WITH her heart racing and sweat running down her face, Katie Dean danced on - unaware of anyone else in the nightclub.
As waves of adrenaline swept through her body, she marvelled that her high had been provided by two dabs of a LEGAL white powder.
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Before hitting the dancefloor Katie had taken mephedrone - dubbed "meow, meow" - which is fast becoming the drug of choice for youngsters. It is easily available online and costs as little as £10 a gram.
It is just one of the many legal highs that are sold openly on the internet, often in brightly coloured packets designed to appeal to young partygoers.
But as 23-year-old Katie and many others have discovered, while these drugs may be legal they are far from safe.
In April this year 21-year-old medical student Hester Stewart, from Brighton, died after taking rave drug GBL at a party.
And earlier this month 14-year-old Gabrielle Price died after taking mephedrone at another party in Brighton.
It emerged from medical reports last week that Gabrielle's death was actually due to an undetected medical condition.
But mephedrone has been implicated in other deaths around the world and is already illegal in Sweden, Denmark and Israel.
A friend of Gabrielle's, who attended the same party, said mephedrone was being taken by kids as young as 11 who assume it is safe because it is not illegal.
Mephedrone - also branded "cocaine for teens" - is made in Chinese laboratories and imported legally to the UK where it is often marketed as plant food.
Pharmacy assistant Katie, from Portsmouth realised how dangerous such drugs are in October, when she ended up convulsing on a friend's bathroom floor.
Katie says: "I was at a house party. On previous occasions I'd taken mephedrone while I was out dancing.
"I didn't feel like I had done much. But soon after my skin felt unbelievably hot and my heart was racing. I don't know why but I started chewing the insides of my mouth and I felt so paranoid. I started to hyperventilate and I was chewing my lip so badly my mouth was bleeding."
Terrified, Katie locked herself in the bathroom to calm down. When she looked in the mirror she felt even worse.
She recalls: "I thought my life was over. My pupils were huge, I was sweating and flushed and my lips were bleeding.
Katie had been upstairs a while when she heard people banging on the door - and in her paranoid state she assumed it was the police.
She says: "I started to panic and the next thing I knew I'd blacked out.
"I woke up an hour later in hospital. My friends had broken down the bathroom door and found me lying on the floor, convulsing and frothing at the mouth."
After two hours in hospital, Katie felt well enough to leave but the doctor warned her about the effects of mephedrone.
Katie explains: "Whether it is legal or not, mephedrone had put my heart under more strain than it can take. It is not designed for humans."
Katie's story is far from unique. As Dr Alun Morinan, scientific advisor to the drugs charity Hope UK and a research scientist at the National Addiction Centre at King's College London, says: "There is no predicting the effect these drugs will have. One pill could cause a lifetime of damage.
"What's worrying is not just the substances themselves - ranging from fairly harmless caffeine products to potentially dangerous drugs - but the fact they interact with other things like alcohol."
GBL - gamma-butyrolactone - is a colourless, oily liquid with a weak odour, often used in paint strippers and stain removers.
Following Hester's death, her mother Maryon campaigned to have it outlawed.
In August the Government said it would ban it by the end of the year, reclassifying it and BZP as Class C drugs, making them illegal to take or sell.
Another drug, "Spice", is being designated Class B alongside cannabis - but dozens of alternatives will remain on sale online.
So how easy is it to obtain these drugs, and what do they contain?
A simple internet search by The Sun revealed hundreds of sites selling a range of products. We bought five different legal highs - including mephedrone - to investigate what they contained.
Looking at the websites, Dr Morinan was shocked. He says: "The way some of these are branded as 'legal speed' and 'legal ecstasy' glamorises them. They are also introducing young people to snorting substances. From there it's only a step to illegal drugs."
But that does not worry internet traders cashing in on "legal highs".
Jeff (not his real name) runs a successful website selling mephedrone but claims he is concerned about the effects of the drugs.
He says: "I don't feel responsible but I do feel concern. I am equally concerned about teen drug and alcohol abuse."
Jeff claims he first started selling a legal high online to beat the recession, adding: "I saw an opportunity to make enough money to support three other businesses and 16 staff through the recession.
"I'm not painting myself as the good guy. Profits are large and after I have paid my taxes I will enjoy the money, but in truth I'd rather not be doing this."
Jeff, 37, from East Anglia, reveals business is booming.
He explains: "It's massive and the geographical spread is amazing. Whole cities suddenly switch on to it and start ordering. Edinburgh and Cardiff, then London, then Manchester and Birmingham. Recently, Liverpool."
He claims not to worry about young teens buying the drug.
He says: "I'm not sure how a young teen could buy on the net. They would need a credit card for a start." And he tries to sidestep the issue of whether the chemicals are harmful to humans by saying: "We do not sell to customers for human consumption.
"If I sold you a pen and you decided to ingest it, I would not consider myself responsible."
He added:"I know for certain that most people who do abuse legal highs are not new to substance abuse. It's just that they no longer need to be criminals. They no longer need to pay black market prices to make violent and dangerous criminals rich.
"How many of your friends, colleagues and readers have ever done a line of coke or smoked a joint? They are all criminals."
December 21, 2009