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  1. chillinwill
    Could the dangers of 'legal high' mephedrone have been predicted? Of course they could, says John Mann

    The recent deaths of two young men, apparently from the effects of the 'legal high' mephedrone, have re-emphasised the difficulties faced by the UK government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Already disrupted by the furore over the sacking of its chairman David Nutt last October, the reconstituted council has promised to advise the Home Secretary about mephedrone by 29 March, despite key scientific positions on the council remaining vacant following a mass walk-out in the wake of Nutt's dismissal (see Chemistry World, December 2009, p10).

    But could the dangers of this drug have been predicted? Of course they could.

    Mephedrone is a structural analogue of (S)-cathinone, the major psychoactive constituent of the euphoriant khat. This extract of the plant Catha edulis has been widely used in the Middle East since at least the 14th century. The reported central nervous system (CNS) activities of mephedrone, which include euphoria, enhanced confidence and an urge to socialise, are usually compared to those of ectasy or MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), and both compounds are clearly structurally related to the class A drug methamphetamine, also known as speed - one of the most potent amphetamines. Originally categorised as a class B substance under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, methamphetamine was upgraded to class A in 2006 and penalties for its supply can be severe.

    In the US the Federal Analog Act covers all compounds that are 'substantially similar' to the most highly controlled substances and they can then be treated in the same way as that controlled substance. Although this section of the all-encompassing US Controlled Substances Act has had a number of legal interpretations, it is now routinely used to include any analogue that has stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic actions in the CNS. Unsurprisingly, mephedrone has not yet been much used in the US.

    Under present legislation the UK's ACMD considers one designer drug at a time and reports to the Home Secretary. Yet the designer drugs market is being supplied with dozens of new substances each year, many of them, like mephedrone, being produced by chemists in China.

    Chemists trained as part of China's huge contribution to the generic (pharmaceutical) drug market would be well qualified to both design and produce the relatively simple structures of a whole range of novel substances if they so desired. None of this is new and the amphetamines have been the target of illicit chemical activities since the 1960s. What has changed is the scale of the chemistry, the competence of the operatives and access to the internet for dissemination of information and even sales. Against this backdrop it is hard to see how the ACMD can respond on a drug by drug basis.

    The solution is to follow the US model. A good patent lawyer could easily compile an all-encompassing list of potential analogues, all of which could then be classified in class A or B according to the classification of the parent drug. This should avoid the sale of the new substances via the internet under the pretence that they are plant foods (as with mephedrone) or health foods, and make life more difficult for the designers and dealers. The occasional appearance of completely new drugs like Spice Gold, based on the structureN -butyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole, first prepared by John Huffman of Clemson University in 1995 and shown by him to have cannabinoid-like activity, will have to be dealt with on a compound by compound basis (see Chemistry World, February 2009, p8). However, a list of all likely analogues can quickly be assembled and then covered by a blanket ban.

    One criticism of such a prophylactic blanket ban would be that it could interfere with the activities of the pharmaceutical industry or chemical supply companies. However, the former is used to supplying its products via well regulated pharmacies, and the latter have had to come to terms with greater scrutiny due to the threat of terrorism. A further fear that a blanket ban would unnecessarily criminalise substances that might ultimately prove to be harmless, is worth the risk. After all, one young life saved is worth the odd mistake in classification.

    John Mann is emeritus professor of chemistry at Queen's University Belfast and author of Turn on and tune in: Psychedelics, narcotics and euphoriants

    April 2010
    RSC
    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Issues/2010/April/CanWeHaltTheFlowOfNewDesignerDrugs.asp

Comments

  1. Seaquake
    he seems to have missed the analogue law that they set up for cannabinoids, or for the substituted amphetamines and phenetylamines, and presumably he won't have seen the acmd's report on cathinones either based on the fact he's talking about the meeting being in the future.

    shame there's no way to add comments to his commentary piece
  2. Jasim
    The dangers of mephedrone make me take a stance that is highly unusual for me, but if they aren't going to educate and control the quality of mephedrone, then they might as well just make it illegal. These kids think that because it's a legal drug, it doesn't have the associated risks, while the truth is mephedrone is much more dangerous substance than many Class A drugs. A UK analogue act has been long in coming, it was only a matter of time. It's unfortunate, but if it saves a few lives maybe it's worth the loss of freedoms. Until a strong, concerted effort is made to educate people on the risks associated with experimenting with psychoactive substances, I would rather see these substances removed from the easily accessible shelves of legal headshops. Too many have already suffered and died from the misuse of mephedrone. Don't get me wrong, I would much prefer education, truthful education not propaganda, but that's too much to hope for from the narrow-minded governments of today.
  3. gmeziscool2354
    Well the usa system is not as good as he wants to make it seem. U cant sell anything other than alcohol or tobacco that is meant to be consumed for its ontoxicating effects, u cant really market tjese products and large scale possesion or distribution are prosicutable under the controlled substances act if rulesd an analouge.

    No the uk has itbetter fpr the consumer, its just, no offense u guys let it get out of hand over there. Maybe the usa's agressive no drug is a good drug policy prevents us from a meph catastrophe, but it limits the rights of all parties involved. U cant sell it or consume it (legally) as a drug (plant food herbal incense ect) and even this is dodgy, the deamakes raids on psuedo il/legal opperations like bouncing bear fairlyregulay. No the usa may have somewhat sound policy but with the DEA whos sworn oath is essientially to erradicatedrugs domestically the average consumer gets screwed
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