IN LIGHT OF the controversy surrounding the “legal high” mephedrone, more commonly known in Tayside as bubbles, Courier reporter Stefan Morkis looks into the drug’s spread—and demonstrates just how easily available it has become.
When bubbles appeared on the Dundee drugs scene, it was rumoured it was a mixture of cocaine and ecstasy—two class A substances with a deadly reputation.
That was soon disproved but bubbles, otherwise known as mephedrone, soon earned a sinister reputation all of its own, despite being entirely legal and derived from plant food.
The legal high, which users say creates similar effects to ecstasy, has already been linked to the death of a 49-year-old Dunfermline woman.
There have been reports of users suffering a range of symptoms from sickness and vomiting, palpitations and discolouration of the nose or legs.
Long-term users have also reported suffering extreme bouts of depression, while those who choose to snort the drug can suffer severe nose bleeds as a result.
Mephedrone, which has the chemical formula 4-MMC, is known by a range of other names including plant food and mioaw mioaw, and is even known as Dundee in some parts of Angus because of its easy availability in the city.
It is illegal to knowingly sell the drug for human consumption, and this month an Arbroath man became the first person in Scotland to be charged with selling it.
Despite this, the drug is not only increasingly popular—it is increasingly easy to procure.
The drug is not only being sold in pubs and nightclubs by dealers. Anyone with a credit or debit card and access to the internet can quickly find a website where they can buy anything from half a gram, costing as little as £6, to half a kilo of bubbles, costing hundreds of pounds.
As long as sellers pretend they are not selling the drug for human consumption, they are not breaking any law.
This is why the drug is most often marketed online as “plant food” because mephedrone was originally created as a drug to promote plant growth.
It has never been tested on humans and no one has any idea what the long-term effects of abusing mephedrone may be.
However, while websites may feature the occasional picture of a plant and are careful to warn their products are not for human consumption, their intended market is clear.
The site I visited to buy my bubbles features a few pictures of happy-looking women alongside verdant house plants, but the images on the checkout page of dancers in a nightclub were more telling.
Other sites choose to be even less subtle and feature imagery of dancers and cartoons, making the link with club culture even more explicit.
The website also advises would-be buyers that any order will be delivered discreetly to their chosen address and, sure enough, 24 hours after placing my order, a nondescript white envelope dropped through the letterbox containing a gram of the fine, white powder.
But, for internet dealers, the good times selling mephedrone may soon be over.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will report back to the Home Office in spring, when it is likely the UK will follow the lead of countries like Israel, Sweden and Norway in banning the drug.
But this may not be the end of the story.
The UK banned three legal highs last year but substitutes, which produce similar effects, soon became available.
As long as their chemical make-up is different—no matter how marginally— they can still be sold legally.
It’s likely 4-MMC will join ecstasy and cocaine on the list of banned substances quickly, but it’s equally likely a replacement will available almost as quickly.
February 4, 2010
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Bubbles—dangers of cheap high