January 18, 2011

Salvia and the Naked Schizophrenic

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straight-forward pathway had been lost.

-- Dante, Inferno, Canto 1

Once upon a time, in a different life but not so long ago, I found myself bereft, bewildered and bored in a house by the sea. How I found myself in that place in the middle way is a long story for another time. As the divine poet says:

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

There I was, “bewitched, bothered and bewildered,” but most of all bored. Bored with life and where it had led me, but most of all, as the singer says, “tired and bored with myself.” So I sought, as so many do, surcease from boredom. And, as usual among the bewildered boredom relief spelled, “self-medication.” And, because the alcohol consumption of another had led to this place “within a forest dark,” drinking was out. As a child of the sixties and a native Californian, I’d had a long off-again / on-again relationship with marijuana for decades, but it didn’t appeal and I hadn’t any ready to hand.

Somehow, “I cannot well repeat how,” I came across a link to something called “Salvia.” The proper name for it is “Salvia divinorum,” or ‘diviner’s sage.’ It was a hallucinogenic, but -- so I was led to believe -- a mild one that promised visions and “insight.” That was a lie, of course, but the bewildered are inclined to believe lies that promise relief from bewilderment and instant wisdom. I was sold. And so I bought.

Because salvia is not, in most states, a proscribed drug or hallucinogen, it is possible to order it off the internet. There it comes in leaf packs for chewing (traditional) or a tincture for dosing tobacco or other smokable substances, or simply for ingesting as a liquid. I chose the tincture sold with the alluring bit of stoner bull, "SAGE GODDESS EMERALD ESSENCE is an extraordinary potion of enchantment."

In time the delivery arrived and, by that time, I’d already read a number of web sites devoted to the “experience” and shovel deep in the kind of quasi-mystical garble common to afficiandos of these sorts of mind-altering herbs. I’d even bought and read the core text of the salviationists, Pharmako/poeia. I was ready for the appearance of “The Ally” and a number of other shades that were supposed to inhabit this nether world of the mind.

As a young man, I’d had a number of positive experiences with LSD both before and shortly after it became a federally proscribed drug. Like most, and unlike a few, I’d never had a “bad trip.” Not only that I seemed to cope well under it’s influence, becoming known as someone who could actually drive; the “designated tripper” of that era. I’d even done, with a group of close friends, a “trip” for a CBS or NBC or ABC documentary on acid at which the news organization had thoughtfully supplied us with pharmaceutical grade LSD from Sandoz. In short, I had no little experience with hallucinogenics but, wisely, had not gone near them in decades.

Now in middle age, I remembered my basic hippy mantra of “set and setting” and prepared for my “trip” accordingly. Clean house, lots of orange juice and fruit, music selection, and car-keys sent down the hill with a friend to be returned the next day.

Then I drank my potion and settled in to “explore” the “brave new world” of “diviner’s sage.”

What followed was the single worst experience with legal or illegal drugs I have ever had. Weight, oppression, slowness, and a mood like being enveloped in a foul stench from which there was no escape even in the fresh sea breeze. Heaviness. Heavy, heavy heaviness. Persistent, unremitting heaviness. Like some shrunken mummy had been glued to my chest and was jabbering in low tones in a language I didn’t understand. The dull back-beat of low-level nausea mixed with the feeling a live frog must have when its brain is pithed by a long thin needle. In short, I was in a universe whose center was repulsion. It was the Full Lovecraft.

The single redeeming element of the entire experience was that it was brief, no more than half an hour from onset of the high to the fading of the state of mind. The stoner literature on the drug noted that one might have to have “more than one” experience to get to the real core of the drug. I’m here to tell you that once was one too many times.

My first act upon regaining my senses was to flush all the remaining drug down the toilet and throw all the literature into the garbage. Then I went about forgetting my “experience” as quickly as possible. And I did.

Until reports of the last few days that Salvia was part of the drug-cocktail used by the Tucson maniac to prime him lunacy. Then the whole wretched experience came back and I saw, clearly, how drugs played a major role in stimulating and exacerbating his mental state. The reports have him as using salvia as well as marijuana, mushrooms, and other exotics.

Several of Jared’s friends said he used marijuana, mushrooms and, especially, the hallucinogenic herb called Salvia divinorum. When smoked or chewed, the plant can cause brief but intense highs.”

They seem to have it that he abused these over time and in sequence, but I thought, “What if he was combining them? What if he was soaking marijuana with salvia tincture and smoking that?” It would go a long way to explaining the very odd YouTube video that the killer made a favorite and, from my impression at least, actually made himself.

[The video is @ YouTube - America: Your Last Memory In A Terrorist Country! but I would counsel against watching all of it.]

I remember seeing it and thinking what a weird bit of garbage it was with the hulking shape wrapped in a hoody with garbage bags covering his lower torso and legs as he hunched through the Saguro desert to burn an American flag. Now I think that if you were to combine mushrooms, salvia, and marijuana in one demented cocktail you’d probably get the state of mind seen in that video.

But why would you want to do that?

Only one reason I can think of: Your mind is a hybrid of insane and evil. To paraphrase Dire Straits, “If you want to run cruel, you’ve got to run on heavy, heavy fuel.”

Posted by Vanderleun at January 18, 2011 1:22 PM
Bookmark and Share



"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

My motto is, and continues to be. if you are going to do drugs then just do the legal drugs.

Gin on the rocks with three olives got me through two tours in Vietnam.

What were you thinking?

Posted by: ChiefTestPilot at January 18, 2011 2:55 PM

1. I wasn't thinking.... clearly.

2. It actually is Legal drug.

3. My overall point is that it shouldn't be.

Posted by: vanderleun at January 18, 2011 3:00 PM

thanks for sharing this.

i think the salvia was a major contributor to loughner's mental illness.

sure: he had a diathesis for it, but the salvia intensified it and made his connection to reality more and more tenuous.


Posted by: reliapundit at January 18, 2011 3:11 PM

Thank you for describing the trip to Hell and back. I think I understand my daughter a whole lot more. When I asked her about the salvia, she didn't have the vocabulary to describe what you envisioned, but her words: I'm never gonna do that again, Mom. Promise."

Posted by: Jewel at January 18, 2011 3:30 PM

Salvia was one drug I never tried back in the day. In fact, I don't believe I even heard of it. Just as well, apparently.

Posted by: rickl at January 18, 2011 4:04 PM


Well done, and thanks for this. As you well know, I have opinionated extensively on the ramifications of various "harmless" drugs and their use. What continues to surprise me, for some reason, is that nobody seems to learn anything from our, yours and my, journey through the drug culture.

Expect the next round to include hoards of "libertarians" leaping to the defense of the harmless and misunderstood drug. As you note, and as I've pointed out ad nauseam, the drugs around these days are of an entirely different nature and potency than those we encountered 40+ years ago. More important, and what is universally ignored, is that all the stories of high-functioning individuals who continue to indulge mean exactly nothing in the face of the fact that crazy people with no internal structure are doing them too.

All y'all better look out, America. This ain't the end of it.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at January 18, 2011 4:26 PM

I went for it back in '03. Here's what happened.

I stuffed a bowl full of the dried leaf, fired the pipe, and inhaled deeply of the pungent, gaseous smoke. It felt like I'd stuck my finger in a light socket. I never had anything hit so hard, or so fast. Every skin cell on my body is twisting in a different direction. I am euphoric, weightless, floating, drifting in impossible motions. Everything is in motion, everything turning. Somehow, in this symphony of movement I manage to tap out the pipe, stuff a second wad of leaf into the bowl, cover the carburetor, light the lighter, fire the bowl, draw deep to fill the chamber, exhale (so many things to remember!) release the carburetor and draw down a second huge hit. It knocks me back. How long have I been holding this hit? Exhale. Freefall.
It's 1954 and I'm standing in the kitchen of my grandmother's apartment. There's the sink. There's the window. Light on the table. It is so warm, so loving. There's a box on the shelf with a logo I cannot read. It is singing colors. Orange and yellow concentric rings radiate through out the room bathing everything in warmth...
My eyes open. The vision and all memory of it vanish.

Did something happen? Is everything OK? This place seems familiar. Everything's OK, isn't it? The room is folding up, and folding up, and folding up... Is a room supposed to do that- folding up, and folding up?

I see my wife's face, angelic, floating in the center of this folding, churning vortex. I reach up from a great depth. "Not yet", I whisper. My eyes close. The vision resumes. It had never been interrupted. It's 1954, and I'm standing in the kitchen of my grandmother's apartment. There's the sink. There's the window. Light on the table. It is so warm, so loving. It has always been so and always will be. I was here before time. There's a box on the shelf with a logo I cannot read. It is singing colors. Orange and yellow concentric rings radiate through out the room bathing everything, dissolving the room, dissolving me, dissolving time. I am disembodied awareness. I am pure observation. THE POLES! Two poles of light, rods of infinite length and perfect straightness orbit one another- turning, twisting, tumbling- always changing, yet always maintaining the same everchanging relation to one another. This is the Engine of Creation generating existence. This is psycloptimogiven.

It began washing out. My eyes open. HOLY COW! The room was still doing this weird folding thing, but now I had some vague idea of where I was, and what was happening to me.

The word! What was that word?

I closed my eyes, and dove back into the rapidly fading vortex. Reaching with my mind like a swimmer in murky water I seize the word, and hold onto it like a treasure.
Psycloptimogiven, psycloptimogiven, there will be more given.
I open my eyes. "HOLY COW!", I shouted, "IT WAS THE PSYCLOPTIMOGIVEN!"
The trip was washing out very fast. Only now was I fully aware of where I was and what had happened. It was the sage! Tidal waves of astonishment broke over me.
"Holy cow!", I exclaimed again, and burst out in deep convulsive laughter- the way you'd laugh if you'd fallen from an airplane and landed on your feet unhurt. Suddenly I was bathed in sweat. I stood up, a little unsteady on my feet. I had been cleansed, purged. Every negative thought and feeling that I ever had was purged, I was healed, cleansed from within by the healing smoke, and ready to begin my life anew. I walked around the room in circles saying, "Holy Cow!" over and over again...

That was, without a doubt, the most spectacular experience I ever had from ingesting anything. I still have the rest of it sitting around somewhere. It never occurs to me to try it again. As I said on the other post here- no sane person ever does it twice.


Posted by: jwm at January 18, 2011 7:58 PM

Great Post

Posted by: Jason Wilson at January 18, 2011 8:28 PM

I had never heard of Salvia before today. I was coming from a 3 hour stint in line at the local DMV, my son had driven the car the night before, and had the radio on one of his stations. As I bumper to bumpered my way home in rush hour traffic, I heard a half hour discussion on Salvia by a drive time twosome on a San Diego station.

I hadn't heard about Loughner's use of Salvia until this broadcast. One of these guys seemed somewhat familiar, the other kept calling pot paraphernalia pot apparatus, so I think he was clueless. Anyway, they had on a local ER doc who said that Salvia's effects cause severe psychosis and he was opining on the effect of it on someone schizophrenic or psychotic and perhaps mixing it up with pot and alcohol.

Statistics were cited, don't know what study or by whom, but apparently more high school students admit to using Salvia than pot or coke combined. (I'm always suspicious of drug studies.)

It was enough to make me decide Salvia wasn't something I'd want to mess around with. Anyone can buy it, you don't even have to be 18.

Now I come here a few hours later and read a description of a hellish Salvia trip by a master story teller, reciting his own experience, and I'm even more convinced I would not want any part of Salvia or be around anyone using it.

Thanks Gerard.

Posted by: Sara (Pal2Pal) at January 18, 2011 11:48 PM

I just thought of one other thing the ER doc said. The number one thing reported by those who come to the ER is feeling like they are walking around in a dream while awake. Sounds very Loughner familiar.

Posted by: Sara (Pal2Pal) at January 18, 2011 11:54 PM

Never wanted to play with chemical dreams - have enough bizarre ones anyway, without junk to jiggle with the imagination. Grew up (and I use that phrase advisedly) in the generation before this kind of youthful experimentation got off the ground. Luckily any curiosity that may have been provoked by peer group babble was completely extinguished forever, when one day, as a young cop, I was called to an incident in West London and was obliged to assist ambulance and fire brigade crews to extract a pretty young maiden from Victorian wrought iron paling, which she had alighted upon, having jumped from a fourth floor apartment above, under the influence of LSD and in the fallacious belief that she could fly, according to her somewhat confused last words. These were uttered en route to the ER at the local meat factory. One of the spikes of the fence had penetrated her somewhere near her vagina and was protruding from her upper abdomen adjacent to her pancreas. Messy business! I later had the pleasure of interviewing the supplier of her junk in a cosy cell at the local police station. He did not apologise, but he was indeed very sorry.

Posted by: Frank P at January 19, 2011 9:34 AM

It was the Full Lovecraft.

That's scary.

Posted by: at January 19, 2011 9:52 AM

JWM, no! You know about the psycloptimogiven and you spoke about it to others! You are either very brave or very foolish. The Beings without a doubt have noticed.

Posted by: rasa at January 21, 2011 9:50 AM

That, in itself, is a good enough reason not to go back in there- even if I was brave enough to want to. You heard how they treated Gerard.


Posted by: jwm at January 21, 2011 7:11 PM


You should know better. All "illegal" means is "distributed by criminals".

According to the DOJ the only drug statistically associated with violence is alcohol. Maybe we make that illegal first and see what happens.

Posted by: M. Simon at January 27, 2011 3:15 PM

"More important, and what is universally ignored, is that all the stories of high-functioning individuals who continue to indulge mean exactly nothing in the face of the fact that crazy people with no internal structure are doing them too."

I'm looking forward to a law that will prevent crazy people from doing crazy things.

Maybe we could outlaw stupid too.

Posted by: M. Simon at January 27, 2011 3:23 PM