Mephedrone making its way into Cambridge

Alexander King & Felicity Davis 4 February 2010

The drug Mephedrone, or Meow Meow, has hit the clubbing world hard. Having first emerged into the public domain last year as a result of the actions of teenagers in the sleepy village of Teesdale, its use is now widespread. The subject of its legality is likely to be targeted by the newly appointed head of the Government’s Drug Action Team, Professor Les Iversen, who’s responsible for the recent re-classification of previously legal drugs such as BZP, GBL and Spice, which are now listed as Class C drugs. The possession of these could carry a penalty of up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine. The legal status of Mephedrone and Salvia, a legal hallucinogen found in the leaves of a Mexican plant, is now under fire.

The word mephedrone is actually short for 4-methylmethcathinone. Cathiones are naturally occurring stimulants found in the Khat plant, and are closely related to amphetamine compounds such as ecstasy. It has effects similar to those of speed, causing euphoria, alertness, excitement, an urge to talk and feelings of empathy.

It can be bought legally from distributors, mostly over the internet, as a plant food or a research chemical, not intended for human consumption.

 In general it is sold in the form of a white powder, but can also be bought as pills. In Cambridge, a gram bought from Cambotanics will set you back £15. You can contact them 24 hours a day, and they will deliver within half an hour.

Once high, some users compulsively retake, ingesting several grams when they only intended to take a small amount.

The National Addiction Centre, based at Kings College

London, conducted an online survey in which 2,222 people took part. The results suggested that one in three readers of Mixmag, a dance and club magazine, used Mephedrone in December and January, making it the fourth most popular drug included in the poll amongst clubbers.

It is not illegal for companies to be selling Mephedrone, but the sale of drugs online can cause further problems.

Elliot Elam, of the addiction charity Addaction told TCS that “when you look at drugs historically, you usually ring a dealer. It’s not in the dealer’s interest to make you ill, as they want you to keep coming back so that they can sell you more drugs. The way people sell drugs on the internet, it’s a bit faceless, you don’t really know what you’re buying.”

Mephedrone is a relatively new drug, and as a result many have not developed problems with it yet, if at all. There are, as a result, relatively few statistics available on the usage of the drug.

According to Elam, “most people who start using drugs as teenagers won’t develop problems until their 20s, and then it will take five or six years until they start to look for help. As a result, the numbers have not yet filtered down and gone through the bean counters”.

When asked whether he thought that students, craving the work-party lifestyle, would be more drawn to the drug, Mr Elam said “I don’t think that students are different from anyone else. I think it’s more to do with the age group.”

Mr Elam added that “it can create feelings of lethargy, depression, sickness, and stomach cramps. Those with past mental health problems may be particularly at risk.” Its side effects are not dissimilar to those of speed and ecstasy.  Nose bleeds, nose burns, hallucinations, blood circulation problems, rashes, anxiety, paranoia, fits and delusions have also been attributed to the drug, along with decreases in concentration and short-term memory loss. In another survey conducted by the National Addiction Centre, it was found that 51% of mephedrone users said they suffered from headaches, 43% from heart palpitations, 27% from nausea and 15% from cold or blue fingers.

Ben at Cambotanics, a Mephedrone distribution company in Cambridge, told TCS “Mephedrone is available online through countless companies. Many of these companies also offer delivery and pick up services. Usually when purchased online the product will be sent via guaranteed next day delivery. We currently send or deliver to around 20 customers per week.”

When asked whether the potential use of the product concerned him, Ben responded: “I readily accept that Mephedrone is sometimes misused; and this does of course bother me. However I do feel that it would be wrong to suggest that a product should not be sold on the basis that it could be misused by some people. I’m sure you would agree that there are other products sold throughout the market that are, unfortunately, misused by some people.

I do however think that in such cases it is the responsibility of the business involved to take whatever measures they can to ensure the products are not being misused and to inform of the dangers of misuse. In the case of our business we take every opportunity to advertise our products as not for human consumption.

This includes packaging our products with warning labels, having customers sign a disclaimer agreeing not to misuse the products or supply them to under 18’s, and requiring I.D. for some sales.”

TCS asked students of Cambridge University for their views on the drug. One commented that “I’ve done it, I don’t really like it. It’s nothing like MDMA, it’s really dead.” Another, when asked why they chose to take the drug, told TCS “I wanted to do it because it’s cheaper than alcohol for the night. If you’re a first timer a gram will easily do you for at least a night. You still feel in control when you’re taking it, but I didn’t really like it. It has quite a few unpleasant side effects, and you get quite a come down.”

“It’s fun taking it. It feels good; I guess I prefer it to being drunk. It’s cheaper. You don’t feel out of control but you find you can’t go to the loo; it’s really difficult to take a piss, and you start getting cravings for it as well, if you take it for a long time.”

When asked whether they would be taking the drug in the future, the student responded: “No, my friends take it a lot more than me, they crave it a lot, and they have far more unpleasant side effects. They get really bad come downs, they have poor health, and some of them have started to get nosebleeds and stuff. “

“On top of which I’m very aware that no one has any knowledge of its long term effects. At least with drinking they know the effects, so you know what to watch out for in the future, but with Mephedrone, you don’t know the side effects for a long term user.”

We asked whether they thought there was anyone that actually liked taking the drug. The response was, “No, it’s just addictive. You get cravings. My friend likes the feeling but he’d prefer not to take it, it’s just that his cravings are really bad. No one likes it; it’s just cheap, easy, and legal”

Clinical information on the drug has not yet been received by the Government. It is the role of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to file a report on the effects of Mephedrone, which is due to be released this year.

Mr Elam speculates that it could be illegal to sell it by the summer. “Or at least”, he adds, “it probably will be made illegal very quickly.”

It is difficult, furthermore, to establish whether Mephedrone has been connected with incidents of violence, due to its legal status.

The press office of the Cambridge Constabulary pointed out that the police had no system of recording possession of the drug. Moreover, the policy does not permit them to seize mephedrone.

If you are concerned about drug use, whether legal or otherwise, Addaction offer a confidential and completely free service within Cambridge. Tel. 01223 723020

Alexander King & Felicity Davis