I get a reasonable amount of search engine traffic to my blog, and one of the most popular cluster of search terms that people search for is on mephedrone (the others being: cool charities, homosexuality and Bah’ai, homosexuality and Sikhism, Christopher Hitchens, and an endless variety of angsty questions about police raids.) None of the articles in which I have referred to mephedrone have really dealt with the issues that people were looking for, so I thought I would be quite helpful and post some of the more common questions with their common answers. :)

Impounded illegal mephedrone

Impounded illegal mephedrone

Can you still buy mephedrone online?

No, you cannot buy mephedrone online. The reason it used to be so easy to get hold of was because it was legal to manufacture, sell and possess. Mephedrone is illegal now in most Western countries, and consequently all websites that used to sell it openly have been shut down or are “down for maintenance”.

What shops sell mephedrone? Where can I buy mephedrone in Manchester or the UK?

No shop in the Western world will openly sell mephedrone. Mephedrone is now in the same class of illegal drugs as MDMA, cannabis, and ketamine, and is therefore obtained through the same channels.

How is mephedrone made? How was mephedrone produced?

The chemical details are here, but I suspect the latter question referred to the supply chain involved. Essentially factories in Asian countries, but particularly China, will produce any research chemical in industrial quantities on demand. As mephedrone was legal and had a phenomenal mark-up with no ramifications, certain entrepreneurial souls started up wholesaler websites and let people know they were around. And it went from there. You can read more about a dealer’s perspective here.

How much mephedrone should you take? What is the dosage of mephedrone? How can you increase the high of mephedrone?

Erowid has the answers to correct dosage and usage in its vault entry for mephedrone.

Is mephedrone MDMA? Can you turn mephedrone into MDMA? Can you buy mephedrone and get MDMA instead?

Mephedrone and MDMA are two closely related but completely different drugs. Mephedrone’s effects are less intense than that of MDMA, shorter-acting, and usage patterns tend to be similar to people who use ketamine or cannabis than LSD or heroin (i.e. smaller, more frequent hits that you can control, over drugs that once you take them, you are high until you come back down again). I am no chemist, but as far as I am aware, you cannot synthesise mephedrone into MDMA or vice versa. MDMA is in considerably higher demand than mephedrone and has a much higher profit margin, so the likelihood that you can buy mephedrone and actually be sold MDMA of any significant quality is pretty low.

Is mephedrone safe? Does mephedrone harm you? What is mephedrone being cut with? How does mephedrone kill you? Haven’t people died using mephedrone?

Taking pure mephedrone won’t kill you if you use it sensibly, but I wouldn’t say it was “safe”, no. It’s kinda hard to tell what the long-term health effects of mephedrone actually are because the government went and banned it before anyone could do any substantive research on the drug, but from what I’ve read, it appears to be corrosive. One user told a Guardian journalist that he left a spoon in a bag of mephedrone for 72 hours and when he came back, the spoon had been partially dissolved. So if you take a lot over a long period of time, your sinuses, oesophagus and lungs will not be very happy.

However, mephedrone doesn’t kill you in itself – like all stimulants, if you have pre-existing heart conditions, take a massive dose, or don’t take care of yourself while high by monitoring your water intake and body temperature, then you may well end up with serious health problems, be they heart attacks, heatstroke, dehydration, or anything else. This is not the fault of the drug. Almost all deaths that have been linked to mephedrone have involved polydrug use: i.e. mephedrone and alcohol, mephedrone and cocaine, etc. If you ingest two separate drugs, they will interact in ways that may be be better or worse for you (for example, MDMA and LSD apparently produces a trip that is signicantly intenser and more euphoric than either drug on its own – but cocaine and alcohol combine in your stomach to create a different drug which is potentially lethal) – if you are going to use drugs, do your research first and stay safe.

What other legal highs are there after mephedrone? What drugs are similar to mephedrone? What about ivory wave and mephedrone?

A number of legal research chemicals have been available online since mephedrone was banned, notably NRG-1 and ivory wave, but none has really taken hold – when drugs are still predominantly being referred to by their chemical names rather than their street names, only the psychonauts and the adventurous are really using them.

Mephedrone is not the same as ivory wave, NRG-1, or MDAT. No-one really knows what ivory wave is at the moment, because it hasn’t become widely available enough yet to be subject to proper sampling. However, a lot of ivory wave seems to contain MDPV, a cathinone that is similar to mephedrone but not quite. Ivory wave is currently legal, but doesn’t sound very nice on the system.

Mephedrone is a cathinone, so chemically it is similar to methylone, methadrone, and MDPV, which hold varying legality across the world. But to be honest, if you’re looking for a stimulant that’s similar to mephedrone and has decades of research into its long-term effects and safer usage, MDMA is going to be much healthier for you than unknown research chemicals.

Map of Europe showing countries where mephedrone is illegal, correct as of August 2010

Map of Europe showing countries where mephedrone is illegal, correct as of August 2010

Random search terms:

uk mephedrone post ban
– You can still get it in Britain, it’s just now £20 a gram and not very safe.

mephedrone class uk law
– In the UK, mephedrone is currently a Class B drug. Personal possession of mephedrone could get you three months in prison or a £2500 fine, and supply is six months in prison or a £5000 fine.

structure of mephedrone
– The chemical structure and synthesis of mephedrone is available on Wikipedia here. Here is an image:

Chemical Structure of Mephedrone

mephedrone precursor
– The main precursor to mephedrone is 4-methylpropiophenone, which as far as I am aware is still legal.

what was mephedrone designed for
– The drug was actually first synthesised in 1929, but rediscovered in 2003 by chemists looking to manufacture a “designer drug” that could get round existing drugs legislation. I’m not sure where the “plant food” thing came from. If you put mephedrone on your plants, they will die.

where has all the mephedrone gone?
– The majority of mephedrone production was in China; when mephedrone became incredibly popular, the Chinese government cracked down on the production of one of the precursors of mephedrone, and consequently the industrial quantities of mephedrone that used to float around have now disappeared. Because mephedrone is now illegal in much of the Western world, its production and supply has gone the way of other illegal drugs and it is consequently not being openly waved around in bags at house parties anymore.

which is more harmful mephedrone or cocaine
– We cannot know that until a lot more research is done into mephedrone, its long-term effects and its social harms. Chemically, mephedrone is probably worse for your body, but mephedrone has never induced the levels of aggressiveness and violence that cocaine produces in its users. We await more data.

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Last week, I was at Lancaster University to help give a talk on drug policy to a group of third year criminology students taught by Fiona Measham. One of the things that we did was to hand out pieces of paper and ask the lecture theatre if they could define the purpose of drug policy. The responses we got were broad and revealing, I feel.

There were two main responses, which were evenly matched in numbers. The first was “the purpose of drug policy is to prevent harm”, which is excellent. The whole raison d’etre of Re:Vision Drug Policy Network is of course to promote harm reduction as the main purpose of drug policy, so it is good to know that there’s a receptive audience already out there on campuses.

The second main response, however, “the purpose of drug policy is to prevent harm, so they should be banned to keep people away from drugs.” Obviously I totally agree with the first part of that statement. But the corollary is what is assumed by mainstream public discourse to be the logical next step – and that just doesn’t follow. What is a law? It’s a socially accepted convention that we obey that regulates our community. Banning a drug doesn’t stop anyone taking them, any more than banning murder prevents people killing other people. However, we ban murder to prevent harm to others and we enforce these laws; supposedly we ban drugs to prevent harm to ourselves. It’s important to remember that just by saying something is illegal doesn’t stop people doing it – if they weren’t doing it there wouldn’t be a law against it (there’s no law against dragon-hunting, for example). But everybody’s crime is nobody’s crime: up to a third of the UK population have taken an illegal substance. Is it it really a workable law when so many people are taking drugs (up to one million people take MDMA every week) and are neither punished, nor harmed (so 52 million MDMA trips, 10 deaths – it really is safer for you than horse-riding)? One has therefore to consider what harms are done by drugs and whether those harms are reduced by the fact that drugs are criminalised or not. I won’t go into the details here, but The Transform Drug Policy Foundation has an extensive briefing vault demonstrating that the dangers of drugs are enhanced by prohibition rather than helped, through associated violence, health implications, and the fact that people in trouble won’t engage with public services because they’re afraid of being arrested. Drugs can be dangerous, but so can sky-diving. We don’t ban sky-diving, we regulate it. Maybe we should do the same with drugs.

Another big response was that the purpose of drug policy was “to inform people about drugs and enable them to make their own choices” and “to encourage people to use drugs sensibly, including alcohol”. Clearly a lot of people were very concerned about the government’s role in educating people about drugs. It’s an interesting point, because the government does run education campaigns now, but which are rarely focussed on giving people information about drugs instead of trying to scare people entirely (Talk to Frank being a good example of this). Given the success of some public information campaigns in the past (everyone knows about their five-a-day), it is clear that the government could play a much bigger role. An unanswered question that remains from this particular response, is if illegal drugs should remain criminalised if people are being left to make their own informed choices.

A significant number of people also wrote simply that the purpose of drug policy was “to control drugs”. That’s a pretty loaded statement: how do you control drugs? What drugs do you control (e.g. why is aspirin legal and LSD isn’t?) What are your criteria for controlling them? How do you enforce those decisions? Controlling drugs isn’t so much a purpose as such, more a method by which the purpose of drug policy can be carried out. You can control drugs by banning them completely, or making them available in Boots; legalisation is as much a method of controlling drugs as criminalising their use. People who wrote this should really think about what they meant by that.

There were some interesting individual responses as well. Many thanks to the person who told us that the purpose of drug policy was “hello”, but a non-alcoholic beverage to the student who wrote that the purpose of drug policy is “to keep us safe“. I couldn’t agree more. Another student in the same vein wrote that we should “prevent overdosing by illegalising more drugs”: it is sadly a fact that most overdoses are a direct result of drugs being prohibited, because criminals cut the drugs they sell with anything from talcum powder to concrete dust, and purity levels vary so widely it’s impossible to be sure what you’re taking and whether it is safe or not.

Someone also wrote that the purpose of drug policy is to “prevent criminal activity” – I’m not sure what was meant by that. If they meant “prevent people from taking drugs”, then given that heroin use has risen by 1000% since it was banned in 1971, I can only suggest that’s a futile hope. If by criminal activity, they meant all the gang activity, violence, homicide and trafficking that goes on, that’s easy to end: just control and regulate all drugs, legally. In the 1930s, America tried to ban alcohol, and the mafia was born. When alcohol was finally legalised twenty years later, the mafia lost much of their income and influence overnight. Regulation deals with criminal activity, full stop.

There were also some response that I can only describe as, “interesting”. One person wrote that by reducing illegal drug use, we could “stop unemployment”. I fear the student who wrote that the purpose of drug policy was “to control society’s view and attitude towards drugs” has a future as a spin-doctor ahead of them. An interesting perspective came from a student who called for alcohol to be banned entirely because of its association with violent crime; I suppose it is a consistent view at least. And finally, one student said that the purpose of drug policy was “to protect people and ensure that other services such as the NHS aren’t overcrowded unnecessarily.” A true citizen. :)

The session produced some interesting discussion afterwards and I really enjoyed it. I think that what has really come out of this though is that even with a class there is a massive range of opinions that simply aren’t being heard or considered by those in charge of actually writing and setting our drug policy. It really is time to have that discussion.

Further Reading

* Transform Drug Policy Foundation
* In 2001, Portugal decriminalised all drugs for personal use. The Cato Institute, an American think-tank, produced a report in 2007 that discovered that health problems in Portugal relating to drug use had actually fallen. Read it here.

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“The Chemists are Winning”: The Rise of Mephedrone and Legal Highs

October 4, 2010

Originally written for Student Direct. In April 2010, after a media storm, the British government passed legislation to classify mephedrone as a Class B drug. Mephedrone is a stimulant somewhat similar in effects to MDMA and cocaine, and is chemically based on cathinones found in the African stimulant Khat, but which was sufficiently chemically different […]

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Miffed Letter: re “Fife woman dies after taking ‘bubbles’”

January 28, 2010

Sent to The Courier after the publication of this article about a Fife resident who died in connection with mephedrone: “Dear Sir/Madam, the recent spate of hospitalisations of people who have suffered medical emergencies after taking mephedrone, also known as mcat or bubbles, is a matter of great concern. However, I was troubled by the […]

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