Media Stories

Sunday Mail 6th February 2005

by Norman Silvester

Tabloid hack makes up story and flogs it as journalism

There now follows an almost line-by-line breakdown of the original article.

Starting with the headlines:

The Wasted Civil Servant

The term 'Wasted' is pejorative and defamatory. I specifically state on my site that Salvia is not something to get you wasted.  Many other Salvia websites emphasise that that Salvia is not a party drug. 

Also, I work under contract to the government, and as such I'm not a civil servant.  Neither am I a 'boss'...

Government boss smokes weed and flogs it from from home

The term ‘weed’ is popularly used as a colloquialism for cannabis. The sub-headline must be seen as deliberately misleading (unless you assume the writer is not streetwise enough to be aware of the connotation).

I do not consider or promote or sell Salvia as a cannabis substitute (in fact I give cannabis fairly short thrift on this website).

Nor do I confuse Salvia divinorum with herbal ecstasy.

With regard to the picture sequence and the article's opening sentence...

THESE are the moments when one of the government's computer officials gets blasted on the herbal weed he sells from his home.

The order of the pictures has been switched to suit the Sunday Mails' purposes, so they can make the "going, going, gone" inference with the picture captions.  The second shot ('Eyes wide open...') actually occurs a few minutes after the third.

No mention is made in the paper's report of the actual duration of a Salvia experience. To address this glaring oversight I'll say you should be aware that via smoking the peak experience can be expected to last about 10 minutes, followed by a 20 minute 'afterglow' period, during which most people like to reflect on their visions.  To be on the safe side, tasks such as driving or the operation of heavy machinery should not be undertaken for an hour or so.

The experience from chewing the leaf lasts longer, about 40-45 minutes, from which expect similar comedown times as quoted for smoking.


By day Robert M. solves IT problems for the Government. But in his spare time he flogs an alternative to cannabis called 'herbal ecstasy' across Britain, Europe and South America.

Once again, Salvia is not an alternative to cannabis, neither is it called 'herbal ecstasy'.

Salvia divinorum and ‘herbal ecstasy’ are two different things. The term ‘herbal ecstasy’ has a generality about it, but is usually taken to mean a mixture of herbs containing the active ingredient ephedrine, – often supplemented or simply replaced with caffeine.

I have not and do not sell ephedrine or caffeine based products. I have not and do not advertise Salvia divinorum as ‘herbal ecstasy’.


And he even sells DVDs showing how to smoke it.

The video material does show the ingestion of Salvia, but there's no particular focus on 'how to smoke it'.  The material on the disk given to the undercover reporter would've included...

The Salvia divinorum episode from a Channel 4 documentary series called 'Sacred Weeds'.  First broadcast in 1998, this is a full length feature, running time ~ 50 minutes. Well worth seeing.  It's how I first came to find out about Salvia divinorum.  The program features two volunteers ingesting Salvia both via smoking and the chewing method.  One of the volunteers is Daniel Siebert, who first isolated and identified Salvia's active constituent.  The other volunteer is a travel writer, a (proper) journalist, with no special prior experience of the plant.

The program also informs us about Salvia's use in curing and divination in Mexican Mazatec culture, - traditions which have endured for many hundreds of years.

The Sacred Weeds series Salvia divinorum episode is the DVD's main feature. Highlighted as such on the disk's main menu we have to assume the report's failure to acknowledge or refer to it is deliberate.


The report's picture sequence was taken (without my permission, and switched from the original running order) from my 'Soul Mining' film  - a short (~6 mins) feature about my relationship with Salvia. 'Soul Mining' was made courtesy of the BBC under the auspices of a training / not for public broadcast piece.

Soul Mining shows me smoking Salvia, but the film as a whole is not a 'how to smoke Salvia' piece.

Interestingly, as in the Sacred Weeds program, we have another journalist, in this case the filmmaker, inexperienced with Salvia but prepared to try it on camera in the context of his professional research.

The DVD-ROM contained other material, such as that looking at sacred plants other than Salvia, which I'm not insisting should've all been watched before writing an article about Salvia divinorum, but which would give better understanding of the general potential for sacramental use of visionary plants to anyone with serious intent.


The drug comes from the plant Salvia Divinorum, which is the strongest naturally-occurring hallucinogenic.

When vaporized and inhaled, doses of about 250 micrograms (that is 250 millionths of a gram) can have threshold effects and doses of 1 milligram (one thousandth of a gram) can have extreme effects. Sensitivity varies greatly from person to person. This makes Salvinorin, the active constituent in Salvia divinorum, the strongest known naturally occurring vision inducing substance.

Bear in mind that these measures are referring to the isolated chemical compound.  In practice, when smoking Salvia, an effective dose relates one medium sized leaf (though first time users may want to start with a smaller amount, say half a leaf).  When chewing, six to eight leaves are required (medium size leaf ~ 15cm tip-to-tip length).


It is banned in Australia, Denmark and Finland but is not covered by British drugs laws.

Australia was the first country to ban Salvia divinorum.  During their 'research' their National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee dismissively stated...

"There was no evidence of traditional therapeutic use other than in shamanistic healing rituals."

Which begs the question, does a shamanistic healing ritual not count as a traditional therapeutic use then?

This unelected committee's technical 'experts' apparently made such a complete hash of its systematic naming of the active constituent Salvinorin A, it not only suggests that they had no idea what they were legislating against, it may even make the validity of the law itself questionable (see for technical detail).


Robert, 43, sold a plant to a Sunday Mail reporter posing as a buyer.

Age is wrong.

We visited his rented flat in Edinburgh's New Town where homes sell for up to £1million.

House prices untypical, my rented flat would be nowhere near this value.


He sold us the DVD which shows him getting high on the drug which is chewed or smoked in a 'bong' pipe.

I didn't sell them the DVD-ROM. I gave it free of charge.


He said: 'It is an acquired taste but it is also a rewarding drug.

I would probably have said something more like 'It is an acquired taste, but it is also a rewarding experience.'  I'm careful to avoid using use the term 'drug', particularly when referring to Salvia divinorum. It's too vague a word, open to misunderstanding, and overused by scaremongering propagandists.

When I said to their undercover guy that it was an acquired taste, he was asking what it literally tasted like. I tried to explain that I meant taste for the experience, using the word as you might saying 'taste in music', but I think it was all beyond him.


'There is a lot of interest in my plants from across the world.

Again, I don't think this a direct quote, and as such it shouldn't really have quote marks.  However, attributing quotes to people that they didn't literally make may be acceptable journalistic license when the gist is okay, and, for once, the gist here is okay. - Unlike the remainder of the article, which continues...


'You get all the benefits of drugs like cannabis and LSD but not the hassle from the police or authorities.

I did not say this.  I'm not an advocate of the benefits of cannabis. Elsewhere on this site, at best, I concede that cannabis may help relieve stress.  I don't use cannabis. And I particularly resent the article's headline insinuations.

As for LSD, I don't even mention it on my website.  My site focuses on Salvia, with briefer mention of some other substances. I generally favour naturally occurring plant based compounds over synthetically manufactured ones. 

All this has been overlooked in the desire to make more notorious associations.

If you must compare Salvia with LSD, at least consider that an LSD experience can last for 10 hours, compared to a smoked Salvia experience of 10 minutes.


'There is also little or no hangover from the drug. I would highly recommend it.'

A hangover is an indication of the body's toxic reaction, suggesting, for example, alcohol as seriously damaging stuff.  By contrast there have been no reported cases of physical Salvia divinorum poisoning as far I know.


Robert showed our reporter how to set up a water pipe to smoke the drug and offered him a free puff which he declined.

I gave an indication of the amount of dry leaf one should use in a water pipe.  I gave some free dry leaf.  I did not offer a free puff.  For one thing, you don't puff Salvia, you inhale it. But either way, I made no such invitation at the time.

I would normally offer to sit for someone, but there was something not quite right this time. The 'investigator' was shifty, not making proper eye contact, and, most importantly, not listening to what I was saying.  He kept talking over me. I think a lot of the article's misquotes are things he said, words he tried to put in my mouth without listening to my answers.  With the benefit of hindsight I should've sussed something was wrong.

Generally I advise experiencing Salvia as the only way of really getting to know it. I wouldn't highly recommend Salvia to anyone, only to those that want to know.

When Norman Silvester phoned me on the Saturday, after their man had called, and the day before the Sunday Mail published, I suggested again that there was no substitute for experience.

The fact that none of the Sunday Mail's 'investigators' had the gumption to try Salvia for themselves is frustrating.  But on another level it's quite understandable, and may even be seen as a good call on their part.

Salvia can go deep into the psyche and show you things you'd rather not see.  Doing the kind of stitch up jobs that these hacks do for a living has got to take its toll and be truely soul destroying on some level. And confronting the fear and self loathing and sense of worthlessness that must go with it, well, I can imagine how they'd rather not face that.


On his website Robert does admit that Salvia is potentially dangerous.

He says: 'It is not comforting or escapist. You may not like it and you may find aspects of it quite disturbing.'

Actually what I say is, you may find aspects of its revelation quite disturbing.

My site's full warning goes like this...

I am not hard selling Salvia.  Bear this in mind particularly if you are considering ingesting.  It's not something to get you 'wasted'.  It's not a cure for all.  You may not like it, and you may find aspects of its revelation quite disturbing.  There are perils with any venture into the unknown.  Being of sound mind and body, and inquisitive by nature, I think that the benefits outweigh the risks.  Salvia has been chewed for centuries without any known deleterious health effects.  Having said that, the practice of smoking it is more recent.  You proceed at your own risk.  You are encouraged to find out further information.  Visit other web sites and read how other people describe the experience.  Try this linked quiz>> to test your knowledge.  At the end of the day however, when it comes to a personal decision as to whether or not to take it, that's yours alone.


Users of SD have suffered hallucinations, double vision and mental health problems.

High doses of SD can cause unconsciousness and short-term memory loss. Long-term abuse of SD has been linked to depression, schizophrenia and flashbacks.

Okay, let's see where they could've got the idea that long-term SD abuse is linked to, say, schizophrenia.

Google search: Salvia divinorum schizophrenia, and top of the pops is the US Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Centre (I quote their use of the word 'intelligence' advisedly here). From their website's home page we read "The General Counterdrug Intelligence Plan, signed by the President in February 2000, designated NDIC as the nation's principal center for strategic domestic counterdrug intelligence". 

NDIC Badge

The organisation's stated aim, as evidenced by it's self-declared 'mission statements', is to support counterdrug efforts.

The NDIC's Salvia facts page contains 'answers' to questions such as, 'What is Salvia divinorum?' and 'Who abuses Salvia divinorum?'. - Suggesting that the plant is "abused for the mind-altering sensations it produces".

No mention is made of the plant's background and history.  Its traditional context and the culture of the Mazatec's is completely ignored.  No acknowledgement is made that the plant could be used positively.  By implication, even though legal in the US, as far as the NDIC is concerned, anyone that uses Salvia is abusing it (by contrast, alcohol isn't mentioned anywhere on NDIC's site).

Even with the NDIC's obvious bias, they can only make the most tenuous suggestion with regard to schizophrenia. "abusers report that the negative long-term effects of Salvia divinorum may be similar to those produced by other hallucinogens such as LSD, including depression and schizophrenia." [my italics].

This follows the site's earlier statement, in answer to their loaded question, 'Who abuses Salvia divinorum?': "National surveys conducted to estimate rates of drug abuse do not include questions regarding abuse of Salvia divinorum. Thus, current levels of abuse are difficult to determine."

If the NDIC wish to ignore centuries of traditional Mazatec use and the sucessful integration of Salvia into their culture, then a simple "we have no idea" would've been more honest answer to Salvia's supposed deleterious health effects.


Links to depression:

Apart from drug propaganda sites like the NDIC's, the only other mentions I've found linking Salvia with depression are in the sense of it being a potential treatment.  Ironically, there was some research going on in Australia before it was banned.  But most people, including most Salvia advocates, would concede that the number of cases studies is currently too small to make this assertion with any confidence.  Further research would be needed, but don't hold your breath.

I may come back to this point to expand with some facts and figures about the multi-million dollar anti-depressant industry, and further musings on drug companies and vested interests.  In researching this response I read one article suggesting that GPs over prescription of drugs such as benzodiazepine was a particular issue in Australia, the first country to ban Salvia, so get to work you conspiracy theorists.


Salvia Divinorum is one of a number of drugs the Home Office in Britain and many states in America would like banned.

I've searched the Home Office website, and no results for 'Salvia divinorum' were returned. 

As with all commentary made here this is at the time of writing of course, but no results were obtained from 'Scotland Against Drugs' or 'Know the Score' websites either.  In other words, as far as I can tell, these sites do not refer to Salvia divinorum at all.


He agreed to sell us a plant and a package of dried leaves for £25 after we called him.

I didn't sell them the dry leaf.  The dry leaf was given away free of charge. If some dry leaf was all they wanted they could've had that for nothing.

Note that I try to use the term dry leaf rather than dried leaf.  It's not always easy to remember for the sake of what seems a subtle difference, but my intention is to be using 'dry' as an adjective, simply describing the state of the leaf.  Whereas 'dried' is a verb, and thus may be taken to mean that a drying process was involved.  The leaf hasn't been processed or prepared in any way.


We were able to book an appointment at his basement flat [...] Neighbours include High Court judges, surgeons, company executives and advocates.

I don't see how what my neighbours do for a living is anyway relevant.


Robert has sold plants to Brazil, South Africa, Iceland, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta.

I've sold plants to most of these countries, but Cyprus and Malta are mentioned in a different context on my website, where I'm welcoming new EU countries joining in May 2004.


The drug's increasing popularity, coupled with scientific acknowledgement of its mind-bending powers, has prompted the Government to review its legal status. But it could take years to ban.

Again, I'd like to know where I could find out more about this Government review of legal status, otherwise, in the context of the whole article, I'm tending to assume he's just made this up.

'But it could take years to ban' - so Silvester and his lackeys, from their extensive 'investigations', - during which none of them had the gumption to try Salvia for themselves, have already decided what the outcome of any review of its legal status should be.

I provided them with two video films about Salvia, - in both cases where journalists partake of the experience in order to report on it.  By contrast these Sunday Mail hacks are content to decline doing this for themselves and in their fearful ignorance see fit to call for it to be banned.


Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, yesterday issued a warning against using SD.

He added: 'You do not know what you are taking - there is no quality control. Beware of using this drug, do not think it is safe because it is legal.'

The report fails to mention that I do not deal in pre-processed Salvia. Apart from giving away some dry leaf samples, I specialise in the cultivation and propagation of live plants. I sell these with the recommendation that growing your own plant is the best way to get to know Salvia.

For Alistair Ramsay to be consistent he would also have to warn you against growing and eating your own vegetables, on the grounds of their being no quality control.

In any case, you may like to know that my plants have been occasionally inspected in the context of exporting to some non-European countries, where a Phytosanitay Certificate is needed.  On these occasions the plant's leaves and roots have been officially checked for bugs and disease, with plant material samples being taken for laboratory analysis.  Apart from an initial investigation pointing out a few greenfly (which were quickly dealt with), all inspections have certified the plants as being free from infestation and disease.

So you can quite literally stick that in your pipe and smoke it!


Detective Sergeant Kenny Simpson, drugs co-ordinator at Strathclyde Police, said officers had recovered small quantities from raids on drug dealers. It has also been found on sale at rock festivals T in the Park and Gig on the Green.

DS Simpson added: 'Stall holders who sell Salvia Divinorum at festivals will be told not to as there have been reports of people falling ill .'

If small quantities of a legal substance is all the police found, their raids would be a complete waste of taxpayers money.

And may I suggest to DS Simpson that he tells publicans and off-licences not to sell booze, I've heard some quite reliable reports of people falling ill.  If this sounds like I'm scoring a flippant point I have have to say it's much more serious than that.  The annual cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland is over a billion (£) a year (i.e. including cost to the health service, criminal justice system, social services, etc).  Dealing with alcohol related incidents accounts for 26% of the total police expenditure alone. - Again, taxpayers money.

[Source for figures: The Institute of Alcohol Studies]


Yesterday Robert defended his right to grow Salvia. He said: 'It is completely different from ecstasy and cannabis. Salvia is not addictive - you are not going to get hooked after a few puffs.'

This acknowledges that I'm not selling Salvia as a cannabis substitute. In contradiction to the report's opening claim -  in his spare time he flogs an alternative to cannabis called 'herbal ecstasy'.


And he denied he was making a fortune from the drug.

He added: 'I sell the plant as a hobby and barely break even.'

Except that any media coverage usually produces a surge of interest for a few weeks.


Drugs expert Paul Sketts, of Glasgow University, believes legal highs such as SD are a con.

He said: 'Most are caffeine-based and you can get an equally high buzz drinking several cups of coffee quickly. However there are dangers because no real research has been done into the side effects of Salvia Divinorum.'

Our reporter must have used the term ‘herbal ecstasy’ in talking to Glasgow University’s Dr Paul Skett (the Sunday Mail misspelled his name, and mine too). I do not have experience of this myself, but I’m quite prepared to believe the effects of ‘herbal ecstasy’ are not much different to several cups of coffee. No ‘expert’ would confuse this with Salvia divinorum, so the muddle is presumably on the writer’s part. If this was unintentional then it’s simply bad journalism, if not, it is irresponsible journalism.

Note the following etymology:

Expert (adj.) c.1374, from Latin expertus, past participle of experiri "to try, test" (see experience) [...] "person wise through experience"

Experience c.1377, from Old French experience, from Latin experientia "knowledge gained by repeated trials," from experientem (nominative experiens), present partciple of experiri "to try, test," from ex- "out of" + peritus "experienced, tested." The verb (1533) first meant "to test, try;" sense of "feel, undergo" first recorded 1588. ( )

I will ask Dr Skett to confirm and clarify any claims of expertise regarding Salvia divinorum. If there's no compelling argument to contradict, I suggest recognition of expertise in this matter be conceded to me.


So there you have it.  Almost every line of the newspaper's report is somehow wrong.

I'll conclude with a final (unofficial) definition of a psychedelic...

...a powerful substance that can cause psychotic reactions in people who have never taken it.


If you do feel like complaining to (or about) the journalist, Norman Silvester ([email protected]), please try to keep your comments factual, intelligent and civil. I understand how you may feel the gutter press deserves dogs’ abuse for this kind of thing, but abuse will only polarise opinion. If you'd rather email me, then I'll include your comments on a feedback page.

I believe the best argument will win (eventually).


For another example of Norman Silvester’s ‘reporting’ see – – To get an idea of just how twisted this particular story is, compare it to other articles via – for example, check out the Bible Review and the Catholic Telegraph’s favourable accounts – and look at overall content of the The Brick Testament website itself. Try to imagine in what way the site could reasonably be described as being “popular with paedophiles for its graphic scenes, including child abuse”. – Seriously, I’m worried about Silvester next picking on, say, some harmless eccentric, but someone not resilient maybe, not able to cope with such lurid headlines and unwanted attention. And I have to ask, is Norman Silvester an accident waiting to happen?