Clubbers 'still using' banned drug mephedrone

  • 8 February 2011
  • From the section Health
Mephedrone

A new survey suggests that clubbers are still taking the drug mephedrone, nearly a year after its UK ban.

A poll for the dance music magazine Mixmag, seen by BBC Radio 5 Live, found one in four of those questioned had taken the drug in the last month.

33% said the ban has had no effect on their use while another 10% said they have increased the amount they take since it was made illegal in April 2010.

But the online survey of 2,500 readers also suggested the price of the drug has doubled and it is now more likely to be cut with other chemicals.

What is mephedrone?

Mephedrone is sold as a white powder which is usually snorted in a similar way to cocaine.

It is also found in capsules and pills or can be dissolved in a liquid. In very rare cases it can be injected.

What else is it known as?

Mephedrone has a whole host of street names including meph, 4-MMC, MCAT, Drone, Meow and Bubbles.

The chemical might also appear as an ingredient in other pills and powders, possibly without the actual name appearing on the packaging.

What are the intended effects of taking it?

Mephedrone is often described as a mix between ecstasy and cocaine. Users say they feel more alert, confident and talkative.

Like cocaine, the effects appear to last around an hour before wearing off.

Is it anything to do with another drug called methadone?

Both have similar sounding scientific names but are completely different substances.

Methadone is a pharmaceutical drug typically used as a very strong painkiller or to treat heroin addicts.

Mephedrone is a recreational drug with effects similar to amphetamines and ecstasy.

Do we know if it's safe? Any long term dangers?

As a relatively new drug, the health effects of taking mephedrone are still unclear.

In the Mixmag survey 54% of those polled said they had worries about their friend's drug or alcohol use.

The most likely substance to cause concern was mephedrone followed by alcohol, cocaine, ketamine and cannabis.

Mephedrone users have reported short term side effects including excess sweating, headaches, heart palpitations, nausea and cold or blue fingers.

Other anecdotal evidence suggests heavy use can lead to paranoia, hallucinations and panic attacks.

Most of those side effects are common with other stimulants like ecstasy and cocaine.

Les King, who has researched mephedrone for the government, told Newsbeat in 2010: "Chemically it is closely related to amphetamine and ecstasy but doesn't seem to be as potent.

"On the surface that would make it less harmful but any benefit could be negated because users are taking larger amounts to get the same effect.

"So all we can say is mephedrone is probably as harmful as ecstasy and amphetamines and wait until we have some better scientific evidence to support that."

We still don't know if mephedrone is physically addictive.

Reports suggest the effects of the drug last around an hour before users feel the need to 're-dose'.

There have been reports of users snorting more of the drug than they intended and finding it difficult to stop.

But it is unclear whether this is proof of a medical addiction or a dependence or reliance on the drug which is generally considered less serious.

What's the legal situation?

Mephedrone was sold online as a "legal high" until it was banned by the government.

Often it was sold as a plant food or research chemical to get round the law regulating the sale of medicines.

In April 2010, politicians made it a controlled class B substance with a maximum punishment of five years for possession and 14 years for dealing.

What's happened since the ban?

The survey of clubbers for Mixmag suggests the typical price of the drug has doubled from £10 to £20 a gram since the ban was introduced.

Most websites specialising in legal highs no longer sell the drug openly.

But it appears dealers have started selling the substance alongside other banned recreational drugs like cocaine and cannabis.

Before the ban was introduced, 33% of clubbers said they were buying mephedrone online compared with 38% from friends and 24% from dealers.

Since it has been made illegal, 58% said they now buy it from a dealer and 41% from a friend