VILNIUS - Law enforcement officials have launched an investigation into the potential health hazards of a psychoactive herb sold over the Internet in Lithuania to determine whether such sales should be banned.
Salvia, or Salvia Divinorum, is a powerful hallucinogenic herb originating in Mexico, and its usage is not regulated by the European Union.
Although it is a very old drug, used by Mazatec shamans during spiritual healing sessions, the applicable U.N. conventions that serve as basis for controlled substances lists around the globe do not mention it.
"There could be a reason for that," Jovile Vingraite, head of the narcotics department in the State Medicines Control Agency, told The Baltic Times.
The agency is currently investigating the level of risk of Salvinorin A, the active ingredient of the herb. In order to be recognized as "risky," the drug must satisfy a number of criteria.
First, the substance must have an effect on the central nervous system, which Salvia does. Second, it also has to be proved that it causes an addiction, which experts doubt. Third, the substance has to be harmful to human health, and finally, there must be a risk that a substance could be abused.
Some EU member states 's Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Spain, and Sweden 's banned the herb within their legal systems, and the U.K. unsuccessfully tried to do so in 2005.
In Lithuania, the drug is still legal. Audrone Astrauskiene, head of the drug control department, said the usage of Salvia Divinorum is not regulated since there was no information about the drug until recently.
"So there was no need to administer a control mechanism" for the drug, Astrauskiene told the weekly Lietuvos Sveikata.
But Lithuanian drug dealers are using the drug's legal limbo to their profit, selling it over the Internet for a modest price 's starting with 40 litas for leaves and up to 180 litas for a pack of scented herb essence.
MPs Alfredas Pekeliunas and Rima Baskiene addressed Health Minister Rimvydas Turcinskas on Jan. 31, calling for a prompt adoption of legislation that would establish control over the herb.
"We can see a paradoxical situation today when a substance causing hallucinations, sometimes a tranceâ€¦. is legally circulating in Lithuania. We must take all steps to ensure that the marketing of this herb is banned in Lithuania," Pekeliunas, a member of the Farmers Union, said.
Dainius Dzimanavicius, a specialist in the drug agency's legal department, told The Baltic Times that if analyses show that Salvinorin A could be considered narcotic, they will recommend including it in the list of controlled substances approved by the health minister.
The Web site that sells Salvia also suggests a variety of other "legal drugs" 's "buzz", "pills", and "skunk" without specifying their contents.
The choice of products, which are picked up at agreed places of different Lithuanian cities, sent by post or brought to the buyer, is constantly changing.
The authorities have not analyzed the risk level of those substances yet.