The legal high mephedrone, also known as “Meow Meow”, is a party drug that came on the clubbing scene in 2007, but has enjoyed increased popularity due to its relatively cheap price and the unavailability of good quality MDMA (Ecstasy) in the illicit market.
Commonly sold as ‘plant fertiliser’ and ‘not for human consumption’ as a legal loophole to the Medicines Act which would otherwise restrict its sale in the UK, its effects are broadly similar to MDMA; inducing a sense of euphoria, alertness, openness, and tactility. A survey conducted by the National Addiction Centre in the clubbers magazine ‘Mixmag’ suggests that it is the fourth most popular drug used by clubbers in the UK. Whilst the survey has been criticised as biased towards a sample of more hardcore ‘raver’ types than the average clubber, it is clear that mephedrone is an increasingly important recreational drug.
As you might expect, the increasing popularity of mephedrone has come to the attention of the more reactionary UK press, who seem to have started their moralist campaign to prohibit the drug in earnest. When the 14 year old Gabrielle Price died last year, both The Daily Mail and The Sun ran with the story that she “died after taking a suspected drug cocktail including mephedrone at a house party”. Even The Telegraph reported that “Miss Price’s death is not the first harrowing account of the devastating effect the drug can have.” Such claims appear to be nothing but populist sensationalism when the true facts of the matter come to the fore; the coroner reported that she suffered a cardiac arrest following broncho-pneumonia which resulted from a streptococcal A infection.
The award for ‘worst fact checking’ surely goes to The Daily Mail, who, when reporting the death of Ben Walters (which they allegedly connect to mephedrone) quote a friends of Ben’s as saying; ”It’s a substitute for heroin but you can get it over the internet”, clearly conflating the opiate maintenance drug methadone with mephedrone. Whilst it is not yet clear whether Ben’s death was caused by mephedrone (the coroners report has yet to be published, at the time of writing), his death is being used as cannon-fodder in the campaign to prohibit the drug. The worst offender in this regard is The Press, of York, who seem to publish a “horror story” about the drug in almost every addition, wheeling out Ben’s Headmaster to make fervent calls for prohibition, before the facts are actually out on the table.
The immediate effects of mephedrone are relatively well documented by recreational users who post reports upon the websites like erowid.org; a euphoric high, alertness and a desire to talk to everyone about your deepest feelings. Mephedrone is reported to be a moreish drug, with a come-down similar to MDMA but far less severe. Some short term negative effects include a propensity for nose-bleeds, rashes and paranoia.
Very little is known about the long term effects of mephedrone, there has simply been no time for scientists to research this chemical fully. A group of scientists at the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (AMCD) were leading research in this area; which is likely to be delayed due to the resignation of many scientists from the council over the Professor Nutt controversy. Whilst no reliable data is available on the drug’s long term effects at the moment, it may be prudent to examine similar, more well-researched drugs like 4-methylmethcathinone, which can have some severe long terms health effects when taken in large amounts, particularly affecting the heart. Its important to note that any comparisons made between these two drugs without a proper study on mephedrone can only be based on conjecture and speculation.
Why is mephedrone legal? Well, as with most legal highs, its mostly just a matter of time; the government hasn’t got round to prohibiting the drug yet. The legal high market exists in an intricate relationship with the illicit drug market; when a legal high is prohibited, another substance (often varying by only one molecule in structure) is produced to take its place in the legal market. These ‘analogues’ often have similar effects to its parent chemical, but are almost certainly untested, and the long term affects of its use are unknown. In this way the prohibition actively stimulates the production of untested and potentially more dangerous drugs to replace drugs like MDMA, which are well researched, and in terms of pharmacology, relatively safe.
The rational approach here is clearly to bring both markets under appropriate control and regulation. Taking currently illegal drugs like MDMA out of the control of criminal groups (who, lets face it, have little incentive to provide good quality products) and under a regulatory legal framework where the drug can be quality tested and sold legally without fear of legal repercussions would undoubtedly reduce the demand for potentially more dangerous and un-researched legal highs. The legal high market itself is also in dire need of reform; just because a drug is legal does not mean it is safe. More research needs to be done on the emergence of new drugs like mephedrone, and those drugs should also be brought under a regulatory framework in order to ensure harm minimisation to all involved. Banning mephedrone would only compound the problem; a new, un-researched and potentially more dangerous drug would pop up to take its place. When it comes to drugs, sometimes, its better the devil you know.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK will be launching a campaign soon on legal highs, specifically focusing on mephedrone. To get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
February 5, 2010
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Tabloid Press Step Up Campaign Against Legal High “Meow Meow”