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The Drug Talk You Never Thought You Had to Have

With files from 2011

*Names have been changed

When I became a mother, I had every intention of raising my children to be the very model of perfection. They would never talk back, would always keep a tidy room and they would never do drugs. I’ve since grown accustomed to being told I’m mean on a regular basis and have learned to maneuver through piles of dirty laundry to yank my teen out of bed in the morning. But so far, there is no evidence of drug abuse, and I intend to keep it that way.

Until recently, I thought the only drugs I had to worry about were the illegal ones. Marijuana and ecstasy were the ones I was hearing about the most. It turns out, I was wrong. Salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic plant from the mint family, is legally being sold in convenience stores as incense and has been gaining popularity with youth.

Since the plant meets the definition of a natural health product, it gives youth a false sense of safety. Little research has been done on salvia, so the long-term effects of its psychoactive ingredient, salvinorin A, are not fully understood. Still, many youth are blindly exposing themselves to these risks for the sake of a quick high.

Salvia, what?

Once smoked, salvia can cause loss of consciousness and induce the feeling of an out-of-body experience. It is because of these effects that salvia was used by the Maztec people for mystical purposes. Conversations among posters in various “spiritual” Facebook groups and message boards show that salvia is still being used as a divination aid today. Much like the psychedelic, peyote.

According to the results of a youth smoking survey, five per cent of Canadian youth in grades seven to 12 used salvia in the 2008/2009 reporting year. More than seven per cent of Canadian youth ages 15 to 24 have reported using salvia at least once, according to the 2009 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS).

In Ontario, 36,600 youth have reported using salvia in the past year alone, according to the recently released 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) report. In addition, the OSDUHS reports indicate that youth have used salvia more than Ecstasy (MDMA) and LSD over the last four years.

Because salvia use has only begun to be examined, little long-term statistical information is available. While its use has been well documented recently, there isn’t much awareness about the substance among community police officers.

“A lot of it is that people are aware of it, there’s just not a lot known about it,” says *Joan Smith, a drug education officer with a local regional police force.

“I work out of our major drugs and vice [division] and our officers don’t really know much about it,” says Smith. “I have called the divisions and spoke with our neighbourhood policing unit officers and it’s ‘Salvia what? What’s that?’”

Though the drug is mostly unknown, there is still enough concern that an internal email circulation from an RCMP officer indicated an interest in addressing the problem. It was sent after hearing about Health Canada’s proposal for a Notice of Intent to Interested Parties that was to be published in the Canadian Gazette. Health Canada’s notice of intent was posted in February and a response was requested within 30 days of the posting.

“This email came out in January of this year,” says Smith. “but nothing has come of it yet.”

As of December 2011, salvia is still accessible to youth who are looking for a guilt-free high.

I know this guy

If the police don’t know much about it, how are teens finding out? The first point of contact is usually peers. *Chris, a 17-year-old Milton resident, says he heard about salvia before he tried it with a friend for the first time. His friend picked up salvia at a local convenience store and the two took turns on his front porch. He was 15 at the time.

*Susan was just 17 when she first tried salvia. It was her first year at Guelph University and one of her best friends had just discovered and tried it the week before. “She’s like, ‘you gotta try this thing. It’s ridiculous. It’s like acid, but it’s like a short span.’ I was like, ‘OK, it sounds interesting,’” says the now 25-year-old. “I’ll try anything once.”

*Josh was also introduced to salvia by a university friend who picked some up at a convenience store in Waterloo, Ont. He was only 19 at the time. “I never really had that much of an interest in trying it until my friend actually brought it over,” says Josh, now 23.

The effects of salvia are mysterious and this appeals to adolescents’ curious nature. “It was something new. I was stupid. I was basically just curious,” says *Chris.

YouTube is another way teens are learning about salvia. There are a multitude of videos showing teens experiencing a salvia high, including one from Disney pop princess Miley Cyrus.

Ask any teen who has tried salvia what the experience is like and they’ll likely say, “have you seen the YouTube videos?” Type “Salvia” into the YouTube search and you’ll find videos of teens on a salvia high with two and three million views. The experiences shown in these videos seem frighteningly accurate.

The problem with teens relying on these YouTube videos for insight is that it glorifies the use of potentially dangerous substances, says *John Jones, a psychotherapist with a private practice in a suburb of Toronto, and a substance abuse counselor for that region’s public health department.

“I did a consult last week where two college-age students from [our region] had soaked tampons in vodka and put them in their rectum. They both had alcohol poisoning. They saw it on YouTube, followed instructions, but one guy had an alcohol blackout and went into a coma.”

Reliving the experience

“It just hit me like a ton of bricks,” says *Susan. “Then I just remembered laughing so hard I was drooling. I couldn’t control it and I was laughing so hard that I peed a little. I was hoping no one would notice. I was like, ‘Oh shit, man. I gotta pee so bad,’ but I couldn’t move.”

*Susan describes feeling like more time had passed than the five minutes her trip took. She also experienced hallucinations and feelings of being in another place.

The feeling of time being altered and hallucinations are typical of salvia trips.

“I just remember, like, colours and flashes and stuff,” *Chris says of his first experience. “Trees were weird shaped. And then as soon as it was done, it felt like a couple of hours went by when it was actually just like three minutes. It feels like time is flying but it’s really not.”

Sometimes users won’t experience any hallucinations, but feel like they can’t move, as was *Josh’s case. “I took like one big hit and before I could even set the pipe down I was like pretty much gone,” he says. “I just sort of tossed the pipe under the table and flopped over on the couch where I was sitting. I couldn’t really move for a bit.”

While experiences vary, distorted vision, altered time perception and loss of body control are common for salvia users. Though the high may be unpredictable and sometimes scary, kids keep going back for more.

“I ended up doing it over the course of a year maybe four or five times,” says *Josh.

What can happen to my kid?

The long-term effects of Salvinorin A are largely unknown. The potential for short-term, indirect damage is more likely because there’s a complete disorientation of the senses and of the user’s environment, says *Jones.

“With chronic use [long term damage] is more possible,” says *Jones. “But [with] one or two times using, [damage] is highly unlikely. Unless of course an accident occurs as a result of the drug use. So the kids are high, they’re having a paranoid episode,  one runs out in the traffic, gets hit by a car.”

Another cause of concern is teens using salvia along with other drugs, says *Jones.

“You know, there’s a lot of bad things that can happen in half an hour. Now half an hour is not a definite cut off time. Because very rarely are they just smoking salvia by itself.  They’re probably drinking something, or using other drugs.”

*Susan was drinking alcohol during her second trip on salvia and while she did not get injured, she says her experience was terrifying. She says she was, “hyperventilating and they [friends] thought I was gonna faint so they literally had to drag me off this kind of mat thing to get me out of the room. I was freaking out.”

*Susan also describes the feeling that shadows were coming out of the walls toward her. In this paranoid state there is potential for injury, says *Jones.

“Something grave and serious can happen using it once, or twice or only being high for half an hour to 40 minutes. Absolutely.  I’ve seen bad things happen,” he says.

Its obvious from the number of youth documenting their salvia trips, and sharing them on social media sites, that they are becoming fearless about substance abuse. Though there is no way to link salvia to further experimentation with harder drugs, one can’t ignore the possibility, says *Susan, whose roommate who first introduced her to salvia had OD’d on cocaine.

“It was her birthday and she got really drunk. We had gotten coke for the occasion and she just did it. Her boyfriend came into my room at six in the morning. She was just like, gone, and he’s like, ‘I don’t know what to do. Like we have to go to the hospital.’ We woke up my other roommate that had her car and we just drove … . That was nerve wracking. We didn’t think she was gonna make it, to be honest. We had to call her parents from Europe to come back and stuff so that one was rough. That was probably the scariest night of my life, that night. I thought she was dead for sure.”

Stop them in their tracks

 We hear all the time how teens think they are invincible; that they don’t think anything bad can happen to them. “Unless kids meet somebody, and can make it personal, they don’t think it’s going to cause any problems,” says *Smith.

However, the number one prevention for drug use is education, says *Jones. Both parents and adolescents need more education about drugs.

The key to preventing substance abuse is to keep communication open and talk early, says *Jones. “As soon as you think they’re talking about it or hearing about it then that’s the time I usually say to parents [to start talking].”

*Chris was around 15 when he got the drug talk. “It just sort of came up in a conversation. They [parents] were like, ‘You should now this. You should know better but it’s your decision,” he recalls.

Yet, this talk didn’t prevent him from experimenting with drugs. So where do teens get information on drugs and how do they decide whether they should try it?

“It’s all friends. It’s all peers,” says *Chris. “I have a really good relationship with my mom, but I wouldn’t talk to her about that.”

Chances are, your kids aren’t going to come to you of their own volition. No matter how cool we are, we are still authority figures. *Jones says to just keep talking. It is our job as parents to be proactive.

“Even before you suspect them, have the conversation,” says *Jones. “Let them know that they can talk to you openly about the drug use rather than making it taboo and a forbidden thing. Open dialogue is an essential tool to create honesty and trustworthiness in your children.”

For these teens, salvia was not their only experience with substance use. This is often the case with many users of salvia, says *Jones.

While salvia can’t be considered a gateway drug, *Susan believes that there is potential for further experimentation after using salvia.

“I would say yes ’cause it opens your mind up a bit. Like that feeling of you know you’re in control but you don’t have control. I think people would want to feel that experience more,” she says.

She also says that age is a big factor when it comes to experimental drug use. “It’s also that age. You’re 17, you’re starting out, you know what I mean? I don’t think that specific [salvia] drug would lead to more. I think it’s the age that would lead to more.”

Figuring it out

Determining if your child has a drug problem can be a challenge, says *Jones. “It’s difficult with adolescents because the signs and symptoms of somebody going [through] pre-pubescent and pubescent changes are very similar to drug use.”

It could be drug use, or just children coming of age, but some behaviours such as a confused, disoriented or lazy teen with hygiene issues could also be symptoms of adolescent depression, says *Jones.

Sometimes it is clear that your child is using drugs. You may find drug paraphernalia or your child admits to you that they are experimenting. Before you check your child into rehab, you need you figure out how much intervention is necessary.

One way to help you determine the extent of the problem, suggests *Jones, is to visualize a horizontal line across a piece of paper: On the far left end there is no use. A centimetre to the right, there’s experimental use. Another centimetre to the right is irregular use. A centimetre farther to the right is regular use and on the very end of the horizontal line is dependence.

“If it’s experimental and you child has just smoked pot twice you probably don’t want look into a drug residential program,” says *Jones. “But if they’re coming home drunk, blacked out and have no recall, then you might want to think about having somebody intervene.”


Meet Supermom

*With files from 2011

Whether they volunteer at their children’s school, or balance a career and family with ease, we all know a supermom. But being a supermom isn’t about being perfect and it certainly doesn’t come easy.

Christa Strong, a self-professed ‘mompreneur,’ is like any other mom. She loves her children, is a fan of Marilyn Monroe and has a soft spot for cupcakes. It was her love of the sweet treat that sparked her entrepreneurial spirit. With an opportunity too temping to pass up, Couture Cupcakes Boutique was born.

Aptly named ‘StrongMom’ on a local mothering forum, the Milton resident has struggled through difficult times. Raised by a single mom, she moved to Jamaica at the age of 10, when her mom remarried. There, she spent her formative years learning tolerance and the value of being humble.

After high school, the Windsor native moved back to Canada, and out on her own. She got married and started a family. She was living the dream, but she was unfulfilled by the daily grind. Looking for something more challenging, she took her love of food and dove mouth first into a new venture.

Self-taught through Youtube videos, and with three years of culinary school under her belt, the 30-year-old started Couture Cupcakes as a home-based business. It became successful very quickly and she was building up a good client base. However, municipal regulations placed restrictions on the amount of business she could conduct from her kitchen and she ended up having to turn clients away.

She had been eyeing a property for a few months, toying with the idea of opening a shop. Then one day the opportunity presented itself; the kind that only comes by once in a lifetime. She knew it would be a challenge to start a business amidst a sea of at-home-mom competition. It’s not only home-based bakeries that posed as competition. A few yards away from her soon-to-be downtown shop sits another cupcakery. But one thing leaned in her favour ­­— Strong lives in the fastest growing town in Canada.

“The thing is, Milton is small, but it’s growing,” she says. “So even if you start out as the first, you’re not going to be the last. I’m not going to be the last one to open a cupcake place. I guarantee it.”

The shop will offer 32 varieties of cupcakes, all inspired in some way by her idol, Marilyn Monroe, whose quotes line the walls of her office. They remind her it’s OK to make mistakes and that she doesn’t need anyone’s approval.

“She wasn’t perfect, she made mistakes. She didn’t let it get the best of her.”

If it wasn’t enough running a business and raising two children, Strong gives back to her supportive community by donating to fundraisers, sponsoring local children’s sports teams and does charitable work. Inspired by an episode of Oprah, she got involved with The Pajama Program. The charity provides children and mothers in need with new pajamas and books.

“She’s one of the most giving people I know,” says Ilona DiCaro, Strong’s friend of two years. “She does a lot of fundraising. She puts priority on things like that over her own things. No matter how busy she is she’ll make sure she fulfills those commitments.”

The facade of 13 Charles Street in Milton looks like any of the others in the five-unit complex. But once you walk inside you can see the beginnings of a vintage Parisian cafe. This shabby-chic space will become Milton’s next cupcakery by the end of October 2011 and will offer a seating area to enjoy your pastry with a cup of coffee.

She never thought in her wildest dreams that she would be working for herself. A fierce advocate for female independence, she hopes all women work towards their dreams and not let their fears hold them back.

“Nothing is impossible,” she says. “Bad days you say, ‘It’s never going to happen,’ and on good days you say, ‘I can do this.’ Just don’t let the bad days overcome the good days. Cause we all go through stuff.”


Surviving the Holiday Rush

*With files from 2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Rather, it’s the most stressful time of the year.

The Holiday season brings visions of sugar plums and emptying wallets to most North American’s heads. Happy elves greet viewers during Holiday television intermissions, insisting they buy the latest and greatest for their loved ones.

Commercialization has turned malls into madhouses. Thank those rotten commercials for cultivating our children’s desire for a crappy mechanical contraption that every kid in the schoolyard is talking about. Panicked, we rush to the mall to scoop up the toy-du-jour.

I don’t fit the stereotype of a girl who likes to shop. In fact, I loathe it. Yet nothing stresses me more than the idea of not presenting my 11-year-old with the item at the top of her Christmas wish list. You know, the one that will end up at the bottom of the toy-box by Easter.

It was Christmas of 2010 when my then nine-year-old daughter scrawled a letter to Santa asking for a talking Woody doll from Toy Story. As usual, I waited until the last minute to do my Holiday shopping. Big mistake. It was three days before Christmas and I had no idea how difficult this cowboy would be to find.

I was desperate to preserve her belief in Santa, yet not willing to maneuver through hostile crowds. Picture the scene from popular ’90s Christmas movie, Jingle all the Way, when Howard Langston is at the bottom of a pile of people, fighting for a Turbo Man action figure. This is not how I wanted to go down.
I sent out distress calls to family and friends. I employed all forms of social media, Tweeting, “If anyone has a Woody, please let me know how you got it!” Yes, I received many snickers at my well intended, but poorly thought out wording.

I phoned every department and toy store within a 50 km radius. Thankfully, a local department store had just received a shipment of the elusive cowboy. This is also how I found the giant, talking Little Mermaid Ariel doll six Christmases ago. I have learned the telephone is my greatest shopping tool.

This year I want to slay another beast – the un-unique-saurus — the one that has me reaching for the wretched Snuggie every year. I figured I would check out a local shopping centre, mostly because it’s a one-stop shop. I’m looking for variety so it seems the logical choice.

Hesitantly, I drove over to Square One. (I don’t recommend you go at 4 p.m. on a weekday.) I made my way to the guest services desk to get some help. Even with four people working, they were very busy answering patron’s questions. So busy, in fact, that a security guard slipped behind the counter to lend a hand. Discouraged by the wait, I gave up and left the mall, frustrated.

Thinking boutique shopping would be more fruitful (and slower paced), I drove to the downtown Oakville business association to learn about their independent retailers. There I met with Jasper Moester, the Oakville DBIA’s administrator, who kindly supplied me with a map of local shops and some recommendations. His first bit of advice?: Shop early.

“I used to be a last-minute shopper, but you spend a lot more money that way,” he said. “Everyone is trying to get rid of their stuff before Christmas. I’m getting people three times the amount of gifts because I’m shopping now.”

I took Moester’s advice and did a little early (for me) shopping. Consulting the trusty map he provided me, I made my way to Circus Chocolates on Thomas Street. Every teacher will get at least one box of Pot ‘O Gold from their students. Since I’m not willing to put a lot of time into selecting the perfect knickknacks, I’m sure a box of hand-made chocolates would be a welcome alternative.

The shop owner gave me some samples to try. I’m no chocolatier, but they were far superior to pre-boxed chocolates. It helps that they haven’t been sitting on the shelf for a year.

“We don’t make something that isn’t going to sell,” said Conchita Barkley, co-owner of Circus Chocolates. “So that affects the quality and freshness of the product.”

While I intended to hand the delectable treats to my child’s teacher, I ended up eating those chocolates myself. I justified my actions with the excuse they would spoil by the time I gave them to the teacher. At least I know where to get them closer to the last day before the Holiday break.

My next stop was Pick of the Crop, an independent toy store. There are two locations: One in downtown Oakville and another in downtown Milton. Since Milton is where I live I made my way there.

The shop is located on Main Street and was like a mini Toys-R-Us without the crowds. They had both popular and unique toys and I scored some great stocking stuffers for my youngest daughter. The salesperson was friendly and helpful which made my Holiday shopping experience, thus far, relatively painless.

Next on my list is Holiday décor.  I need to prepare my home for Holiday guests and plastic Dollarama tchotchkes just won’t cut it. I decided to check out a garden centre down the way from my house.

Walking into Terra Greenhouses was like walking into a winter wonderland scene from a Hollywood flick. I could have gotten into trouble ($$$) there if I wasn’t careful. Surprisingly there were quite a few affordable accent pieces that could, along with a flair for design, compliment items stored away in my basement.

I ended up picking up a few things (ribbons, glittery twigs and pinecones) to spice up my porch. Terra is having a 50 per cent off sale right now on their Christmas décor that ends on the 12th so you better hurry!

I’m not attempting gourmet baking this year. Don’t care to participate in the grocery cart Olympics. The last thing I need is to recreate the hickory honey ham scene from Christmas with the Kranks. I’ll make due with what I have in my pantry. In this case, Pinterest to the rescue!

Overall, hunting and gathering for this festive season has been a pretty painless experience. If I can find a happy medium somewhere between Martha Stewart and Peg Bundy I’ll consider it a Christmas miracle. And if I can do it, anyone can.

In the meantime, here is some advice for Holiday shopping without the inevitable headache:

  1. Avoid department stores – The closer you get to Christmas Eve, the more crowded they get and the sparser their shelves become. Instead, check out the downtown area of a local suburb for independent retailers. There you are bound to find a unique gift. You’ll also receive personal attention instead of waiting 30 minutes for a sour-faced salesperson to tell you the blue sweater is out-of-stock.
  2. Call ahead – Sometimes you have no choice but to enter a department store. If you are looking for a popular toy, try calling before heading down to the coral. It will save you time, gas and bruises from the elbows of a thousand panicked parents.
  3. If you must go to a mall, make a beeline to guest services. Better yet, look online for a list of their offerings. It’s good to know if the mall you are headed to has a bottle warming station before you haul your cranky eight-month old out of the house during mealtime. You might also want to call guest services to check for additional services. Some things you might want to ask is if they have:
  • Valet parking
  • Coat or parcel check
  • Personal shoppers
  • Carry out

Typical guest services, such as wheel chair/stroller rentals, lost and found and gift cards, can be found at most malls. However, some malls offer specialty services. Below is a highlight of malls in the greater Toronto area with such services:

  • Oakville Place: Free wireless internet access and Ticketmaster outlet. Great for students.
  • Erin Mills Town Centre: Coat and parcel check and diaper kits. Ideal for parents with small children.
  • Square One: Valet parking/car wash. Great for the busy professional.
  • Sherway Gardens: Gift suggestions and in-mall shuttle. Both seniors and families can benefit from these services.
  • Eaton Centre: Roaming guest services personnel and shopping assistance. Services all can appreciate.
  • Vaughan Mills: Baby bottle/food warming stations, emergency diaper change kits, kid’s activity kits. Perfect for families.

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