Tracking Search Habits: The Mephedrone Ban
The mephedrone ban came into force last month in the United Kingdom. Also known as Meow, Bubbles and MCAT, there's no denying that it has been hitting the headlines over the last three months in a big way.
It was an offense under the Medicines Act to sell mephedrone for human consumption, so it was often sold as "plant food" or "bath salts" in the United Kingdom, because it wasn't covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. On April 7, an amendment to the act was passed by the U.K. parliament, making mephedrone and other substituted cathinones (stimulants) Class B drugs illegal starting April 16.
Substance abuse is a serious social issue and societies and governments have different ways of dealing with it. How we measure societies' attitude towards a sensitive issue can be tricky, and there are various ways of doing this. Let's examine how Britain is searching online for mephedrone and other drugs to see whether we as a society are kicking the habit, or on the verge of getting hooked.
Historical Drug Search Data
Over the last five years, just what have our search habits been with regards some of the headline hitting drugs?
While cannabis had its heyday in the mid-2000s when it was downgraded to class C, it has been struggling for search interest ever since. It was reclassified in 2009 with little effect on the level we conduct our searches.
The hard drug cocaine is the second most popular narcotic, but its level of interest has also been decreasing. The spurt in 2005 may be been attributed to a popular documentary series.
Much lower down the ranks is crystal meth. Interest peaks in 2005 (not sure why) and again in 2009 (related to Louis Theroux's documentary on Central Valley, California).
U.K. Mephedrone Search Trends
There's no denying that mephedrone is the drug of the moment in terms of searches, surpassing cannabis. But just how are we searching for it, and is the trend similar to the other three? For the top three related searches, common to all four drugs is our interest in their effects.
There are also the informational searches: "crystal meth drug," "cannabis uk," "drugs cocaine," "mephedrone uk." However, mephedrone stands by having a top search for a keyword with commercial intent: "mephedrone buy."
Top Rising Searches
Drilling down a bit further looking at habits leading for the first three months of this year, when the legality of this drug was being heavily debated, here's how the U.K. was searching:
While the top interest search was still related to buying mephedrone, it's interesting to note that the top rising searches in the same period were news related.
But, note that people were still searching to buy and this trend was also increasing in the run up to the ban. And is this a drug of the moment, and has the searching public found an alternative to cocaine and cannabis in terms of interest?
It will be interesting to study the behavior in the engines over the course of the coming months. Does the fact that more people are searching to buy mephedrone mean the U.K. is on the verge of getting hooked as a society?
Maybe we will learn from TalktoFRANK.com, which has started a paid search campaign, targeting mephedrone keywords with high commercial intent to educate us on the harmful effects of this drug.
By Matthew Ncube, Search Engine Watch, May 18, 2010