlawed nationally. It is still legal in all but a few U.S. states.

After getting Delaware to ban salvia under what is now called Brett's Law, they want to warn as many people as they can about what they believe is a dangerous drug.