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Mephedrone: We should ban later, ask questions first

By KingMe, Apr 29, 2010 | | |
  1. KingMe
    THE recreational drug mephedrone, aka miaow-miaow, was banned in the UK last week, a month after front-page stories of still unproven links between it and a number of deaths. By the time the law came into force on 16 April, online dealers were already selling new legal alternatives.
    It's a well-established cycle: the authorities crack down on illegal drugs or ban legal ones, underground chemists do some molecular tweaking or dust off old research chemicals to create a new legal high, dealers order in new stocks from primarily Chinese manufacturers and set up shop online, the police encourage the media so that political pressure builds up, a ban follows, and around we go.
    So far, so predictable, but the cycle is speeding up. The UK's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was pushed into recommending a mephedrone ban when there was little hard evidence of its effects although its chemical similarity to amphetamine and anecdotal reports suggest large doses probably are dangerous, and potentially fatal. A ban might save lives, but it may lead mephedrone users to try more impure, illegal drugs, boost the trade of criminal gangs and certainly drive the development of legal alternatives.
    The European Commission-funded Psychonaut Research Project monitors the web for novel recreational drugs. It has already identified MDAI, developed as an antidepressant, and NRG-1, prescribed as an appetite suppressant in France, as candidates for the next wave of legal highs.
    Prohibitionist approaches to such drugs have long been seen by many as futile at best harmful at worst. What few in power seem to have noticed is the game-changing role of the internet. In today's connected world of social media, reactionary, prohibitory policies are increasingly irrelevant.
    Experimental chemists and "psychonauts" chat in web forums. Young people who used to ignore their parents and politicians in favour of friends now get their drug information from Twitter, Facebook or myriad other social sites. In the US, 18 to 30-year-olds trust non-government websites more than their parents. The free flow of information on the web is exposing not only the wild exaggeration and speculation of much mainstream media reporting, but also undermining populist politicians whose instincts are to ban first and ask questions later, if at all.

    If governments continue to tailor their drugs policies to pacify loud but ignorant newspaper editors, their policies will soon cease to be relevant in the real world. If they want their drugs policy to work, it must be thoughtful, rational and evidence-based, not a cynical, politically motivated stunt to pacify the editors of tabloid newspapers.

    New Scientist magazine - editorial,


  1. Alfa
    Yes, we will gain more influence and impact on these matters than the tabloids do. It will not be long before we get a million monthly readers and reveal various enhancements to severely increase our reach.
  2. Phenoxide
    Disappointingly inaccurate reporting by New Scientist here, even if it is an unscreened editorial.

    MDAI was not developed as an antidepressant. NRG-1, even assuming it to be naphthylpyrovalerone, has never been marketed as an appetite suppressant (unlike its remote analog Pyrovalerone). These statements make it seem as though these chemicals have some history in pharma, and have therefore been subjected to at least some human toxicology testing, but this is simply untrue. Neither MDAI nor naphthylpyrovalerone have been approved for human use, nor has their safety been fully assessed. The long-term health implications associated with their use remains unclear. Should such chemicals be pushed onto a mass market where the primary customer base are looking for party pills?

    While the internet certainly has exposed people to a wealth of information (of varying quality and objectivity) on the topic of drugs, it has also exposed the fact that many people show a shocking disregard for their own health, even when presented with the facts. If the general public were capable of making an informed decision on drug use, then no research chemical would become a mainstream party drug as mephedrone did. Alarmist media reporting aside, informed and measured drug use does not entail putting away grams and grams of a compound with such a brief history of use and next to no formal evaluation of its safety. The obscene levels of use on the part of a significant proportion of users was frankly embarassing. Kids in a candy store.

    It's got to be a two-way street. If people expect the government to relax its prohibitionist stance on drugs, then they need to demonstrate that they can show both restraint and discretion, and also make sensible decisions on their drug use. The marketing and application of the cathinones was at times totally moronic; to the point that even some people who are advocates of the research chemical market were glad to see it controlled. The pattern is doomed to repeat because the same mistakes will be made with the next flavor of the month.
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