An emerging party drug going by the name of Bubbles or Meow Meow is worrying drug experts, not only because it is cheap and legal but because "we don't know anything about it".
The powder or crystal substance has been linked to deaths in Sweden and the UK, where it has become popular to snort with people as young as 14.
It can be bought over the internet for about €10 per gram as plant food or fertiliser and as a "research chemical not for human consumption".
According to various international reports and online user forums, the substance gives off many of the same effects as ecstasy, cocaine and hallucinogens, producing euphoria, alertness, talkativeness and feelings of empathy.
However, it also leads to severe nose bleeds, nose burns, rashes, anxiety, paranoia, fits, delusions, overstimulation of the nervous system and even heart attacks.
Some reports have said it could easily cause dependency or addictiveness, possibly as much as cocaine.
A British youngster reportedly ripped off his own scrotum after hallucinating for 18 hours that centipedes were crawling all over his body and biting him.mod edit: this has been proven false- scaremongering by the tabloid press. ~TF~
Another was admitted for psychiatric treatment after months of using it.
Even former UK drug adviser David Nutt, who was fired for speaking too leniently about drugs, said it was better to take ecstasy than this substance because it was untested and could turn out to be very harmful.
Technically known as Mephedrone, the drug has been banned in Israel, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland while other countries are also planning to make it illegal.
Although it has not yet been officially registered in Malta, The Times is informed that many young people are using it as their new party drug of choice.
Richard Muscat, a University professor and chairman of the National Commission of Drug Abuse, said: "These types of drugs destroy nerve cells, so they remove part of your potential. It doesn't make sense to use them in the first place. But, even more so, with something like Mephedrone... because we don't know anything about it."
Prof. Nutt was reported as saying that Mephedrone was "at least" as dangerous as speed but, more importantly, that "these chemicals have never been put into animals, let alone humans".
Prof. Muscat suggested the drug be banned immediately in Malta through a legal notice. "Otherwise, we're going to have the same situation we had with Steve Marsden," he said.
Mr Marsden, 50, had tried to import 50,000 pills similar to ecstasy but containing a chemical compound - mCPP as opposed to MDMA - that had not been illegal at the time. Although he was initially jailed for 25 years, he was set free this year because the appeal's court could not prove he conspired to traffic an illegal substance.
Mephedrone, which is said to be manufactured in China, is generally snorted but some reports suggested it can be swallowed too and may be found in a pill or capsule form.
Forensic expert Mario Mifsud said the EU was monitoring this substance to see whether to ban it, depending on whether the trend continued or not.
He said he had recently received international reports of the drug causing death after being injected. He said it was a "very worrying" drug because its "toxic dose" had not yet been identified.
A spokesman for the anti-abuse government agency, Sedqa, confirmed the drug was being used locally and said that while no drugs should be underestimated extra caution should be taken with Mephedrone because of the lack of research available about its repercussions.
Sedqa also warned against mixing any drug with alcohol or with prescribed medicine because such practice increased the risks of an overdose.
Anyone with a substance abuse problem can contact Sedqa on supportline 179 or 2388 5110.
Technical name: Mephedrone, 4-MMC, MMCAT.
Street names: Bubbles, Meow Meow, Drone.
Sold as: Plant food or fertiliser, research chemical.
Price: Between €5 and €15 per gram.
Form: White powder or crystals (even capsules and pills).
Usage: Can be snorted, swallowed and even injected.
Banned: Norway, Denmark, Israel, Sweden and Finland.
Intended effects: Euphoria, alertness, talkativeness and feelings of empathy.
Other effects: Severe nosebleeds, rashes, delusions, fits, heart failure, psychological dependence.
Death: Mephedrone has been linked to the death of an 18-year-old Swedish woman and, most notably, 14-year-old Gabriella Price from Brighton whose untimely death sparked a media frenzy about Mephedrone in the UK.
December 30, 2009
Times of Malta
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Dangerous but legal party drug in Malta