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Pop Star's Use of Salvia Puts Hallucinogen in the Spotlight
Date:1/4/2011

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- After a video surfaced on the Internet last month of pop star Miley Cyrus -- giggling and semi-coherent, holding a bong -- many wondered what the 18-year-old singer had inhaled.

According to Cyrus, her addled state was the effect of taking in smoke from the leaves of the Salvia divinorum plant, including its active ingredient, a potent hallucinogen called salvinorin A.

The plant (one of the mint family of herbs) has been used for centuries for spiritual healing by shamans living among the Mazatec people of Oaxaca, Mexico. But in recent years the drug has been discovered by a new crowd -- young Americans seeking a legal high.

"When people are on this drug they're not acting like they're in this world." said Dr. Matthew W. Johnson, lead author of the first study to explore the effects of salvinorin A on volunteers.

"People report almost instantaneously being transported to a completely different reality," said Johnson, who is scientific and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. "Some people describe it as being in another dimension, during which they have highly elaborate interactions with so-called 'entities' that are not of this world."

According to the study, salvia prompts an almost immediate and extremely powerful reaction among users. The experience, which typically lasts five to 15 minutes, is not accompanied by any appreciable health risks in the short-run, the researchers found.

"But that's not to say that I would generally describe this drug as 'safe,'" Johnson cautioned. He said that taking any hallucinogen "means that if someone was to smoke it while driving, my money would be on the likelihood that they are going to have an accident. So there is certainly a 'behavioral toxicity' concern with this drug."

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