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Meowing cat with plants

Mephedrone: the story

Mephedrone is the new party drug that's hit the headlines after being linked to several deaths. But what exactly is it and where does it come from?

What is mephedrone?

Mephedrone is a relatively new stimulant, more commonly known by nicknames such as 'plant food' and 'meow meow'. It usually comes as a white powder or in crystals and is dabbed in the mouth or snorted. Occasionally it can be found in the form of pills and capsules. Prior to being outlawed on April 16th 2010, mephedrone's popularity was on the increase; Mixmag's 2010 drugs survey indicated that 41.7% of its readers tried mephedrone and labelled it "the UK's favourite new drug."

Where does mephedrone come from?

Mephedrone is the best-known of a group of drugs based on the alkaloid cathinone; its chemical name is 4-methylmethcathinone, abbreviated to MMCAT - hence its childish-sounding meow meow nickname. Cathinone is found in the khat plant, which was considered a divine food by the ancient Egyptians, who took it to start a process known as apotheosis. To this day, it is used across East Africa and the Arabian peninsula - most notably in Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia - both for recreation and, in some cases, by labourers in order to ease physical fatigue. Users tend to chew the plant's fresh leaves to achieve the desired effect.

The synthetically manufactured mephedrone itself was first identified in 2008 by the EU's Psychonaut Research Project. Its laboratory origins are still murky, though it appears to have first emerged in Israeli clubs during the Noughties under the name 'hagigat'. In 2005, Israel outlawed cathinone use in response to this.

Mephedrone and the law

Until April 2010 mephedrone was easy to buy from websites selling it as plant food. A legal loophole meant it was illegal to supply the drug for human consumption, but not for other purposes. It's doubtful whether anyone would ever feed mephedrone to a plant.

The first time [I took it] it felt like a cross between good coke and good MDMA. But by the third time the high was much harder to get.

Now mephedrone and other derivatives of cathinone are illegal in the UK. Mepehdrone itself is currently a Class B drug, meaning users can face up to five years for possession and a maximum of 14 years to dealing.

What are the effects of mephedrone?

Mephedrone induces euphoria and energy in users: it will keep you awake and bring a powerful rush. It's still a relatively new addition to the drug scene and a wide range of positive and negative reports have emerged from users.

Svetlana, 23, has had both good and bad experiences with mephedrone. "The first time it felt great - like a cross between good coke and good MDMA and completely lucid. But by the third time the high was much harder to get and I had to take a lot more. I can also honestly say that it gave me the worst comedown I have ever had," she said. "It lasted for nearly a week and felt as though I couldn't remove the stimulating effects from my system, but in a horrible, toxic way. My sleep was disturbed, I couldn't concentrate and I got chest pains and palpitations." Users have also reported a particularly grim taste when consuming mephedrone through the mouth and a burning sensation when snorted.

A casual user of mephedrone might not notice anything too dissimilar to previous drug experiences, but its newness means a great deal of mephedrone's effects - how it reacts with other substances, for example, or how it can affect body and mind in the long-term - remain unknown. Professor David Nutt, the former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, told the Guardian last December: "People are better off taking ecstasy or amphetamines than those we know nothing about... who knows what's in [mephedrone] when you buy it? We don't have a testing system. These chemicals have never been put into animals, let alone humans."

Updated: 06/06/2011

Written by Alex Macpherson, picture by Caelinn Seaton Kelly.


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