* New designer drug being bought online
* Is legal in Britain - the main exporter
* "Will destroy the Sydney cocaine market"
STUDENTS and clubbers are buying a new designer drug billed as "a cross between cocaine and ecstasy" over the internet.
Drug experts are alarmed by the emergence of mystery drug Mephedrone - known on the street as MM-Cat, Plant Food, Meow and 4-MMC.
And they fear its use could spiral as students celebrate the end of exams and the beginning of schoolies week.
The latest "legal high" is being pushed on social networking sites such as Facebook.
NSW Police say they are "aware of mephedrone" but play down its spread. While users and experts, including the federal health department, are divided over its legality, police insist it is a derivative of methcathinone, and therefore prohibited.
The drug, which comes in both powder and pill form, has been officially banned in Norway, Finland, Denmark, Israel and Sweden, but is legal in Britain - the main exporter of the drug.
"This is the drug that will destroy the Sydney cocaine market," one user told The Sunday Telegraph on condition of anonymity.
"People are trying to buy up big, organising bulk shipments from China and the UK because it's only a matter of time before they ban the stuff."
Sydney drug and alcohol researcher Paul Dillon said he was "blown away" by the number of chat room forums sharing experiences of MM-Cat users.
"I have to say that I have never, ever seen such a positive buzz about a drug on the internet - and I mean in my whole career," Mr Dillon said.
"That worries me because here's a drug that is legal and here's a drug that really works. It's not like herbal ecstasy where users take it and find it's nothing like the real thing.
"The problem is that we know so little about this drug that we don't know what it does to you. Users should absolutely consider themselves guinea pigs."
Derived from the khat plant, MM-Cat can be bought in quantities ranging from 1g ($15) to 1000g (about $6300) from more than 40 international websites, mainly based in the UK. A UK website called Research Chemicals boasts "Mephedrone is our number-one selling plant food."
There are dozens of ads tagged "urgent" placed by Australians desperately searching for suppliers who will send bulk shipments of MM-Cat into the country.
Recently, however, a number of sites have posted notices saying they will no longer ship to Australia. This follows a seizure by Queensland Police of a stash of MM-Cat pills from the car of a suspected dealer in Cairns.
It is the only known seizure of the drug in this country but police have yet to press charges against two people arrested because of the grey legal area that surrounds the drug. Local users said they could continue to import the drug by having it forwarded to them by friends who bought it legally in London.
"Dealers often advertise this drug as being like ecstasy but its properties are much more similar to cocaine and amphetamines," said Professor Iain McGregor, director of Sydney University's Psychopharmacology Laboratory. "Users get feelings of euphoria, it's dancey, it's happy, a bit trippy.
"Unfortunately for people like myself and Paul (Dillon), who are here to tell people drugs are bad, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot that is bad about it.
November 15, 2009
The Sunday Telegraph
New designer drug Mephedrone or MM-Cat being bought over internet