WSB's Veronica Waters reports there is a plant with a medicinal and meditative history which has become known as a recreational drug of choice in some circles.
"The first hit, it just put me in a trance like I was in a third realm or something," says Lincoln Brewer, assistant manager at Smoke 911 on Roswell Road-- a tobacco/paraphernalia store for the 18-&-over crowd. "It's not a toy."
He's talking about salvia divinorum, a native Mexican plant in the mint family which was used for centuries by Indian healers and prophets.
"It's an intense hallucinogen," says Brewer.
News stories in recent years have garnered salvia more of a spotlight. Sold in different strengths, it commonly ranges in price from $16 to $60 for a gram. And yes, it's legal.
"It's available in south Georgia, it's available in metro Atlanta through so many shops, but it's also available through the Internet," says State Senator John Bulloch of Ochlocknee. It has several nicknames, including "Magic Mint" or "Sally D."
Researchers at the Energy Department say it's not a typically pleasurable drug...but is probably getting more popular because it produces a very fast high--in both onset and duration.
"Parents, I would say, are pretty clueless," said Jonathan Appel, an assistant professor of psychology and criminal justice at Tiffin University in Ohio who has studied the emergence of the substance. "It's much more powerful than marijuana."
Salvia's short-lasting effects and the fact that it is currently legal may make it seem more appealing to teens, lawmakers say. Others say legislators are overreacting to a minor problem.
YouTube has many videos showing users' first salvia trips. Often, users laugh a lot or experience introspective and fantasy-laden moments which they often don't remember. Some report out-of-body-like experiences with a sense of traveling through time and space. The sage also often impairs motor functions. One video's description says the smoker recalled feeling as if he was in a peapod.
The video below includes blue language, but shows an intense and immediate reaction which nearly immobilized the smoker.
Caution: Video Contains Explicit Language
Most commonly smoked in a water pipe, salvia is held in the lungs for 20-30 seconds. It's high is almost immediate...typically lasting five to 20 minutes. Brewer remembers one of his experiences at a friend's house.
"A lot of visuals, like a lot of intense colors, maybe seeing things that really aren't there," he tells WSB. "Just a good sensation over your body, real light on you like you're floating, almost, but spinning at the same time."
Southwest Georgia Senator Bulloch pushed through the Senate a bill criminalizing salvia back in 2007, but it didn't go any farther. He tells WSB he was sort of stuck on just how to punish those who possess or use salvia versus those who sell it.
"I had several district attorneys that said it's beginning to show up. It's not detectable through a drug urinalysis test, and so drug users that have been through the court system and are required to take urinalysis tests...are using this product as a second source of getting high," says Bulloch.
Bulloch thinks any successful legislation will have common threads state-to-state. According to sagewisdom.org, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Delaware, Maine, North Dakota, Illinois, and Kansas are the only states in the USA that have statewide laws prohibiting possession of salvia divinorum. Some municipalities around the country have enacted their own restrictions on the plant or its extracts.
Brewer maintains salvia isn't addictive and that it's only "stupid kids" who would smoke it and then try, say, to go drive a car. Always smoke with friends, he recommends.
"If you are going to experiment with it, you want to do it someplace that you are very familiar with, and you do have people around you that you trust," says Brewer. "With any kind of hallucinogen--especially with this--you could have a bad experience, and there's no telling what you can do or what kind of feelings you might get from a bad sensation."
Researchers also say the drug has potential as a treatment for Alzheimer's, pain and possibly mood disorders.
"We're trying to keep it legal, so don't be doing stupid things while you're on it," cautions Brewer.