Stoner Science

Our staff risks all to determine if a plant will get them high or if it's just another Internet lie

And on Wednesday at 3 p.m. a small group of us gathered in our newsroom lounge, put Salvia divinorum in our newly purchased pipe, used our newly purchased lighter and inhaled.

The gray smoke surrounded us. Now it smelled like pot. It wasn't. But it wasn't exactly a nothing, either.

Two plants, some extract and some other paraphernalia completed our equipment needs for our science project.
Monica Fuentes
Two plants, some extract and some other paraphernalia completed our equipment needs for our science project.

Intense, somewhat intense, rush that didn't last long but a rush all the same -- our research scientists reached consensus that they felt something. Some got it right away; others said they needed three or four hits before anything kicked in. Several also got an almost instantaneous mild headache that would nag them for hours.

One volunteer said she felt glued to her chair; she couldn't move. Several others said they felt leaden, suddenly uncoordinated. Legs and arms didn't work right. Lethargy reigned. The presence of our "watchdog baby-sitters" (there in case something went wrong) seemed superfluous, a paranoid level of overprotectiveness. No one was going to dance around and fall down. No one wanted to get up. Still, someone might catch the couches on fire, and since we were sitting on these couches and couldn't seem to get up, that could be trouble.

Giggles. More giggles. A wave of giggles around the room as we pondered the immensity of this. Despite all the literature stressing that salvia was "not a party drug" and was "not marijuana," the biggest general effect was to give us a massive case of the giggles. Salvia was supposed to make people withdraw into their own rooms, into their own heads, with lights down and no intrusions. Introspection time. Talking would divert people from seeing visions.

That's probably why the Indian guide didn't show. We kept interrupting the full experience. In an effort to ramp up, some of the scientists took to chewing the raw and then the dried leaves of the plant -- another method of ingestion mentioned in salvia guides.

Stoner music was added. "I didn't notice the music at first, and when I did, it felt strangely ubiquitous, as if it were coming from all corners of the room. I spent a while wondering if this was thanks to the excellent acoustics of the staff lounge or, perhaps more plausibly, the salvia," one explorer noted.

Another adventurer was cramming more and more leaves into his mouth. We consulted the instructions again. He should chew and then wait ten seconds before chewing again. Told he was supposed to keep the juice and the leaves in his mouth for a full 30 minutes before any effect could be guaranteed, he began to look desperate and a little green. Nothing was happening. He even dropped some of the leaves into his cup of chamomile tea, which now looked really nasty.

Then the closest thing to an Indian guide we were to encounter happened by. Actually it was an employee from the business side who did know something about salvia. He looked us over, smiling, then with a puzzled look asked: "You're not chewing the leaves off that plant are you? That's the wrong kind. That's Indigo spires salvia, not Salvia divinorum. That won't do anything." The leaf chewing came to a swift throat- and mouth-clearing end.

Afterward, the scientist reported that "The baked leaves tasted bitter and dry, yielding a dirty aftertaste. The uncooked leaves were more palatable and you could almost convince yourself that it was just part of some really healthy salad dish."

From time to time people from other departments came by to laugh at us. We laughed and they laughed. Everyone was in a good mood, with the exception of one of our "baby-sitters," who kept carping about the "secondhand smoke" and could she "please get some air."

Again, although it smelled like marijuana, salvia didn't share a lot of the same effects. There was no call for munchies, although we did discuss whether salvia could be baked in brownies. While salvia affected motor control, it didn't seem to affect thought processes. People did get high; there was a certain dreamlike quality, but the effects were fleeting. The literature warned strongly against mixing this stuff with alcohol, and no one seemed inclined to do so. We were too tired, although after about half an hour the most dedicated of our cigarette smokers made their way outside for a break and to laugh at drivers parking their cars.

We watched TV along with the music and, this being a newsroom, of course we had it tuned to CNN. Asked to rate the experience on a scale of one to ten, another staffer wrote: "About a nine for an at-work experience. About a five for a party."

In every scientific endeavor there are those for whom a 100 percent effort isn't enough. Keith Plocek agreed to go home that night and try again, away from the chattering newsroom.

I turned off the lights, lit some candles and incense, put on a hippie jam band and popped a borrowed copy of Baraka -- the trippy art film now passé among psychedelic types -- into the VCR, all in the grand spirit of Cheech and Chong.

My neighbor came over and we proceeded to pound a few hits of salvia. The moment I took my first hit, I was overcome with the immediate sense of wanting more. My whole body suddenly felt flush.

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