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Wednesday, March 17, 2010 

Mephedrone - what a fucking disgrace.

It's fairly obvious to compare the current hype/hysteria over Mephedrone (Q&A PDF here), a new "legal" high to the seminal Brass Eye episode on drugs where Chris Morris invented the fictional drug Cake, and got celebrities and politicians to rail against it, but then this blog is nothing if not obvious. It really does seem almost too good to be possibly be true - sold as "plant food", called in slang, ridiculously, "Meow Meow", "Miaow" or supposedly "Bubbles", and now we have the deaths linked to it in which everyone seems to be completely ignoring the fact that the two men in Scunthorpe who died mixed it with alcohol and then apparently, and we say apparently, as it's impossible to know yet what killed them until the toxicology reports come back, used Methadone of all things to try and make the comedown smoother. Methadone has all the dangers of heroin, and is incredibly easy to overdose on, especially when you have no tolerance to it and are unable to therefore know what a "safe" dose is. Slight update: as Carl points out in the comments, while it's possible they may have overdosed on just the Methadone, it's also possible that the mixture of the three could just have well have caused their deaths.

As a drug that only emerged in 2007 as a "recreational" substance, much about Mephedrone or 2-methylamino-1-p-tolylpropan-1-one to give it its proper systematic name is unknown, including the true dangers involved in taking it and the long-term side effects. What is known is that so far only one death has been definitively linked to the drug, and that also involved the taking of it with another drug, in that case cannabis. An earlier reported death in this country of a 14-year-old girl was found to have been caused by bronchial pneumonia, and not 4-MMC, as we'll call it from here. We don't then have any solid evidence whatsoever, let alone any scientific studies, to show that the drug is inherently dangerous on its own; what we do have is reports from users that suggest that it has unpleasant side-effects, and also isolated reports that some have become addicted to it, although those have to be treated with the usual scepticism.

To put this somewhat in context, the rise of 4-MMC doesn't seem to be just because its legal status is currently in limbo, nor that it can currently be obtained easily and acquired for relatively trivial amounts of money, but because of both the relative scarcity of Ecstasy, and the perceived drop of quality in both MDMA and cocaine. 4-MMC is currently felt to be far more likely to be purer in quality because of its legality, in difference to the aforementioned drugs, although there have been rumours that some batches could have been contaminated. The other drug to rise hugely in popularity in the last few years has been Ketamine: it's no coincidence that while Ket is a controlled drug, its use as an anaesthetic in both humans and animals means that it is relatively easy to obtain, and that its quality is somewhat assured as a result.

It hardly then follows that making 4-MMC illegal, as demanded by all the usual suspects, will either halt its growth in popularity or reduce the risks associated with it. Indeed, as the ever excellent Transform blog points out, the ban on importing it into Guernsey has had two predictable effects: pushing up the price, fuelling acquisitive crime, with organised crime gangs filling in where previously dodgy if legal outfits had been supplying it. Making a substance illegal only increases the possibility of contamination when the ingredients are more difficult to get hold of (the quality of the ingredients is also bound to suffer) - witness the recent deaths of heroin users who found their supply had been contaminated with anthrax. Lastly, as the equally reasoned Prof. David Nutt makes clear, that 4-MMC is a "designer" drug only makes the possibility of a replacement substance coming along relatively quickly after a ban is put in place all the more likely.

Nutt also offers the best "prohibitive" short-term solution, a so called "Class D" classification:

This is a holding category where drugs can be put before they are well understood: sales are limited to over-18s; the product is quality-controlled so users know what they are getting, at doses limited as far as possible to safe levels; and it comes with health education messages. Society can limit sales and collect data on use.

Unfortunately this would never be close to acceptable to the "usual suspects" mentioned above. In fact, they'd consider it the government openly sanctioning the use of such dangerous substances, and if someone was to die in circumstances similar to that of the two young men in Scunthorpe where it hasn't yet been proved that their deaths were anything to do with 4-MMC, then they'd declare that the government had blood on its hands. Like the Private Eye taxi driver stereotype where hanging and flogging is the only thing that "they" understand, so in this instance only a ban is acceptable or likely to be understood. That drug prohibition has almost certainly been the most destructive political orthodoxy of the post-war years in terms of lives destroyed and lives lost continues to be completely ignored by the entire mainstream.

Where we then need knowledge, understanding and time to make informed decisions of just what harms drug pose, we instead have the equivalent of the celebrity in Brass Eye declaring that Cake could make you throw-up your own pelvis bone. What a fucking disgrace.

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spot on as usual although there have been an unusual number of authority figures talking sense on this one.

Excellent post, excellent analysis. I hadn't heard those kids had been mixing alcohol and methadone - obviously overwhelmingly likely to have been what actually killed them. And both, of course, drugs obtained legally (though presumably, in the case of methadone, not by the kids themselves).

Unlikely to have been the mephedrone, or the methadone, or the alcohol, which killed them.

Far more likely is it being the combination of all three drugs acting in concert on the body which led to their deaths.

(I've covered a few inquests where they explained in graphic detail how booze and heroin/heroin substitues work bugger up the body's organs to work against each other. such as, booze makes you puke, heroin/substitute dulls down the gag reflex so you don't cough so much, so you quietly drown in your own puke - although that's a very rough explanation as I'm no pathologist)

Good post. I reached for Brasseye's drugs special last night myself to balance things out a bit.

Not particularly helpful politically, but very, very funny.

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