Dear Sen. Karen Peterson,
Perhaps I should’ve added to my ‘restriction on sale to minors’ example in
my previous email to be more explicit and reiterate that of course driving
while incapacitated – for whatever reason – is an issue of concern,
and that a tightening up of the legislation with regard to Salvia here
isn’t something that any of us would find unreasonable.
The point I was trying make however is that from what I know the fears
about it seem not to be well-founded.
Amongst much of the misinformation being perpetuated about Salvia are
often included comparisons with the effects of LSD. – Media stories nearly
always neglecting to mention the fact that whereas LSD trips can last
10-12 hours, Salvia divinorum is more like 10-12
Salvia can’t be casually smoked in a cigarette. – So the scenario we are
being asked to imagine is a driver pulling over to set up their water
pipe, – presumably leaving the engine running, having the express purpose
of driving off with the full onset of the experience, – presumably just
for the sheer hell of it.
You suggest that you are more comfortable with the idea of someone driving
under the influence of alcohol, saying – “I would
rather be driving next to someone whose judgment is impaired by alcohol
than someone who is hallucinating. Impaired judgment is better than no
But for me this is not really how it works.
The problem with alcohol as I see it isn’t so much about those attempting
to drive while completely drunk (and consequently also completely
incapacitated) as it is with those who think they’re basically okay having
not had that much.
Part of alcohol’s profile is the way it can engender such a misplaced
sense of self-confidence.
In moderation it may work well as a social lubricant, but its effect on
judgemental capacity makes driving a real concern.
In 2004 there were 42,636 automobile accidents in the US, of which nearly
40% were alcohol related (source: NHTSA – the National Highway Traffic
Like I say, I don’t mean to sound complacent, and I wouldn’t object to a
tightening of legislation in this particular regard, but, from what I know
of Salvia divinorum’s profile, it simply doesn’t bear comparison to the
actual (and verifiable) dangers of alcohol.
I believe that Salvia’s profound effects are more likely to engender a
sense of respect for the experience as opposed to a cocky
overconfidence in one’s own proficiency.
With regard to Brett Chidester’s suicide: – Again, questioning details of
the case is not to suggest my opposition to restrictions on the sale of
Salvia divinorum to minors. – Far from it. But it is interesting to note
how the story is being presented to us.
I’m thinking of major TV reports I’ve seen in particular (I’ve seen those
available on the internet) such as the CNN report (from Anderson Cooper
360° which featured an interview with your good self).
What we are typically being presented with is the story of a boy with the
world at his feet – a straight ‘A’s student – ambitions to become an
architect – to travel – healthy outdoor pursuits – etc – but life so tragically cut short by Salvia.
Your initial response to my questions about acne medication was “There has
never been any mention of Brett Chidester taking acne medication -- and I
have spent a lot of time talking with his parents about these issues. I
don't know where NBC got their information”.
Now if by coincidence I come across major newspaper stories which link an
acne medication with teenage suicide, and Brett’s case is linked with an
acne medication, then I’m bound to ask questions.
So it turns out, not that that Brett was using Accutane maybe, but he was
indeed taking some medication for acne.
From this we can at least conclude he was suffering from acne. – A fact by
and large neglected in most news reports (and initially passed over by
Leaving aside for the moment the question of the actual medication being
used, there is a great deal of evidence linking acne (i.e. just in and of
itself) with teenage depression.
The potential reasons for suicide are numerous, varied and complex, but I
think we’d have to agree, low self-esteem in those formative teenage years
isn’t generally going to be helped by the onset of acne is it?
It is quite unreasonable to insist upon Salvia’s influence in an isolated
case without also weighing up other evidence and looking for a more
compelling degree of correlation.
Although the internet is still a growing phenomenon it is by no means new.
It’s been well established for more than a decade. And, regardless of
whether you had heard of it before, Salvia divinorum has been widely
available in the US during all that time too.
In total about 30,000 people commit suicide each year in the US (31,484 is
the latest available figure from National Center for Health Statistics for
the year 2003). Of the year 2003 cases, 4,238 were under the age of 25.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst 15-24 year olds.
And the suicide rate for white males aged 15-24 has tripled since 1950
(there are more statistics of interest further referenced below).
As well as the figures for actual suicides, it’s also worth noting the
much higher number of attempted suicides. According the Samaritans there
are about 750,000 suicide attempts each year.
In addition, many more will people experience depression without going as
far as making an attempt on their own lives.
If Salvia divinorum contributes to depression (and/or subsequent suicide)
then I would expect to be hearing about this with more ‘survivors’ tales
from some of the seven and a half million or so US suicide attempts of the
last decade. For example, more retrospective accounts of what Salvia can
do to ‘mess up your life’ like we have with believable accounts of heroin
and crack-cocaine addicts.
I would also expect to be able to draw inference from other cultures
having long-established relationships with Salvia divinorum. And the
evidence here, from perhaps centuries of indigenous Mexican use, does not
support your concerns. – Quite the opposite I think you will find.
I made the point in previous correspondence that taking on big
pharmaceutical companies was an altogether different proposition to
persecuting a comparatively small number of Salvia practitioners.
This was not intended to question your own integrity, and I do appreciate
you entering into correspondence on the matter.
However, I have to ask, assuming a case not involving Salvia, – supposing
the reporting of one of these teenage suicide cases where Accutane was
being used, can you imagine TV coverage leading with such a bold
block-capital banner headline as ‘LEGAL YET LETHAL’ like we saw with CNN’s
www.cnn.com - click 'Watch Free Video
(Most Popular)' link to 'More' then search for 'legal but lethal' in the
pop-up window, or right-click and save this asx
file and open it with your media player.
I think such unqualified assertions would be highly unlikely in that case.
With teams of well-paid company lawyers employed to defend the large
pharmaceuticals interest, I’d expect we’d get an altogether more cautious
And the variety of opinion expressed in viewers comments sent to CNN about
their Salvia coverage suggests a good few others had their own questions
about it too.
Thank you once again for your thoughts so far.
Viewers feedback to CNN coverage: -
Drink Driving Statistics: -
Mothers Against Drunk Driving: -
Dallas (April 20, 2006) - Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (Nationwide) have announced new Gallup
survey results on underage drinking [...] The results highlight a major
public misperception regarding the severity of teen alcohol use […] “The
survey results show that the public mistakenly thinks the youth drug
problem is worse than the youth alcohol problem, despite research and
statistics that show more youth are drinking and dying due to alcohol than
all other illicit drugs combined,” said Glynn R. Birch, MADD national
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention -
• Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major
depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure
rises to over 75 percent.
• More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (7
million), cancer (6 million) and AIDS (200,000) combined.
• About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression
at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically
depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately succeed.
• Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between
80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to
treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.
But first, depression has to be recognized.
Alcohol and Suicide
• Ninety-six percent of alcoholics who die by suicide continue their
substance abuse up to the end of their lives.
• Alcoholism is a factor in about 30 percent of all completed suicides.
• Approximately 7 percent of those with alcohol dependence will die by
Firearms and Suicide
• Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for
"protection" or "self defense," 83 percent of gun related deaths in these
homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun
• Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides.
• Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide.
• Firearms account for 60 percent of all suicides.
- from National Statistics at