The annals of drug scares, like the annals of empire, are measured by transitions from monumental to anticlimactic. So leave it to the British, a proud people that have mastered the art both of the colony and of panic journalism, to have their children die from snorting plant food.
Her name was Gabi. She died after taking a drug “cocktail,” which calls into question the specificity of what killed her (”doing lots of drugs” is frequently a culprit in this situation). But it’s the exciting new powder in the mix that warrants some good old fashioned lock-the-kids-in-the-basement fear.
It’s called mephedrone, 4-methylmethcathinone to the pedantic, 4-MCAT to the hipper of organic chemists; the street name is “meow meow” which is presumably the kind of pun on the abbreviated moniker that, when one is actually on the drug, becomes by turns hilarious, trenchantly insightful, then horrifyingly vapid. It’s a stimulant of the phenethylamine class, meaning it shares a certain kinship with methamphetamine and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Unlike those drugs, however, it’s legal.
And not just legal, convenient. The Daily Mail’s Paul Bracchi even had some delivered to his home, presumably to prove a point (later, he traced the courier back to an apartment where he observed men “of Middle Eastern appearance” and “with an East European accent,” presumably to prove a completely different point. Stay classy, London!). To avoid regulatory interference from the British FDA, it’s sold as plant food, but this doesn’t fool anyone. Mephedrone is very much a psychoactive compound, and its on-label use would end up creating very perky rhododendrons indeed.
Like its chemical brethren, mephedrone has a strong stimulant effect, though the nuances (as reported by the renowned Burners-pretending-to-be-scientists at Erowid), pleasurability, and levels of MDMA-like hallucinogenic and empathogenic activity varied by user; Vice’s correspondent totally hated it, and those people are professionals. It clearly has a bit more of a kick than plain amphetamines, and indeed, it belongs to a family not seen all too frequently in the Western world: the cathinones.
Unlike amphetamine, the basic cathinone (called “cathinone,” cleverly enough) is found naturally in the East African khat shrub. An integral part of the nonstop party that is Somalian militia life (it’s like Burning Man, only with more men actually being set on fire), khat carries all the well-documented paranoiac and exhaustive dangers of all stimulants. Like amphetamines, cathinone’s effects gain subtler psychoactive properties when the substance is methylated, ethylated, and otherwise tricked out chemistry style. Thus, meow meow, your feline friend who kills perky blond teenagers.
This has lead some countries to ban the drug, though not Great Britain and not, to date, the United States. Indeed, the DEA only has one public record of mephedrone on U.S. soil. the closest relative to mephedrone that you can get your hands on, and the only cathinone with any pentration in the U.S. market, is also legal. It’s bupropion, also called Wellbutrin and Zyban. Which may not be plant food, but, as the fourth most frequently prescribed antidepressant, certainly has its adherents.
Who’dve thought it was such a small step from antidepressants to panic?
December 13, 2009
The Faster Times
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Meet “Meow Meow”: Mephedrone is the Furry Friend Who Will Kill Your Children