A week ago few people had heard of the new party drug mephedrone, known as meow.
Now the legal powder has been linked to the death of a 14-year-old girl, there have been reports of children as young as 11 taking it and school pupils have been seen snorting it on a bus.
The authorities know little about meow, yet teenagers in Brighton and Hove seem to have endless information about the latest drug of choice.
An 18-year-old reformed drug dealer contacted The Argus to say how concerned he was about the use of the mysterious legal high.
The Patcham teenager said the drug was now more popular than ecstasy and youngsters were taking it at under-18s’ discos.
He said: “This time last year everyone was taking ecstasy. Then ketamine came along and now it is all about this stuff.
“It definitely is the drug of choice at the moment.
“A lot of people say they are buying it because it is similar to ecstasy and cheap and it is legal so the police may take it off them but once the drugs are tested they will get away with it. There are so many kids taking it.
“There are 13 and 14-year-olds doing it who don’t see it as a bad thing at all.
"Anyone can get hold of it. It is easier than alcohol to get hold of if you’re under age.
“It is cheap enough to buy with their pocket money. You can get it cheaply and quickly.
“It is not even like they are giving in to peer pressure. A lot of kids will see so many of their friends doing it, it will seem normal.
“You can snort lines of it, dissolve it in drinks, wrap it up in cigarette paper then swallow it like a tablet and I think even smoke it.”
The teenager said the drug had a particularly strong hold over the Brighton party scene and people who would normally not consider taking illegal drugs were being swayed to try it because there were no laws banning it.
He said: “I know people who take meow but wouldn’t take other drugs. That’s one of the things that’s so unusual about it.
“It is so popular. Young girls think it is cool because it has a cute name.
“They think meow sounds like something sweet and nice so they give it a go.”
Dozens of websites offer the drug for sale. Most of the sites warn customers the chemical mephedrone is “not suitable for human consumption”.
In Britain any substance sold for human consumption has to be licensed or subject to rigorous safety checks.
Instead websites offer meow, miaow or M-CAT as it is known, as plant food, despite the fact the European Fertiliser Manufacturers’ Association has said the chemical, proper name 4-Methylmethcathinone, is never used in plant fertiliser.
The teenager said: “I don’t know who is putting this stuff out there but it has spread so quickly it is like there is a very clever marketing campaign behind it.
“It’s got a clever name and it is being sold for this apparently legal reason but who knows whether there is a real legitimate reason for anyone to buy it.”
Meow has been around such a short time the full extent of its effects are hardly known.
It was linked to the death of a woman in Sweden in 2008.
Police in Durham have said one young man suffered such bad paranoid hallucinations after taking it that he ripped off his own scrotum.
mod edit: this has been proven false- scaremongering by the tabloid press. ~TF~
It is not yet known whether meow played a part in the death of 14-year-old Gabi Price, from Worthing.
She had a cardiac arrest at a house party in Moulsecoomb on Saturday, November 21, and died later.
The ex-dealer said he had seen some of the worst effects of it.
He said: “No one knows what the long-term effects of it are. It hasn’t been about long enough.
“But I have seen some of the physical effects on my friends.
“I know an 18-year-old girl who was a very attractive girl and I saw her recently and she looks terrible. She didn’t look half the person she used to be.
"She used to smoke weed but didn’t do any other drugs. In the space of about six months meow has left her looking gaunt and old.
"Her face is almost unrecognisable and I’m convinced it is down to meow. It has the same kind of effects on people’s looks as crystal meth.
"This drug is so much worse than anything I have seen. I know a few things about drugs and this one is legal but there is so little information about it.
"Lots of my friends have told me they have done it but I have always said it is awful.”
Brighton and Hove’s drug services are planning a citywide strategy for dealing with legal highs and how best to warn young people of the dangers.
December 1, 2009