Friday, April 14, 2006 | 7:21 a.m.
The January suicide of a Delaware teen is bringing widespread publicity to a Mexican plant whose leaves and stems cause hallucinations when chewed or smoked. The plant, Salvia divinorum (meaning "sage of the diviners"), is not listed as a controlled substance under U.S. law and is banned only in Louisiana and Missouri.
Since the death of 17-year-old Brett Chidester, a Delaware state senator has submitted a bill to make the natural hallucinogen illegal in her state. The parents of the dead boy are convinced his use of Salvia and the hallucinations he experienced are what provoked his suicide. A note he left read, "How can I go on living after I learned the secrets of life?"
A major concern about Salvia, which has been used in healing and religious ceremonies for generations by Mexico's Mazatec Indians, is its availability. One Internet ad proclaims it to be the "No. 1 alternative to marijuana."
Of course, that is not consistent with Mexican Indian tradition, which respects the plant and its powers. In the hands of people who have not learned how to use it, and believe it is just another party drug, the plant can lead to harm.
It is hard to say if the plant should be illegal, as medical researchers contend it might lead to breakthroughs in treatments for mentally ill patients. But we do believe it should be controlled. For an herb this powerful to be sold nonchalantly over the Internet and in smoke shops is wrong.