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The politics of mephedrone

Tom Feilden | 12:25 UK time, Wednesday, 17 March 2010


If everything had gone according to plan the Home Secretary would have an answer to the problem of "legal highs" readily to hand.

Sitting in his in-tray would be a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on a group of Cathinones - or legal highs - including Mephedrone, Methedrone, Methylone, MDPV and something called Fluromethcathinone.

That report was commissioned last year, and a sub-committee of the ACMD - the New Psychoactive Substances Working Group - duly began its research in October. But that process was abruptly interrupted when the chairman of the ACMD, Professor David Nutt, was sacked and several members of the Council followed him out of the door in protest last November.

One of those to resign was Professor Les King, the leading chemist on the ACMD, and the chairman of the sub-committee investigating legal highs.

In the intervening few months, Professor King says, it's hard to see what progress could have been made. It took a while for the newly constituted ACMD to get going (the appointment of a new chairman, professor Les Iversen, was only announced in January) and the composition of the sub-committee investigating legal highs has still not been settled.

With an election now looming Professor King believes it could be the autumn before the ammunition to justify adding Cathinones like Mephedrone to the list of banned substances lands on the Home secretary's desk.

Professor Nutt That assessment was confirmed today when the ACMD conceded that it could not present its full advice to ministers because a number of key posts on the Council - vacated by resignations over the Nutt affair - had not yet been filled. An interim report will be presented to Ministers by the end of the month.

The Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said the Government was determined to act swiftly. "We will receive the ACMD advice on 29 march and subject to this advice we will take immediate action".

Given the clamour in the papers following the deaths of two teenagers this week a lengthy delay would be politically disastrous. With parent, doctors, the police, and now opposition MP's all demanding action, the pressure for action to outlaw legal highs is ratcheting up.

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But that puts the Home secretary in a difficult position. Banning mephedrone now would ride roughshod over the fundamental principles underpinning the Misuse of Drugs Act - that decisions about the classification of drugs should be based on scientific evidence of harm, and that that evidence should come from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

The whole point of the Act was to avoid the pitfalls of bad legislation by keeping day-to-day politics at arms length from the decision making process. We all know the old adage: legislate in haste, repent at leisure.


  • Comment number 1.

    Alan Johnson's pathetic political grandstanding is still coming home to roost. It's a shame that his inability to take expert advice when offered to him is harming people all over the country right now.

  • Comment number 2.

    More must be made of this error of judgement from the home secretary, we need honesty and integrity when dealing with these issues knee jerk reactions will harm the children of this country much more, re-instate professor Nutt and listen to what he has to say.

  • Comment number 3.

    Re-instate Nutt and lets have experts dictate what is and isn't safe instead of ill-informed hysteria fuelled by the media (the BBC being as guilty as the rest!)

    Why bother having experts in your employ if you sack them when their findings run against your own detached and deluded views?

  • Comment number 4.

    Since people are going to use this regardless of how many times they are told not to, how about some good ol' fashioned harm reduction information:

    I'm with Dave Nutt on this one. Time to bring in a Class D!

  • Comment number 5.

    "...and subject to that advice, we will take immediate action."
    It seems they consider it a given that it will be banned. What if the advice is - it's relatively safe and there are no grounds to ban it?

    Something tells me that the comission will either give the government the answer it's expecting to get, or the government will simply not listen, as before.

  • Comment number 6.

    By the way, why aren't there any calls to ban acne tablets after they've been connected to this guy's death?

    Obviously, acne tablets can be dangerous to health and potentially cause death. Why has no one done anything about it?

  • Comment number 7.

    This will be the first of 100's of variants on illegal drugs science is wonderful we can now synthesise most chemicals, the only down side is none of these drugs will have the testament of time and known effect.

    Where to turn now when chemicals intended for research purpose are becoming the normal, Does Mr Brown now consider calling cannabis lethal and setting a bench mark a mistake.

    If we take the known dangers of cannabis and apply the lie of lethality then we end up with the situation we are now in, a country wide rush on a unregistered drug as its neither legal or illegal.

    Another question that stands is are the ACMD qualified to judge and report on this drug as the main advisers of expertise in the field have left making a report questionable in fact and accuracy. I really do fear for the future of the younger generations I grew up with a clear message on drugs.

    Heroin and cocaine was for addicts.
    LSD was for hippies.
    Cannabis was for thinking people.

    whats the current public understanding.. whats the message... A 1½ million year old plant is lethal but the food for the plant is fine..

    further to the politics of meph which has found favour on the back of high priced cannabis a mostly harmless supplement of the human body we get back to the rise of meph. how is the legal cannabis market doing in the UK with the boost to shares Mr Jointson and Mrs spliff gave them with the re-class to B instant profit of 80p a share. The same re-class that took female cannabis flowers from £90 an ounce to £220 an ounce. It does not take a person of any great intelligence to see what will happen. yer cheap legal alternative. Welcome to the 21st century the bake n shake generations.

  • Comment number 8.

    If Alan Johnson had followed the "fundamental principles underpinning the Misuse of Drugs Act - that decisions about the classification of drugs should be based on scientific evidence of harm, and that that evidence should come from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs" and not simply sacked Nutt because he didn't (politically) agree with his (scientific) opinion, then the ACMD would be in operation.

    Johnson's fault.

  • Comment number 9.

    see what i mean...cannabis is now lethal due to GW owning the rights, for them concentrated skunk oil is okay in-fact estimates 50-107 million pounds from EU patients with MS what is the THC content around 50% ? what about all the psychosis...

    So we have one set of science for pharm's and another set of science for the public.

  • Comment number 10.

    I am absolutely p*****g myself laughing at Alan Johnson and the situation he's engineered for himself!
    If I didn't know the Conservatives were going to be 100 times worse it'd be glorious!

  • Comment number 11.

    As someone has said before, Alan Johnson is killing people, Gordon Brown and his party can be blamed for the so called 'mephedrone deaths,' which in my opinion are related to OVERindulgence, the amount of (legal) alcohol being drank simultaneously and mixing with other drugs perhaps, than mephedrone supposed inherent danger. The government (conservatives just as guilty as labour) have delayed the essential research being done into the drug and their head in the sand attitude towards drugs in Britain/prohibitionist, moralistic tactics have meant a blanket 'drugs are bad' message being sent out, which is basically confusing and unhelpful. People should be educated openly on the dangers of drug interactions, including that of alcohol and about moderating their drug use, rather than simply trying to 'send out a [vague, confusing, essentially dangerous, uneducated and unbalanced] message,' as they so irritatingly put it.

  • Comment number 12.

    What a great standard the BBC is holding up for balanced, well researched journalism! Real extensive article guys (!)

    BBC should be ashamed of it's coverage of this issue.

  • Comment number 13.

    Be careful with MDPV. I've died and been resusated before after using MDPV in large doeses. I have also spent time in a psyciatric hospital due to drugs with the main one being MDPV

  • Comment number 14.

    12 Camshanks.
    taking in wide amounts of experience of a drug gives a better idea of receptor technologies to produce better and more effective drugs.
    All our science leads back to a few substances of use.
    Every person is different at the receptor level of intoxication.
    Myself for instance I have what I believe is a deficiency in the endocannabinoid system that controls my limbic system that results in bi polar behaviour, so I use cannabis which does less damage to my whole body than the prescribed anti depressants that force populate CB1 receptors in the brain and immune systems and the reproductive systems leading to many unwanted side effects.

    There is a constant Lie telling us what is safe and what is not safe.

    I choose my own medicines even if it does mean that persecution and prison is part of being healthy in both mind and body.

    Sack them all :D Mr A Jointson is a disgrace to this country and is culpable in the chemical murder of our younger generations.

  • Comment number 15.

  • Comment number 16.

    I took mephedrone and I liked it
    What's 'meow meow' actually like? Dr Max Pemberton found out for himself.

  • Comment number 17.

    This is a very good site.

    so is this wrong or is this right is this sence over blind fear.

    50 students to test mephedrone...

  • Comment number 18.

    Prohibition never worked and will never work. It makes the self-righteous feel that they are doing something good and it makes the criminals rich and powerful.

    I am not suggesting we should legalise all drugs as there are clearly those that are more harmful than others, but if we removed the dangers imposed by poor quality manufacturing, distribution and the criminal control then many of the real problems will go away. Then the authorities can concentrate resources on controlling access to those substances, such as alcohol, which are truly harmful.

    It's a true shame that successive governments will not have a public inquiry into the true differences between the actual level of harm associated with controlled substances themselves and the additional dangers posed simply by them only being available in a criminal marketplace.

  • Comment number 19.

    Consider how few people have died from taking methedrone, and compare that to the number of people killed by alcohol and tobacco each year.

    Now don't you think it hypocritical that there are calls for an immediate ban of methedrone, but no one seems to be calling for such bans for alcohol and tobacco?

  • Comment number 20.

    I was a first-time home owner, with a successful relationship and career until this drug took over my life a year ago.

    I tried coming off it many times but recently got to a point were i was fired from being unable to do my job because my mephedrone had screwed up my short term memory, eyesight and personality to the point where I couldn't function in my job. I nearly had heart attacks multiple times and recently suffered a psychotic episode. I did not call an ambulance because i didn't care about myself anymore, only the drug and going to hospital would have meant stopping. Then i had a psychotic episode induced from trying to come off it then one day relapsing just once weeks later.

    I have never had a problem with substance abuse before this.

    I am off it now, and although it would lower my chance of a relapse if it were to be made illegal my main concern is that most users, that i know at least, don't know what the full range of side affects are. This is because it is so new that few people have been exposed to this drug for the length of time i have.

    Worse still from my experience most medical personnel don't know a lot about this drug. Repeatedly while seeing being doctors believed i was wrongly describing methadone, which is a heroin substitute. This is a totally different drug i was lucky to have my partner there to repeatedly correct them and explain to the doctors what mephedrone was kind of effects it can have. This is one of the risks it's biggest risks.

    But i know a lot of people who take this drug and have few problems if any. They carry on successful careers and live and a lot of them feel very strongly that it should not be banned.

  • Comment number 21.

    Rare_ity sorry to hear this..

    but mephedrone is just the key to pandora's box.

    Today is a very sad day, are we going to take the war on drugs into china?

  • Comment number 22.

    Why ban a substance that brings love and joy to all. No violence ever came from this drug. The so called 'facts' that lead to deaths from this are ridiculous. Horse riding is more dangerous and that wont get banned.

    There is no proof, there is no evidence. Banning it goes against everything the Misuse Of Drugs department stands for.

    Bring back Prof. Nutt. Bring in the Class D catagory.

  • Comment number 23.

    Prohibition has repeatedly been shown to fail. It simply criminalises a section of society and hands over an income stream to gangsters which they protect by any means necessary - just take a look at lessons of the past -


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