The courier, Mark, pressed the bag of white powder into my hand, slapped me on the shoulder and said with a smile: “Not for human consumption, remember.” He might as well have winked.
He had just sold me plant food, but safe to say his warning — “go easy on it” — was probably not rooted in concern for my herbaceous borders.
Within a few hours of typing the words “meow meow”, “buy” and “London”, into Google, The Times had obtained a packet of mephedrone, the latest so-called “legal high”, to be linked to a number of sudden deaths. Five grammes cost £40. It came from Shanghai. As promised on the website, it was delivered directly to a convenient meeting place, in this case in East London.
Countless websites offer a similar service. Some appear surprisingly upmarket. The first company called by The Times offered an electronic tracking service, and allowed online “gardeners” to fill a shopping basket of the crystalline powder which, it assured, was “produced in labs we have personally inspected that meet the highest international standards”.
The well-spoken woman who answered the phone happily gave me a rundown of prices. It would be £24 for two grammes, or £60 for five. “I have to ask you two questions first: are you over 18? Are you aware this is not for human consumption?” She didn’t inquire about my garden either.
The powder, which resembles cocaine, triggers an amphetamine- type euphoria. Physical changes include dilated pupils, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, flushing and goose bumps. Like cocaine, it can be particularly moreish. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those most likely to be tempted by meow meow are those in their teens and twenties.
Daniel, 21, described how a friend in Stoke-on-Trent had suffered a nasty reaction after his first time. “His lips totally swelled up. It was horrible.”
Graeme, 21, a chemistry graduate from Glasgow, said: “I hadn’t heard of it until last week, when two friends took it. They were insanely high. You don’t know what chemicals are in it. They haven’t been tested, it could be anything.”
February 8, 2010