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Casselman I, Heinrich M. 
“Novel Use Patterns of Salvia divinorum: Unobtrusive Observation using YouTubeTM”. 
Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2011 Aug 6.
Ethnopharmacological relevance and Aims

The traditional use of the Hallucinogenic sage, Salvia divinorum has been of ethnopharmalogical interest for some time. This plant, endemic to Oaxaca Mexico and traditionally used by the Mazatec, is now utilized worldwide for its psychoactive effects. This use demonstrates a novel use pattern which is distinctly different from Mazatec use. This study offers a new methodology to study emerging global plant use and assesses the users’ experience with it. The aim of this research was to develop a new methodology to collect and analyze archived data on the World Wide Web, specifically videos which depict Salvia divinorum use.


The basis of the methodology for this project was unobtrusive observation which allows the researcher to observe without influencing the event which is being observed. Qualitative, ethnographic data was used in conjunction with quantitative meta data collected by a customized web crawler programed to archive YouTube™ data.


Using this methodology enabled us to understand reported uses and the users’ experiences as expressed on the World Wide Web. The main result of this research was the documentation of a distinct, novel use pattern of Salvia divinorum which has developed outside of Oaxaca; a use pattern which differs in a number of ways from traditional, Mazatec use. The majority of the YouTube™ videos analyzed were found to present indications of a positive Salvia divinorum experience. This result highlighted the contradiction between ethnographic data and what is reported by the media. Finally the representation of Salvia divinorum on YouTube™ (and by inference the WWW as a whole) is a growing phenomena.


While anthropological and more specifically medico-anthropological research has, for many years, embraced the dynamics of cultures, until recently, ethnopharmalogical research has generally focused on ‘traditional’ plant use, failing to capture the dynamic elements of plant/human interaction and framing research in the past or as decontextualized largely descriptive reports. Global migration and urban environments formed a basis for looking at the interplay of continuity and change. Such cultural dynamics are exacerbated by the opportunities which the WWW offers.

Graphical abstract

Since the early 1990's the use of Salvia divinorum, a psychoactive sage, has been adopted outside of Oaxaca, Mexico where it is endemic. This novel use pattern, distinctly different from the traditional Mexican use, has strong links with the World Wide Web and User Generated Content web sites. Ethnographic data from YouTube was collected and analyzed to better understand the novel, ethnopharmacological use of this plant.
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