Mephedrone may be banned, chief drug adviser indicates

By corvardus · Mar 23, 2010 · ·
  1. corvardus
    The government's chief drugs adviser has strongly indicated the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will recommend mephedrone be banned.

    He said he believed mephedrone was "harmful" and hinted that it should be categorised as a Class B drug.

    His evidence to an MPs' committee comes as the deaths of a number of young people have been linked to the drug.

    The drug is known by various names, including "M-Cat", "MC", "mieow", "meow", "4MMC" or simply plant fertiliser.

    Concern over its effects has grown after two friends, Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, died in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, last week after taking mephedrone.


    Since then a number of other deaths have been investigated to see if they are connected to the drug, including that of a 24-year-old woman who died in North Yorkshire on Monday.

    It is usually a white or yellowish powder, which is snorted, but it can also be obtained in pills and capsules. It is marketed as a plant food.

    The professor told the Home Affairs Select Committee said it was his personal view as a pharmacologist that mephedrone and other related drugs were "amphetamines by another name".

    Amphetamines are currently classified as Class B drugs and possession can carry a jail term of up to five years or an unlimited fine or even both.

    He also said that if the ACMD does recommend a ban it will recommend "a generic scope that will cover all derivatives of mephedrone - either those made now or those that could be made in the future".
    Prof Iversen said it would be a "tragedy" if anyone else died from mephedrone before the ACMD issued its report.

    He said a plan by Liverpool John Moores University to use students as guinea pigs in a research experiment on the drug was "pretty unethical".

    Psychologists at the university have recruited 50 students for a study into the effects of mephedrone.

    Prof Iversen admitted there was a "temporary hiatus" in the ACMD's review of mephedrone following the dismissal of Professor David Nutt last year and the resignations of other ACMD members over government policy on cannabis.

    He said there were three vacancies on the ACMD's statutory list of positions which he said would be filled by Monday.

    Prof Iversen also revealed that last year he too was "on the verge" of resigning as a member of the ACMD with a "number of colleagues" - because the relationship between the ACMD and Home Secretary Alan Johnson had deteriorated.

    However he said was satisfied with the current relationship, and said he was "confident" the body's independence would be fully safeguarded.

    Websites selling the drug have told their customers it is a case of "when" not "if" mephedrone will be banned.

    BBC News Website
    Tuesday, 23rd March, 2010

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  1. Spucky
    AW: Mephedrone may be banned, chief drug adviser indicates

    Comment: Can we halt the flow of new designer drugs?

    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 chair 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.

    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 ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA), and both compounds are clearly structurally related to the class A drug methamphetamine or 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 structural 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 background it is difficult 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 designated 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 structure N-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. 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 mistakes 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

    23 March 2010

    Edit: Cant fix the Photo proper today!
    Will try tomorrow again :s
  2. chillinwill
    Mephedrone 'likely to become Class B drug'

    Mephedrone is likely to be made a Class B drug, the Government's chief drugs advisor indicated today.

    Professor Les Iversen, the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said his personal view was mephedrone was "amphetamines by another name".

    In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, he said any deaths linked to the drug were a "tragedy".

    But he defended the need to conduct research into the effects of mephedrone - known as M-Cat or Miaow Miaow - before it was banned.

    Addressing the MPs he said: "I am not here to give my personal views...but as a pharmacologist these drugs are amphetamines by another name and I know that amphetamines are harmful.

    "I think you can deduce my conclusions from that."

    Amphetamines are currently a Class B drug along with cannabis.

    Putting mephedrone in Class B would mean carrying the drug would be punishable with a jail term of up to five years and dealing it with up to to 14 years in prison.

    The Committee's chairman Keith Vaz said he would be writing to Home Secretary Alan Johnson to complain about the delay in banning mephedrone.

    He said: "We will be writing following this session to the Home Secretary about these matters.

    "We just think the delay is most unsatisfactory given the dangers that are inherent (in taking mephedrone)."

    The ACMD is due to present its report on mephedrone to ministers on Monday afternoon.

    At that stage ministers are likely to indicate that they are in favour of a ban, but it could be many months before a ban comes into force.

    Prof Iversen said it was "remarkable" how quickly the fashion for taking mephedrone had grown.

    And he said a temporary ban while the evidence was being considered would not be effective.

    In order for a ban to work, it would need to include the entire category of drug and not just individual substances, he said.

    Ministers faced criticism for not having banned mephedrone following the deaths of two teenage boys in Scunthorpe last week.

    The families of Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, joined calls from teachers' leaders for an immediate ban.

    Police are today investigating the death of a 24-year-old woman thought to have taken the drug in Norton, North Yorkshire.

    Mephedrone was virtually unknown until early last year but it is now one of the most popular drugs in nightclubs and is widely available online.

    It is usually a white or yellowish powder, which is snorted, but can also be obtained in pills and capsules.

    Users report effects similar to cocaine and ecstasy but also suffer side-effects such as heart palpitations, high blood pressure and nose bleeds.

    Other side-effects are said to include weight loss, insomnia and psychosis.

    Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "Professor Iversen is completely right to say the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs must be allowed to conduct proper research before mephedrone can be made illegal.

    "It is a travesty that the Government's interference with the advice of its independent scientific advisers has delayed this drug from being banned."

    Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "This is a welcome development. But the Government was warned years ago about the risks posed by legal highs and these steps should have been taken long ago."

    By Jack Doyle
    March 23, 2010
  3. Phenoxide
    Drug adviser quits as ministers prepare mephedrone ban

    Another senior government drugs adviser has quit, hours before ministers are expected to ban a new "legal high".

    The resignation of Dr Polly Taylor from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has sparked speculation that the ban on mephedrone could be delayed. Lib Dem science spokesman Dr Evan Harris said Home Secretary Alan Johnson's ban would have to wait until the council was "properly constituted". The Home Office said it would not speculate on any delay to the ban.

    There has been media pressure to ban mephedrone, which has been linked in recent press reports to at least four deaths in the UK. But the law says any move to ban a drug must follow consultation with the Advisory Council. The council will make its decision whether the drug should be banned on Monday morning, and Mr Johnson was expected to announce a ban later in the day.

    However, the council's meeting will be overshadowed by the resignation of Dr Taylor - the ACMD's veterinary medicine expert whose post is required by law to be filled on the committee. She said she "did not have trust" in the way the government would treat the council's advice.

    Dr Harris said: "The 1971 (Misuse of Drugs) Act is very clear that before the government criminalises thousands of people by banning a drug they must take advice on drug harm and other matters from a legally-constituted advisory council.

    "If it is necessary to act urgently to ban mephedrone then, by provoking this resignation by their refusal to respect the scientists who offer advice, the home secretary will now be forced to wait a delay while the council is properly constituted."

    No letter

    A former secretary of the advisory council, Jeremy Sare, told the BBC the council would not be properly constituted until a new vet was appointed, which would take them at least "a few weeks". A Home Office spokeswoman told the BBC: "We have not received any form of resignation from any member of the advisory council, and we cannot speculate on any issues that could arise on Monday.

    "Whatever happens does not change the home secretary's commitment on mephedrone."

    In her resignation letter, Dr Taylor told the home secretary she was quitting because she did not have trust in the way the government would treat the ACMD's advice.

    "I feel that there is little more we can do to describe the importance of ensuring that advice is not subjected to a desire to please ministers or the mood of the day's press," she wrote.

    Mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant, is known by various names, including "M-Cat", and "meow meow". So far there is no scientific proof that mephedrone has been responsible for any deaths in the UK, and scientists are still trying to work out whether it is harmful on its own or if taken with something else.

    However, last week, the government's chief drugs adviser, Professor Les Iversen, strongly indicated that the ACMD would recommend classifying mephedrone as a Class B drug.

    Last October, Mr Johnson sacked his chief drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt, saying he had lobbied against government policy. The sacking led five other members to quit and an urgent review of the committee's working relationship with ministers.

    Dr Nutt, who has set up his own rival expert body, has warned that banning mephedrone could be self-defeating and that the evidence supporting a ban wasn't clear. He has urged the ACMD and ministers to wait for the verdict of an expert European body which is looking at the use of the drug across all EU member states.

    "This is a pivotal moment in UK drug policy," said Dr Nutt.

    "Given the plethora of 'legal highs' that could follow in mephedrone's wake, the way in which this issue is handled could well set the tone for many years to come."

    The Conservatives have called for the law to be changed to allow temporary bans of drugs while the scientific evidence is assessed.

    BBC News
    Monday 29th March 2010 (quoted at 6:00am update)

    Poster Editorial Comment: An interesting development, and one which could throw a spanner in the works of the ACMD proceedings later today, and therefore the plans of the government for substituted cathinones. While I appreciate the frustrations of the ACMD members, I'm disappointed by the politically motivated timing of this departure. To have the scientists stooping to playing the game of politicians does nothing but damage public perception of their integrity.
  4. Alfa
    It reads to me as that the AMCD may not have much real evidence about the harmfulness of mephedrone, but will advise to ban anyway. Even while mephedrone seems to have high health risks, this still is not a sane way of banning a drug. If they can't (yet) prove a drug is harmful, then they should not advice to ban it.

    "I feel that there is little more we can do to describe the importance of ensuring that advice is not subjected to a desire to please ministers or the mood of the day's press,"
    Its weird that the press is for a very large part responsible for the popularity of the drug, as well as for the pressure to ban a drug.
  5. Phenoxide
    Drug adviser Dr Polly Taylor's full resignation letter

    A senior official from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has quit, saying she did not trust the government's use of its advice. Here is Dr Polly Taylor's full resignation letter to the Home Secretary.

    Dear Secretary of State

    I am writing to resign my position as independent scientific adviser on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

    When you met the ACMD in November 2009, many of us expressed our grave concern about the way that our advice had been treated by you and your predecessor, culminating in the dismissal of our chairman, Professor David Nutt.

    Prof Nutt was dismissed for the content of a lecture he gave in his academic role and which reiterated the advice that the ACMD had given on the appropriate classification of cannabis and ecstasy, advice which the government had rejected.

    Two of our members, Dr Les King and Marian Walker, resigned in protest.

    At that meeting, you were unable to give the necessary assurances about how independent scientific advice would be treated in future and three further members, Dr Simon Campbell, Dr John Marsden and Dr Ian Ragan resigned.

    Others of us on the ACMD agreed to wait for the government's response to the principles for the treatment of scientific advice, which had been drawn up by the scientific community and endorsed by several ACMD members.

    The government's first response, published in December, was highly unsatisfactory and appeared to justify ministers appointing and dismissing independent scientific advisers according to "trust" which is an arbitrary and subjective matter.

    We had understood that the requirement of us, as advisers, was to comply with the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, and not to maintain the favour or trust of a minister with our advice and its communication.

    Senior scientists and advisers set out these objections in detail, as did the ACMD's submission to the government's consultation on that document. The same points were made by the Science and Technology Select Committee in their letters to the government.

    I am therefore surprised and dismayed that the government has rejected these concerns in the publication this week of a final version of the principles, the first of which is a requirement for "mutual trust" backed up by sanctions against independent advisers irrespective of whether the code of practice has been complied with.

    I feel that there is little more we can do to describe the importance of ensuring that advice is not subjected to a desire to please ministers or the mood of the day's press.

    I am very proud of the high standard of work achieved by the ACMD, and I have full confidence in my colleagues on the ACMD and its chairman, Prof Les Iverson, and so it is with regret that I feel the need to express my lack of confidence in the way that government will treat its advice and therefore am unable to continue to serve on the committee.

    Yours sincerely

    Dr Polly Taylor

    BBC News
    Monday 29th March 2010
    (quoted at 2:44am update)
  6. MrG
    Well we've all been saying how the press has stormed ahead with assumptions that 4-MMC was directly responsible for these deaths and that each and every case had a polydrug aspect to it.

    I think that it would be far more valuable, in a harm reduction context, for the scientific community to first establish how and under what circumstances Mephedrone use may be harmful. At least that could be published and distributed in order to encourage users away from many of the reckless practices like massively high dosing and simultaneous consumption of CNS depressant drugs which, while tolerable under the stimulant effects of Mephedrone, risk then becoming fatal overdoses when it wears off.

    If the government focuses on actual harm reduction priorities for a change they might actually accomplish something worthwhile instead of appeasing the 'angry mob' (readers of British Tabloid newspapers, purveyors of such cerebral headlines as 'Gotcha!' - The sinking of the General Belgrano with the loss of several hundred lives and numerous 'My drugs hell' celebrity self-promotion and public appeasement following being caught doing a drug you don't drink).
  7. corvardus
    That is the stance of most of the scientists it would seem and quite rightly too. Science follows the evidence not a media blood-frenzy. It would seem the ACMD had, indeed, recommended mephedrone being Class B with an inquorate council, mostly made up by non-scientists.

    Scientists follow the evidence, not some media frenzy and placing a drug that has very little (if any) evidence of danger and giving people a 4 year prison sentence, within days is not the way to go and in all conscience trying to quorate the council to rush an ELECTION banning, to me would be untenable. I couldn't do it.

    Have no illusions about this. They are not banning mephedrone for the safety of the people. They are banning it to get the Press on their side and encourage their readers to vote Labour.

    I think I would have done the same thing.

    Either way it forces whichever Government that comes to power after an election to deal with the scientists properly. The Class D as proposed by Nutt and implied by the Conservatives is the real way to go, not some myopic banning powered by the Media.
  8. corvardus
    Following the meeting of the ACMD about the issue through twitter. It is fascinating:

    Some notable tweets thus far (will update as necessary, latest developments first) poster comments

    LUNCH TIME BREAK so no more relevent tweets.

    imrankhan85 .@DrEvanHarris it was - les said it was legal issue for sec state, acmd can give advice whether 'quorate' or not.

    DrEvanHarris @imrankhan85 Hope you are making lots of notes! Gov now saying that resig not affect statutory role of ACMD - has it been raised?

    Oho! A lib dem MP tweeting this. I think we can all see what is going to happen at the end of today.

    SarahGraham69 ACMD chair- young people are taking #mephedrone because they think 'it's legal and safe. I have a msg for them- it's not legal, Not safe'

    Not sure if the final sentence is her or the ACMD chair's comment. I presume it is hers considering that it is legal until the legislation says otherwise.

    SarahGraham69 ACMD we don't know how many people are using #mephedrone but 'unprecedented emergence' now 4th most popular drug say Mixmag

    SarahGraham69 Anecdotal evidence that #mephedrone use can lead to dependency rapidly #ACMD incl escalating to daily use.

    SarahGraham69 As of Fri last week 18 deaths in England so far reported where cathinones #mephedrone are implicated

    SarahGraham69 #mephedrone Can cause hallucinations and psychosis in high doses #ACMD

    SarahGraham69 #mephedrone strong desire to redose- to maintain dopamine pleasure release-which is why addictive #ACMD

    SarahGraham69 Data on #mephedrone from self reports. No ACMD members have been doing own research!

    SarahGraham69 Data for #mephedrone effect on brain not currently available

    SarahGraham69 Chairman 'never seen such an escalation in so short a time' 21% of all visits to 'this is drug of moment' #mephedrone

    SarahGraham69 #mephedrone=90% of all cathinones seizures (12 types seized so far in Europe) so generic control needed #ACMD

    SarahGraham69 Technical problems at ACMD more feedback than a Status Quo concert

    sirbonar I have not received any resignation from the ACMD. The war on drugs will continue. We must prevail. #fb

    SarahGraham69 ACMD Legal highs committee met 2 last year. Les Kings resignation means it's 'no longer active'. Appalling Part of why this is jurassic park

    imrankhan85 At the ACMD meeting in tower hill. Chair is unhappy with govt's revised Principles on science advice. #scivote
  9. Finn Mac Cool
    Update 1254: Home Office lawyers have been poring over the Misuse of Drugs Act and believe that, even without the requisite vet, the Advisory Council can report and the government can legislate for a ban. A spokesperson has said:

    "Based on its current formation, the ACMD is still able to fulfil its statutory role and provide advice on mephedrone today on which we can act. We have said we intend to act immediately on receipt of the ACMD's advice and this is still our intention."

    When the drug laws don't work.
  10. corvardus
    Having read the ACMD's agenda to wonder when they were restarting I found that the afternoon session is a CLOSED session. I think we have sufficient information in which to make a prediction.

    The ACMD is inquorate, but even though the MDA71 states that a vet needs to be on the council for it to be quorate the government is going to argue that her resignation does not affect the state of play... because she is just a vet and we're talking humans here.

    The decision on banning Mephedrone has already been made and regardless of what the ACMD is going to recommend they are going to ban it. Les Iverson (ACMD chair) has effectively told the open forum that due to self-reporting and anecdotal evidence, along with media input, specifically from MixMag (link) , along with a slew of "evidence" in the language of a rationale of banning that the result of the meetings at the end of the day will be a recommendation to ban Mephedrone and place it into a Class B category.

    The minor legality of the inquorate ACMD does not appear to phase the government because we know and they know that any legal proceedings will be complete well after the election in which time:

    1) The election will be over and whoever has won will be in power
    2) The European wide review of Mephedrone should be completed in July, which will give scientific credence to the ACMD's current position, or provide evidence for a declassification which at the beginning of a new parliament won't phase the government one bit.
    3) Provides Labour with "Look at us... we're tough on drugs" message to the electorate.

    It would not surprise me one bit if the rest of the individuals with a scientific discipline will not follow Polly out the door, after this failure to take into account ANY scientific evidence at all before it commits to issuing a recommendation.
  11. MrG
    But they have taken into account the most esteemed scientific journal of all time, namely MixMag!

    Whilst it doesn't surprise me that they are likely to go ahead with a ban regardless of the lack of scientific evidence at this stage, it's still disappointing to see business-as-usual being the outcome of this media frenzy.
  12. corvardus
    Alan Johnson as ordered a cease and destroy to Customs for any further mephedrone coming into the UK. That, according to the BBC, is a power he has immediately and has already done so.

    Johnson has also stated that the law will be put to parliament tomorrow, with the conservative James Brokenshire stating that they will have complete conservative support for fast tracking a mephedrone ban before dissolving of parliament.

    The government intends to complete this in "a couple of weeks" although some members of this forums state that there was a time period between recommendation and legislation it appears that the politicians can do what the hell they like.

    Obviously we have to wait for the relevent interviews and pieces to hit the web but this is what the BBC has just reported.
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