Why do I need to know about it?
Mephedrone is a comparatively new and currently legal drug that has been increasing in popularity since the summer of 2009. It has attracted new groups of users because it is comparatively cheap and pure. This means that secondary heads in particular may encounter the drug or pupils who have taken it.
Many teachers say they can spot users because of sores around their mouths and noses.
The Government has announced plans to ban Mephedrone and associated compounds on April 16, making it a class B drug. This will require very swift legislation because of the election. It is highly unlikely that mephedrone will disappear. Instead, it is likely to become more expensive and less pure. It may also be possible to continue to buy the drug from abroad over the internet.
What should we be looking for?
The independent charity Drugscope says that mephedrone is a white, off-white or yellowish powder which is usually snorted, but can also be swallowed in bombs (wraps of paper) and may also appear in pill or capsule form.
You may hear the drug called by many different names, including Meph, MC, MCAT, m-cat, 4-MMC, Miaow, Meow Meow, Bubbles, Bounce, Charge, Drone, and White Magic.
Can we refuse to return a suspicious package to a pupil?
Some schools have a policy of refusing to return items they believe may be harmful but not illegal on safeguarding grounds. Others will only return such items to someone over the age of 18 – usually a parent or carer – on behalf of the student. Deciding what action to take is more straightforward if the school believes the package contains an illegal drug and has a clear policy on the matter.
Why is Mephedrone suddenly in the news?
Several deaths have been linked to use of the drug, although no inquest has yet given mephedrone as a cause of death. Toxicology reports on a 46-year-old man who died in Hove found high levels of the drug in his body, though the inquest will not rule on cause of death until May 2010. A 14-year-old girl who died after a party in Brighton, who was reported to have taken the drug, was ruled to have died “from natural causes.”
What is Mephedrone?
Drugscope says Mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) is a stimulant which is closely chemically related to amphetamines. Mephedrone is probably the most well known of a group of drugs derived from cathinone (the same chemical found in the plant called khat, the leaves of which are chewed in some cultures) although two other compounds are also increasingly recognised on the market. These are methadrone and methylone.
It is believed that the drug is manufactured in China. Use has been reported in Australia, the US and Europe.
What does Mephedrone do?
Users say mephedrone produces a similar experience to drugs like amphetamines, ecstasy or cocaine. The Government drug advice website Frank says effects include euphoria, alertness, talkativeness and feelings of empathy, as well as anxiety, paranoid states and the risk of overstimulating the heart and circulation, and overstimulating the nervous system to cause fits.
A survey conducted by the National Addiction Centre found 51% of mephedrone users said they suffered from headaches, 43% from heart palpitations, 27% from nausea and 15% from cold or blue fingers. Because of its similarity to cathinone John Mann, professor of chemistry at Queen's University, has suggested mephedrone is likely to cause impotence with long term use.
Why did users decide to start taking plant food as a drug?
You may be surprised to learn that although the drug is widely described as plant food, it isn’t a plant food and never has been. Drugscope reports that this is simply a ruse used by sellers to try and dodge medicines and poisoning legislation by saying that the substance is not being sold for human consumption. Earlier this year a spokesman for the European Fertiliser Manufacturers’ Association said: “It [mephedrone] is never used in any products that people would use to fertilise plants.”
Are legal highs harmful?
Opinion is divided among drug experts on whether this group of drugs should have been banned. One member of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, Eric Carlin, resigned after the announcement that mephedrone would be made illegal, saying that the decision by the Home Secretary was "unduly based on media and political pressure,” adding there was "little or no discussion about how our recommendation to classify this drug would be likely to impact on young people's behaviour."
Frank argues that legal highs are an unknown quantity for users: the effects can be unpredictable, the chemical makeup can change, and most are banned from human consumption because of their effects on the body. Moreover, they have never been tested for safety and long-term effects are unknown. Frank warns that mixing legal highs with alcohol is particularly dangerous.
Drugscope is an independent and respected drug charity.
Frank is a government website aimed at drug users and those close to them.
Release is a drug campaign group.
Susan Young is an Education Journalist.
Page Published: 06/04/2010