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Miley Cyrus and salvia: Is legal necessarily safe?

Singer and actress Miley Cyrus poses for a

Singer and actress Miley Cyrus poses for a portrait in New York, on Friday, June 18, 2010. Credit: AP

Last week, teen singer Miley Cyrus was photographed smoking some Salvia and all hell broke loose. Is the herb legal? Absolutely. Should kids be smoking it? Absolutely not. Does logic necessarily follow that it should be outlawed? An emphatic no.

Nearly 2 years ago, I wrote about the disturbing trend of Salvia smoking among teenagers and whether growing the plant should be outlawed, as some have proposed. While that's taking things unnecessarily far, there are definitely some do's and don'ts that need to be discussed.

Miley's herb inhalation was captured on video and sent around the world in a heartbeat. Kids who had never heard of it apparently perked up their antennae because use of the herb has "picked up" since then, according to the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, my colleague Beth Whitehouse reports today. This illustrates a bigger societal problem with our role models.

Here are some excerpts from my previous coverage. Do weigh in.

You know that beautiful Salvia plant you had growing in your garden last summer? The fragrant, purple one? It's gaining a heck of a reputation. Lawmakers in Florida and elsewhere are hip to the fact that teenagers -- among others, I'm sure -- have discovered the hallucinogenic properties of its cousin, Salvia divinorum. And you know what they say about judging a man by his friends.

I can't imagine how kids stumbled upon this, but Salvia divinorum can produce an hour-long high that's reportedly more potent than marijuana's when smoked, eaten or brewed into a tea. And it's currently legal, which means it can be easily obtained by anyone, unlike Sudafed or Claritin-D, for which I have to produce a driver's license and sign my name to a federal government log in order to purchase at CVS.

Online, an ounce of Salvia leaves can be had for $30; liquid extract sells for $12-$70, depending on the size of the bottle and its potency. Long-term health effects aren't clear, but its use was cited in a 17-year-old Delaware boy's suicide in 2006.

The plant, native to Mexico, has been used for centuries in indigenous healing rituals. Now lawmakers in at least eight states have put restrictions on it, and others are considering making it illegal.

It sounds ridiculous to outlaw a plant, but the dilemma is a big one: People get the impression that whatever is legal is safe. Kids especially. And therein lies the problem: It could be dangerous.

The plants in our herb and perennial gardens are guilty only by association, as there haven't been any hallucinogenic properties or abuses reported about them. They all make an eye-catching, deliciously scented addition to the herb or perennial garden, but you can't smoke them, but why would you want to? 

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