Monday, February 12, 2007

Legal or natural does not mean safe

Last night I posted an item at Herald Watch, though it wasn't about the Herald. It was about TV journalism. I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know when I say that local TV news is pretty much worthless. The particular story that caught my attention was about an herb called Salvia Divinorum. The crux of the piece was that this naturally occurring herb is gaining in popularity among college and high school aged kids and that it's potentially dangerous.

The story featured a woman named Kathleen Chidester who blamed Salvia for her son's suicide. Setting aside the validity of that claim and how much Salvia had to do with the death of her son for a minute, she made another point in the report that I only really picked up on the second time I saw the story. And that's the fact that she knew her son was using Salvia and that he had reassured her that it "couldn't be that dangerous if it was legal."

I certainly feel for the woman and I understand her desire to launch a crusade against Salvia and her desire to make people aware about it, but it seems to me that her approach is faulty. Rather than trying to pass legislation to make the herb illegal, I think her efforts would be better spent in trying to let people know that natural does not equal safe.

There is literally no limit to the number of naturally occurring substances that are dangerous to humans. Can we possibly outlaw all of them? Arsenic, Lead, and Mercury are just a few examples. Just because something isn't illegal doesn't mean that its effects on humans have been thoroughly investigated. Hell, even pharmaceuticals that have been investigated in such a fashion often turn out to have long term side effects or cause deadly reactions in certain people.

As an avid listener of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, I have trained myself to identify claims of quacks that sell all kinds of "natural remedies". Many of these remedies have not been scientifically proven to do what their proponents claim. And, as I said before, just because they are natural does not mean that they aren't dangerous.

I guess my point is that any time you are going to ingest something you should find out what is known about it beforehand. Consult reliable scientific sources and if you have any doubts don't take it. I have since learned that the woman in this story claims that her son had some manifestations of depression. To me the mixing of those manifestations with a hallucinogenic drug should have made alarm bells go off in her head.

For the record, I have never tried Salvia Divinorum nor am I endorsing it in any way. I just think that we can't rely on the government to protect us from our own ignorance.


Blackwingbear said...

The boy actually killed himself from lack of love and caring from his parents, according to his suicide note. Salvia has tecnically never been responsible for anyone's death or other problems. Actually, I have used Salvia Divinorum many times in the practice of meditation and can tell you it was NEVER meant to be used recreationally. It is a holy sacrament to be used only for meditation, vision-questing or problem-solving and even then with another person acting as "babysitter". It lasts about 20 minutes and then you come back to sobriety. Any questions you have about it I would be most happy to answer...

Cyberray said...

Why don't we start by outlawing tobacco there are many death directly attributed to the poisonous weed - then how about alcohol a substance so toxic that it actually kills brains cells and in a substantial quantity it produces death, not to mention the enormous cost in accidents attributed to drunk drivers.

Lori said...

Henry I agree with you. Humans have deadly bacteria in their mouths, if we're gonna start outlawing everything and anything that in large quantities causes death, we'll have to start by outlawing food, sun, water, saltwater, and anything and everything else.

Her campaign should focus on making people aware that nature is full of dangerous plants and animals, and that nobody should take up some plant as their next feel good herb without knowing the possible consequences.