WATCH: The federal government has promised to implement tighter regulations on salvia and it’s finally taking actions. But as Laura Stone reports, critics say it’s not the right approach.
OTTAWA – The Conservative government is expected to fulfill a four-year-old promise to add salvia to its list of controlled substances, Global News has learned.
After making the promise in 2011, Health Canada is set to add the sage specifies S. divinorum to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, making it illegal to possess, traffic and produce it.
READ MORE: Hallucinogenic salvia remains in legal limbo
“We’ve done our due diligence, we’ve done the studies, we know that these are used by young kids as hallucinogens,” Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, said in an interview.
“They aren’t healthy, they’re not safe, and that’s why we are moving to listing these as banned drugs.”
Salvia is found in a powerful Mexican plant that can cause hallucinations, memory loss and anxiety when smoked.
The high only lasts several minutes, and most people smoke it only once or twice, says Peter Addy, an associate research scientist at the Yale University School of Medicine.
“It hits you almost instantly. It crosses the blood brain barrier and it leads to a very intense and short-acting experience as opposed to eating or drinking it the way that it’s used traditionally,” said Addy, who’s been studying the drug for five years.
“It can be kind of anxiety- and fear-inducing if you do it under the wrong circumstances or if you’re not really prepared for it.”
Salvia is currently regulated by Health Canada as a “natural health product” – but no one is licensed to sell it.
Years after an accident in British Columbia and a 2006 death in Delaware, the government says it is finally acting.
The Liberals say there isn’t enough evidence to prove salvia is harmful or has long-term health effects.
“The problem about this government is that it makes decisions based on some kind of ideological whim, and not based on good evidence,” said health critic Hedy Fry.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says criminalizing salvia isn’t the answer either.
“We don’t protect youth by criminalizing them. Putting youth in jail for the use of this substance is clearly counter-productive,” said policy director Micheal Vonn.
But as the Conservatives gear up for the election, a source says salvia will be added to the list of controlled substances any day now.