Google searches for the 'legal high' cocaine substitute, mephedrone, have rocked by 1000 per cent in the past 12 months, new research from UTalkMarketing has found.
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As a result dealers are becoming more clever with their digital marketing in a bid to outwit the search giant and reach young users.
The drug first came to the attention of officials in 2007 and was officially recognised by the Psychonaut Research Project - an EU organisation that searches the internet for information regarding new drugs - in 2008.
Most commonly sold as a white powder or crystal form, users have described its effects as being similar to cocaine, including increased alertness, euphoria, excitement, feeling of stimulation, urge to talk, and openness.
But it has also been responsible for triggers fits, psychosis and reportedly the death of Gabrielle Price, a 14-year-old girl who collapsed at a party in Brighton in November 2009.
The drug is sold as "plant food" online, enabling it to work around the Medicines Act which prohibits its sale for human consumption. However, it has been banned in Sweden, Denmark and Israel.
Google Insights for Search has shown that searches for ‘mephedrone’ have rocketed since the drug first hit the headlines, tragically spurred on by the publicity surrounding the death of Miss Price.
Across the UK, the drug is most searched for in Northern Ireland, followed respectively by Scotland, Wales and England.
In the UK, the city where the most searches have been made is Brighton. Four times as many searches have been made here compared to the second most popular area of Poplar in East London.
The drug is principally sold online by web savvy marketing sellers. Google has banned advertisers bidding on ‘mephedrone’ in Adwords, but pushers are now turning to alternatives such as ‘cat’ and ‘meow’ – both commonly used by users on the back of mephedrone’s shortened chemical name MM-cat.
A search for ‘meow’ on Google returns an advert for a site beside the search results. Under the headline ‘Pure 99.8% Plant Feeders’ it the advert promotes “High Quality - White Crystalline. Free Next Day Delivery.”
According to ‘Druglink’ magazine dealers in Britain spend £2,500 to ship one kilogram from China but can sell it on for £10 a gram making a profit of £7,500.
But with paid search and good SEO skills, sellers can maximise their profits further.
"Google has strict policies about what ads we allow on our websites,” a Google spokesperson told UTalkMarketing.
“Under our drugs policy we do not allow ads for mephedrone. If we discover that ads are showing that break our policies, we will remove these as soon as possible."
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