Is It An Herb Or A Drug?

The herb is called Salvia Divinorum. You can smoke it, chew it or drink it as tea. Police say the most common users are teenagers and people in their early 20's. The full effects of the herb on the body are unknown, and that's what has law enforcers on alert.

Police call it a drug. The Gulfport shop that sells Salvia Divinorum calls it an herb. But whatever the name, Salvia is getting attention.

"It's coming here, there's no doubt in my mind. It's just a matter of time before it becomes a problem and it's gonna be up to our elected officials to realize that this is a problem and enact laws to control it," says Gulfport Police Captain Pat Pope.

Salvia is a member of the sage family, grown in Mexico. It has been used there for hundreds of years.

"It's a dried leaf, that's basically what it is and what they also do to it is press this down and get the active ingredient that causes the hallucinations and the feeling and they enhance this drug by misting or spraying on the Salvinorin A which is the active ingredient," Pope says.

Enhancing the herb, Pope says, makes it especially potent and dangerous for users. He says it can cause blackouts and memory losses.

"A big danger of this drug is when they start enhancing the potency of it, artificially enhancing it. That's when you start playin' with fire."

The danger and the unknown impact Salvia has on the body has law enforcers labeling Salvia a "drug of concern."

"A lot of people didn't know ecstacy for a long time would cause brain damage. They thought it was a harmless club drug and it turned out it's very dangerous. This could be in the same category," Pope says.

The owners of the Herb Import Company in Gulfport disagree. They say Salvia is nothing more than a cure for stress and anxiety.

"If somebody comes in here and says they have anxieties we will recommend a coupla of different things, passion flowers or salvia and it puts 'em in a relaxed state of mind and I don't consider that to be a drug," Co-owner Terrie Daugherty says.

Only customers who are at least 18 can buy the Salvia at Daugherty's shop. An informational brochure comes with each sale.

Daugherty says she has smoked Salvia and found it to be very relaxing.

"But when it got to the point of goin' into a small like tunnel vision, your side vision starts closin' off, that's when I stopped. That's the mellowist I wanna feel."

The shop usually stocks 200 grams of Salvia. But owner Ronnie Daugherty says recent news reports have grabbed people's interest and a new shipment that arrived Friday morning contained 600 grams.

"It'll probably last 'til, bein' Memorial weekend, probably I'll be out Tuesday," Daugherty says.

Salvia isn't cheap. Just one gram costs $5.00. Marijuana costs about $4.25 a gram.

Although salvia is not widely available in South Mississippi stores,  it is easy to find on the internet. A simple search produces dozens of websites with information about the plant, its uses, and how to grow and buy it

The Drug Enforcement Agency says just because salvia is legal, people shouldn't assume it's safe.  They advise you to steer clear of it. Efforts to make the herb illegal failed in Congress last year.