When I told people we were doing a story on Salvia Divinorum, most said to me that they had no idea what I was talking about. And that is one of the major points of this story.
Salvia Divinorum is considered the world's most potent "natural" hallucinogen. It has been used for hundreds of years by indigenous people in Mexico, but very little is scientifically known about it. And that may be one of the reasons that it is completely legal to use and buy in 48 of the 50 United States.
The herb is sold on the internet and in many smoke shops. It is smoked or chewed and can make people feel they are in another place and time. It is not yet used by a lot of youth in this country, but its use is increasing, which brings us to the tragedy that recently unfolded.
Brett Chidester, a 17-year-old Delaware high school senior, committed suicide this past January. His parents knew he had experimented with salvia and asked him to stop. He said it was legal, but he would discontinue using it. But his parents now believe his depression was worsened by the salvia, and they believe it contributed to his death.
A Delaware state senator took notice and sponsored legislation to criminalize its use and distribution. The state senate has passed the bill; the state house is expected to follow suit. The bill is expected to pass. If it does, Delaware will join Missouri and Louisiana as the only states to criminalize the herb.
Advocates for salvia use say it should be regulated, not criminalized. They say it should only be used by adults, and when responsibly smoked or chewed, it can be used as a meditative tool. In addition, some users say it relieves depression. But all acknowledge it can cause serious hallucinations.
So why is it still easily attainable in the great majority of the country?
Well, it's not because politicians are against criminalizing it. The answer is more basic. Most lawmakers and even law enforcement officials know little or absolutely nothing about it. Efforts like Delaware's are likely to lead to many more states looking at criminalizing Salvia Divinorum.
Brett Chidester's parents are broken up about the loss of their only child, but they see Delaware's proposed law as his legacy. The name of the legislation, by the way, is Brett's law.