A Natural, Relatively Safe, and Potentially Therapeutic Psychoactive Drug, An interview with Brian Arthur, owner of Mazatec Garden

by Nick Cooper

On September 1st, after three failed attempts, Texas lawmakers made illegal the sale of the hallucinogenic drug Salvia Divinorum.  Brian Arthur, who used to sell quite a bit of it, spoke about the drug and the law.

What are the effects of Salvia Divinorum?

Salvia divinorum has a unique dissociative hallucinogenic effect. When smoked it produces an extremely strong, but short lived experience, the most intense part lasting around five minutes. Some users describe the effect as an “out of body experience”. Users often report physical sensations and hearing voices as well as visions. Some users find the effects to be useful for spiritual meditation, others find them to be unpleasantly strong. Repeated casual use of Salvia is rare, and most people agree that it is not suitable or popular for use as a recreational drug. Salvia divinorum was traditionally chewed by the Mazatec Indian tribe of Oaxaca Mexico for their shamanic vision-quest ceremonies. Oral use produces a milder but longer lasting effect that some people think the chewing method is better for spiritual use.

What were the risks for users and sellers of Salvia Divinorum before the law passed?

There are no known long term side effects of Salvia use, and it is not considered to be toxic. While under the influence of Salvia, users can become disoriented and detached from their surroundings, and there have been some accidents reported. One user was reported to have fallen off a balcony to his death. Most Salvia vendors urge their customers to be cautious when using Salvia, and to have a “sober sitter” with them, especially during their first experience. One family reported that Salvia caused their son to become depressed and commit suicide, but later retracted this assertion, but not before Salvia was criminalized in Delaware because of their claims.

What percentage of your business was sales of Salvia Divinorum?

We have been selling Salvia since 2000. Our business has been as much as 80% Salvia sales, but in recent years with more and more states criminalizing Salvia, sales had slowed and it was more like 20% toward the end.

When did you find out that Texas was trying to criminalize Salvia Divinorum?

There have been bills that have attempted to criminalize Salvia in Texas for the past 3 legislative sessions. They failed in committee for the past 2 attempts, mostly due to lack of interest. I found out about the last attempt when it was introduced, in January I think it was.

Why do you think Texas wanted to criminalize Salvia Divinorum?

The three legislative attempts to criminalize Salvia were introduced by a State Representative from Waco named Charles “Doc” Anderson. There was really no interest in criminalizing Salvia in Texas before Doc took up the issue. After his first failure, in 2008 Doc tried to stir up national interest in criminalizing Salvia in Texas, taking his case to national media outlets like The New York Times, The Today Show, and Doctor Phill. As a Texas Salvia supplier I was interviewed by The New York Times and The Today Show so that I could respond to Doc Anderson’s legislation attempts. I was also interviewed by The Dallas Morning News, but I declined an invitation to appear on Doctor Phill. At that time the Texas ACLU and even some libertarian leaning Republicans testified in committee opposing the attempt to criminalize Salvia.

Did you do anything to try to influence the legislation?

There was almost no media during this past legislative attempt, and I was expecting the attempt to die in committee again, but it was kind of tacked on to another bill that criminalized “synthetic marijuana”, and so ended up going through without any opposition that I am aware of.

Will the law cause you to have to lay off any workers or otherwise change your business?
We stop selling dried Salvia but we didn’t have to lay anyone off because of that. We have a grower in Oregon who sells live Salvia plants, so we are still offering those in places where it is legal.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Because of it’s unique effects, Salvia divinorum has potential medical benefits that have not been explored. In my time selling Salvia I have had reports of people saying they have found it useful to alleviate depression and addiction. I even had someone tell me that they used it to help with their phantom leg syndrome. Because it is such an intense experience, it can be useful as kind of a mental reset button. It has been documented that hallucinogenics can be medically useful for psychological problems like addiction. In my opinion, because of it’s short duration and lack of side effects, Salvia could potentially be particularly useful in this application. I did meet with a MAPS researcher that was studying potential medical benefits of MDMA and I tried to get him interested in Salvia, but he was focused on MDMA. I do hope that in the states where Salvia is still legal, someone does take the opportunity to do some medical research with this remarkable herb while there is still time. As of now, Salvia is only legal in 8 states, so there is no telling how much time is left. The last thing I would like to point out is that Salvia is not illegal in Texas in it’s “naturally occurring live state”, so live Salvia divinorum plants are not criminalized in Texas.