Mephedrone: Killer on the loose

If you opened a paper lately you’d be forgiven for thinking the nation had gone gardening crazy. Headlines about plant food killing innocent people have been plastered all over the dailies as well as online. It’s not ‘mean green mothers from outer space’ singing ‘feed me’ in a ‘little shop of horrors’ that we need to worry about. Mephedrone, also known as bubbles or meow meow is sold legally when advertised as plant food.  It is also the UK’s most popular new party drug.

Mephedrone, or to use it’s full chemical name 4-Methylmethcathinone, is a stimulant described as ‘two molecular tweaks away’ from pure ecstasy. MPs and Journalists alike have successfully canvassed for a ban on the drug on the basis that it is mind altering and the long-term side effects are currently unknown. The savvier drug user among us would argue the same incentive should be given for the prohibition of alcohol.   The lasting effects of alcohol abuse are well-documented as extremely harmful in a multitude of ways. Why, then, is mephedrone being targeted for its apparently adverse effects on some users?

Despite the widespread panic reports about the drug, it is still unclear whether or not mephedrone is, in fact, a killer. There is little evidence to back the argument against the drug, simply because not enough is known about it. In fact, the current interim chair of the Advisory Council on the misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Les Iversen said, in a recent interview, that the drug was so new he was unable to find any “data on toxicity”.  This is surely a necessity when taking the decision to prohibit the drug.

Professor David Nutt, Iversen’s predecessor as Chair of the ACMD before he was relieved of his duties by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, has made his views on the banning of Mephedrone very clear. He criticised the Government’s hasty reaction to the supposed problem and claims a decision should not have been made until The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drugs Addiction released their results of a study currently underway and due to report in July. So is the rushed banning of the drug purely a result of media pressure? And if there are no cases where mephedrone is the confirmed cause of death, why is the public being warned that the drug is a killer?

Regardless of the reason, it seems the media campaign against the drug has been successful as, Parliament willing, 16 April is the day mephedrone was classified as a class B drug. This means a maximum penalty of 5 years in jail for possession and 14 years for supply or an unlimited fine for either offence. This could spell even bigger problems in the future however if recent reports are to be believed.

Nutt claims, “It is the illegal aspect of other drugs that is putting people at risk by encouraging them to seek out legal drugs instead.” A valid point when you note that many mephedrone users agreed the legitimate status of the drug was a major factor in their decision to buy it.

One user from Edinburgh, a 21-year-old student, said she will more than likely continue using the drug after its inevitable ban, just not as often because of the added hassle of going through a dealer. Her attitude towards the drug is, “everything in moderation. Too much alcohol is bad for you just like too much mephedrone is. Overindulging in anything is a risk. You just have to pace yourself and be careful.” Easier said than done if the drug’s apparent addictive quality is to be believed.

The other reported side effects include insomnia, hallucinations, nosebleeds and heart palpitations amongst others. Recently there have been increasing reports of mephedrone related deaths although medical professionals have been unable to confirm or deny whether the drug was responsible. The widespread panic may be justified or it could be argued as another overreaction.

The uninspiring answer is this: only time will tell. It could be years before the lasting effects of mephedrone are fully known. It was only recently revealed that long-term usage of the drug ketamine is linked to bladder failure, and it’s been a popular drug of choice in the UK since the early 90’s.

The fact of the matter is that legislation will always be one step behind the marketplace and the decision to use legal highs will always ultimately fall with the consumer. Even though mephedrone is banned completely NRG-1 a stronger, more addictive and reportedly fatal replacement is about to hit the scene. Rather than rushing through the prohibition of drugs they know nothing about, it would be beneficial for the nation if the Government adopted a new policy of awareness rather than witch hunting. After all, if the rumors about NRG-1 are to be believed pretty soon the same media who condemned mephedrone will be canvassing for the return of the seemingly less harmful scapegoat.

Words and photography by Jenny Scott

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