Correspondence with Delaware Senator Karen Peterson
In the first instance note that I sent a copy of Daniel Siebert's response to Joe Bacca's
Congress bill of 2002 - H.R.5607 - as linked on the page
<Back from here.
Sen. Karen Peterson's initial response follows, with my further
correspondence following after that, (my comments are shown
with the silver leaf background, Sen. Karen Peterson's with paper effect
background), and so it goes...
Thank you for forwarding a copy of Daniel Siebert's letter to Congress.
The legislation I proposed does not prohibit researchers from continuing
their work with salvia divinorum. The Delaware Code specifically permits
such use and my bill does not attempt to change that.
Thank you for
your reply to the copy of Daniel Siebert’s letter to Congress.
that your bill (SB259) is not intended to prohibit research into Salvia
divinorum. But my reading was that your proposal was for it to be included
as ‘Schedule1’ – and my understanding of what that classification means was
that the substance has no medicinal value.
must also tell you that my ‘Google Alert’ – which I have set up to find and
automatically advise me of news media reports on the subject – is keeping me
informed of an increasing number of Salvia divinorum related stories from
the US lately. Many seem to be following the unfortunate case of Brett
One of these,
an NBC story, runs with typically lurid headlines about “Dangerous Salvia”,
but also goes on to report that “Brett was using a prescription acne
medication that has been linked to depression” (
So I went to
the Acne Resource Centre website (
and on a page about prescription dangers I read…
prescribed under the brand name of Accutane) is a highly potent, oral
medication that is prescribed for very severe acne.
may cause depression, psychosis and, rarely, suicidal ideation, suicide
attempts and suicide."
(font type and colours as per the original webpage at
realise that it may be a far more daunting proposition for elected
representatives to tackle large pharmaceutical companies than it is for them
to persecute a comparatively small number of Salvia divinorum advocates, but
I think this does warrant some further investigation. And I would hope that
you, as the proposer of “Brett’s Law”, would feel somewhat obligated to look
further into the details of the case.
There has never been any mention of Brett Chidester taking acne medication
-- and I have spent a lot of time talking with his parents about these
issues. I don't know where NBC got their information -- but I also don't
know where the reports came from that said Brett killed himself by setting
himself on fire. There have been numerous versions of what happened to
Brett -- but I have seen what he wrote in his journal and know what led
him to kill himself.
I would not have any reservations about taking on the pharmaceutical
companies -- if that is where the problem was. But Accutane was not the
Brett (and lots of other kids who log onto "My Space.com") believe that
salvia divinorum must be safe because it's legal. Now they will know
better because the bill was signed into law by the governor last night.
By a strange coincidence in today’s (April 14th 2006) UK national
newspapers there are stories of related interest…
“SCHOOLBOY Jason Spiller hanged himself just days after being prescribed a
controversial acne drug treatment, an inquest heard yesterday. Jason, 16,
was found by his mother Jean at their farm in Honiton, Devon, after taking
Roaccutane. It has been linked with causing depression but makers Roche
deny the claims.” – from the Daily Mirror –
As well as reports of the same story in the Sun –
And the Independent –
the Independent story adds, “Roaccutane has been linked to more than 100
suicides and attempted suicides worldwide…”
The Mirror, Sun and Independent are three major national papers over here
in the UK.
Do you think this story is worth any further investigation in light of
I mean, I know reporters can get things wrong, but like with the story of
Brett setting himself on fire at least I can see how they put 2+2 together
and got 5 (charcoal grill + tent = fire), and I’m wondering why NBC’s
report would mention Brett using an acne medication if it were completely
untrue – it seems a bit of an odd detail to be simply made up out of
I look forward hopefully to learning more about it.
Yes, I am interested in the Accutane issue -- and I appreciate the news
articles you sent. I remember seeing some articles some time ago on this
issue -- and didn't realize that the drug was still on the market. Last
year, I sponsored a bill to prohibit the use of Thimerosal in vaccines
given to children and pregnant women -- because of its links to autism.
The bill passed, despite the opposition of the pharmaceutical industry. I
suppose that there is no end to the number of drugs and preservatives that
result in unintended consequences -- but when we identify them, we need to
deal with them.
I just received an e-mail from a woman in Texas who has been trying to
have Salvia Divinorum banned there because long-haul truck drivers use it
to drive "high" without the risk of failing a drug test (since it cannot
be detected by tests currently used). That's scary.
I will search the internet to see what I can find on Accutane. Thank you
for bringing it to my attention.
I’ve been thinking about your “that’s scary” comment with regard to the
notion of truck drivers “high” on Salvia divinorum.
For me I guess it boils down to what one’s fears are really, – what keeps
you awake at night.
Personally, from what I know of it, I find the idea of truck drivers on
Salvia so far-fetched that I can readily dismiss it as an ‘urban myth’.
Fear of Salvia seems to me to be somewhat like fear of the dark.
Essentially we’re dealing with a function of the mind. – The unconscious.
Someone once argued with me that the unconscious was unconscious for a
reason – suggesting maybe it was best left that way. But my thoughts on
this are that, one way or another, it ends up influencing one’s behaviour
anyhow. – And so illumination may be better I say.
The realities of drink-driving and underage consumption of alcohol are far
more pressing concern to me. Proportionate to the actual risks, I think
that’s something most parents should be far more concerned about.
And yet, despite being no great fan of alcohol myself, you won’t hear me
calling for its prohibition. I believe that experiment brought more
problems than it solved last time it was attempted.
More considered legislative controls with respect to Salvia divinorum,
with regard to its sale to minors for example, would have been a far more
measured and appropriate response in comparison to the panic reaction of
At a push I wouldn’t object so much even to the outright ban of the
sale of Salvia divinorum – as it could be argued that marketing it as
a ‘commodity’ is rather at odds with the appreciation of its ‘sacred’
However, according to the prosecution of your new law, you apparently
believe that the most appropriate place for Salvia divinorum’s
practitioners is now a lengthy period of time in jail.
Are you sure that such pejorative legislation is the best way to reign in
all those who might wish to ‘explore the boundaries’?
Looking at the majority of the ‘old’ media’s reaction to the issue (i.e.
TV and the press) – you may feel secure enough in your position.
But I would venture to suggest that in this battle of ideas, with the
advent of the ‘new’ media, the rise of the internet and the
democratisation of information, with an ever-increasing number of people
prepared to think and investigate for themselves, then, just maybe, you
might end up eventually losing the argument overall.
I would rather be driving next to someone whose judgment is impaired by
alcohol than someone who is hallucinating. Impaired judgment is better
than no judgment.
Also, Brett Chidester was not taking Accutane. He was taking minocycline
which, apparently, has not been linked to depression.
Dear Sen. Karen Peterson,
Perhaps I should’ve added to my ‘restriction on sale to minors’ example in
my previous email to be more explicit and reiterate that of course driving
while incapacitated – for whatever reason – is an issue of concern,
and that a tightening up of the legislation with regard to Salvia here
isn’t something that any of us would find unreasonable.
The point I was trying make however is that from what I know the fears
about it seem not to be well-founded.
Amongst much of the misinformation being perpetuated about Salvia are
often included comparisons with the effects of LSD. – Media stories nearly
always neglecting to mention the fact that whereas LSD trips can last
10-12 hours, Salvia divinorum is more like 10-12
Salvia can’t be casually smoked in a cigarette. – So the scenario we are
being asked to imagine is a driver pulling over to set up their water
pipe, – presumably leaving the engine running, having the express purpose
of driving off with the full onset of the experience, – presumably just
for the sheer hell of it.
You suggest that you are more comfortable with the idea of someone driving
under the influence of alcohol, saying – “I would
rather be driving next to someone whose judgment is impaired by alcohol
than someone who is hallucinating. Impaired judgment is better than no
But for me this is not really how it works.
The problem with alcohol as I see it isn’t so much about those attempting
to drive while completely drunk (and consequently also completely
incapacitated) as it is with those who think they’re basically okay having
not had that much.
Part of alcohol’s profile is the way it can engender such a misplaced
sense of self-confidence.
In moderation it may work well as a social lubricant, but its effect on
judgemental capacity makes driving a real concern.
In 2004 there were 42,636 automobile accidents in the US, of which nearly
40% were alcohol related (source: NHTSA – the National Highway Traffic
Like I say, I don’t mean to sound complacent, and I wouldn’t object to a
tightening of legislation in this particular regard, but, from what I know
of Salvia divinorum’s profile, it simply doesn’t bear comparison to the
actual (and verifiable) dangers of alcohol.
I believe that Salvia’s profound effects are more likely to engender a
sense of respect for the experience as opposed to a cocky
overconfidence in one’s own proficiency.
With regard to Brett Chidester’s suicide: – Again, questioning details of
the case is not to suggest my opposition to restrictions on the sale of
Salvia divinorum to minors. – Far from it. But it is interesting to note
how the story is being presented to us.
I’m thinking of major TV reports I’ve seen in particular (I’ve seen those
available on the internet) such as the CNN report (from Anderson Cooper
360° which featured an interview with your good self).
What we are typically being presented with is the story of a boy with the
world at his feet – a straight ‘A’s student – ambitions to become an
architect – to travel – healthy outdoor pursuits – etc – but life so tragically cut short by Salvia.
Your initial response to my questions about acne medication was “There has
never been any mention of Brett Chidester taking acne medication -- and I
have spent a lot of time talking with his parents about these issues. I
don't know where NBC got their information”.
Now if by coincidence I come across major newspaper stories which link an
acne medication with teenage suicide, and Brett’s case is linked with an
acne medication, then I’m bound to ask questions.
So it turns out, not that that Brett was using Accutane maybe, but he was
indeed taking some medication for acne.
From this we can at least conclude he was suffering from acne. – A fact by
and large neglected in most news reports (and initially passed over by
Leaving aside for the moment the question of the actual medication being
used, there is a great deal of evidence linking acne (i.e. just in and of
itself) with teenage depression.
The potential reasons for suicide are numerous, varied and complex, but I
think we’d have to agree, low self-esteem in those formative teenage years
isn’t generally going to be helped by the onset of acne is it?
It is quite unreasonable to insist upon Salvia’s influence in an isolated
case without also weighing up other evidence and looking for a more
compelling degree of correlation.
Although the internet is still a growing phenomenon it is by no means new.
It’s been well established for more than a decade. And, regardless of
whether you had heard of it before, Salvia divinorum has been widely
available in the US during all that time too.
In total about 30,000 people commit suicide each year in the US (31,484 is
the latest available figure from National Center for Health Statistics for
the year 2003). Of the year 2003 cases, 4,238 were under the age of 25.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst 15-24 year olds.
And the suicide rate for white males aged 15-24 has tripled since 1950
(there are more statistics of interest further referenced below).
As well as the figures for actual suicides, it’s also worth noting the
much higher number of attempted suicides. According the Samaritans there
are about 750,000 suicide attempts each year.
In addition, many more will people experience depression without going as
far as making an attempt on their own lives.
If Salvia divinorum contributes to depression (and/or subsequent suicide)
then I would expect to be hearing about this with more ‘survivors’ tales
from some of the seven and a half million or so US suicide attempts of the
last decade. For example, more retrospective accounts of what Salvia can
do to ‘mess up your life’ like we have with believable accounts of heroin
and crack-cocaine addicts.
I would also expect to be able to draw inference from other cultures
having long-established relationships with Salvia divinorum. And the
evidence here, from perhaps centuries of indigenous Mexican use, does not
support your concerns. – Quite the opposite I think you will find.
I made the point in previous correspondence that taking on big
pharmaceutical companies was an altogether different proposition to
persecuting a comparatively small number of Salvia practitioners.
This was not intended to question your own integrity, and I do appreciate
you entering into correspondence on the matter.
However, I have to ask, assuming a case not involving Salvia, – supposing
the reporting of one of these teenage suicide cases where Accutane was
being used, can you imagine TV coverage leading with such a bold
block-capital banner headline as ‘LEGAL YET LETHAL’ like we saw with CNN’s
www.cnn.com - click 'Watch Free Video
(Most Popular)' link to 'More' then search for 'legal but lethal' in the
pop-up window, or right-click and save this asx
file and open it with your media player.
I think such unqualified assertions would be highly unlikely in that case.
With teams of well-paid company lawyers employed to defend the large
pharmaceuticals interest, I’d expect we’d get an altogether more cautious
And the variety of opinion expressed in viewers comments sent to CNN about
their Salvia coverage suggests a good few others had their own questions
about it too.
Thank you once again for your thoughts so far.
Viewers feedback to CNN coverage: -
Mothers Against Drunk Driving: -
Dallas (April 20, 2006) - Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (Nationwide) have announced new Gallup
survey results on underage drinking [...] The results highlight a major
public misperception regarding the severity of teen alcohol use […] “The
survey results show that the public mistakenly thinks the youth drug
problem is worse than the youth alcohol problem, despite research and
statistics that show more youth are drinking and dying due to alcohol than
all other illicit drugs combined,” said Glynn R. Birch, MADD national
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention -
• Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major
depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure
rises to over 75 percent.
• More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (7
million), cancer (6 million) and AIDS (200,000) combined.
• About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression
at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically
depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately succeed.
• Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between
80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to
treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.
But first, depression has to be recognized.
Alcohol and Suicide
• Ninety-six percent of alcoholics who die by suicide continue their
substance abuse up to the end of their lives.
• Alcoholism is a factor in about 30 percent of all completed suicides.
• Approximately 7 percent of those with alcohol dependence will die by
Firearms and Suicide
• Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for
"protection" or "self defense," 83 percent of gun related deaths in these
homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun
• Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides.
• Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide.
• Firearms account for 60 percent of all suicides.
- from National Statistics at