Worrying side effects attached to drug
n different forms it's been sold as plant food, but little is known about a new recreational drug hitting Australian streets, other than it prompts acts of horrendous self-mutilation by some users.
Within the past few months in Sydney there have been reports one user tried to castrate himself while under the influence of the drug.
Another severed half a finger using a kitchen appliance and degloved his penis in an apparent circumcision attempt.
The drug in question is 4-methylmethcathinone or mephedrone - but more commonly known as 4-MMC, MMCAT, bubbles, megatron, bath salt or miaow miaow.
As a derivative of methandienone, the drug is a prohibited substance in Australia.
Continuing to prove hugely popular on the UK clubbing scene, the drug is believed to be partly responsible for the deaths of a woman in Sweden in 2008 and a 14-year-old girl in England in November.
It has since been made illegal in some European countries.
The psychoactive drug creates a state of euphoria similar to, but not as extreme as cocaine, with an ecstasy-like hit at the end.
Reports of little after-effects and a mild "come-down" have made the drug popular among young professionals who like to party at the weekend before having to return to work.
Since September 2008, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), along with Australian Customs and the Border Protection Service, have detected 25 attempts to import a combined total of more than 20kg of the drug.
An AFP spokeswoman confirmed that mephedrone "is a new drug that has emerged in Australia".
While prohibited here, the drug is readily available for legal purchase abroad, predominantly in China and Israel.
In Tasmania, police have labelled the drug "Israeli's", because of its country of source, and report its popularity with people who believe it's legal to possess.
"We conducted an investigation at the start of the year and a number of persons were charged with trafficking," Tasmanian Police Detective Inspector Ian Lindsay told The Mercury newspaper in October last year.
He added that since those charges were laid there had been a "dramatic reduction" in the amount of mephedrone seized across the state.
In a report from the Tasmanian Department of Police and Emergency Management, the drug is said to have been possessed "in an attempt to circumvent existing legislation".
In the Northern Territory, a 16-year-old boy faced Darwin Youth Justice Court on January 15 for allegedly importing 1kg of mephedrone, ordered online from a legitimate chemical company in China.
The court heard the boy paid $8,000 and was expected to pay an additional $12,000 when the drug arrived, the NT News reported. The matter is ongoing.
Brisbane-based Rave Safe project coordinator Michael Brennan said use of the drug in Australia was "worrying" and people continued to consume the substance without knowing its effects or what's used in its production.
Typically, mephedrone is mixed with caffeine and the compound can take effect very quickly.
However, for users of other recreational drugs, Mr Brennan said the effect may not be as strong as that to which they've become accustomed.
"Reports are that it's incredibly more-ish, which can be a concern in itself," he said.
"It is one thing to pop one or two tabs of ecstasy, but taking this stuff, they could be inclined to take several hundred milligrams.
"In a way these things are more dangerous because people will take one or two doses and not get the effect they want so then they take a lot more of them.
"When a substance like this comes up that was really only invented only a few years ago, it's hard to say what the effects will be, so it's really worrying to me. It's just a real unknown at this stage."
Typically, the drug is purchased in crystal form and snorted for quick effect, but can also be taken orally.
Mr Brennan said mephedrone had proven popular among ecstasy users, but added that few seemed to move onto long-term use.
"I think some people are quite happy with that effect, that you don't get this terrible after-effect with it," he said.
"A lot of ecstasy users have been taking it for a try, but a lot of long-term users have gradually lost the attraction to it.
"And I would bet that 4M CC will slowly disappear into the background."
As a stimulant, the drug affects the human cardio system and users have experienced varying symptoms including palpitations, paranoia, anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches and short-term memory loss.
In one case, documented in an online forum, following the consumption of about 100mg over a week, a male user noticed his fingers and knees turn a dark red to purple colour before he passed out.
After about six months, including a short stint in hospital, the discolouration disappeared, but the symptoms returned after again trying a small amount of mephedrone.
In the Sydney cases, it's unknown whether the male users were also under the influence of other substances, but online discussions about the drug frequently list paranoia as a common side-effect.
Both men were hospitalised for their injuries, but NSW Health does not have a system in place to record how many patients have been admitted to hospital due to the drug.
Nor is the use of mephedrone recorded by major agencies, including the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, or the Centre for Population Health.
The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users' League in Canberra has only anecdotal data about the drug.
All agencies report having been made aware of the drug's existence in Australia since about 2008, but concede there is little or no information about mephedrone.
Online forums suggest Australian use or sampling of the drug is most popular in states along the eastern seaboard.
Part of the drug's appeal is its relative cheapness, with online advertisements for various forms of mephedrone available from $170 for 100mg.
January 29, 2010 - 10:04AM'
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Worrying side effects attached to drug