So that's Miley Cyrus bong-smoking salvia -- and what is salvia, exactly?
Literally, it was a question: "What the [gosh darn] is salvia?!," a friend of the Ministry asked. "And I thought I knew all controlled substances."
More properly known as Salvia divinorum, the herb is "an old psychedelic drug with new appeal," The Times' Health team reported in 2008, when the California legislature was deciding who should be able to buy the type of sage.
Currently, the herb is illegal in a number of states, but not regulated federally as a controlled substance. So the friend of the Ministry need not feel so bad.
From Health reporter Shari Roan's article:
Salvia divinorum is an inauspicious-looking member of the mint family and is one of many species of salvia, also known as sage, some of which are common garden plants in hot, dry climates. (Salvia divinorum itself is not a popular garden plant because it is not considered decorative.) Salvia divinorum contains a chemical, salvinorin A, that causes hallucinations. The dried leaves or concentrated extract, which is often sold as incense, are smoked or chewed and produce a high lasting from less than a minute to about a half-hour. Users report distorted senses, an out-of-body feeling and losing control over their body movements.
Some websites promoting salvia warn users to take the drug in the presence of a sober person who can help if a user loses body control or behaves erratically. Numerous users have placed clips on YouTube of themselves or others laughing hysterically or staggering around while high on salvia, such as one YouTube clip that has logged more than 240,000 views.
It's illegal in California to provide salvia divinorum to a minor, but legal for a minor to possess it.
"Salvia is a drug of concern," a Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman told MTV News. "We are taking steps to look further into it, but for right now, it is not a schedule-one narcotic."
Click here to read about salvia in more detail -- including whether it's addictive, and whether it's like LSD, among other fascinating details.
-- Christie D'Zurilla
Photos: Salvia divinorum plants grown by Daniel Siebert of Malibu in 2001, left; the herb in a dried form, right. Credits: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times, left; Ricardo De Aratanha / Los Angeles Times, right