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Debate on legal highs: Mephedrone might soon be illegal

Debate on legal highs: Mephedrone might soon be illegal

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Enter the mephadrone controversy, into the world of legal highs. While mephedrone is a popular street drug in the U.K., the government is moving to ban it. But members of the drug committee are resigning because of the government's hasty decisions are not based on sound science.

Mephedrone is the hottest street drug in the UK. The legal drug isn't sold like a drug, but marketed as plant food and bath salts. On the street mephedrone is called 'meow meow' or 'plant fertilizer'.

Not only is the drug cheap, it is readily available. Its rising popularity over the past 18 months is hardly surprising. The stimulant drug is manufactured by Chinese chemists and shipped to dealers or directly to drug users who order it on the Internet. At last count, there were more than 30 websites selling the drug.

The white crystals are snorted, or smoked or eaten. People claim it makes them feel like they are taking ecstasy and cocaine — except in this case, mephedrone gives them a legal high. But that might soon change as concern grows over the safety of the stimulant.

Two teenagers died after taking mephedrone, prompting the U.K. government to push for a ban on the drug. However, seven members of Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) have resigned because the decision to ban the drug isn't based on scientific evidence. The problem is that once a drug is made illegal, it never goes back. And it hasn't been used long enough for scientists to really know the long-term effects of the drug. Former executive of Mentor UK, Eric Carlin, called it quits last week as he aired his reasons in his resignation letter to the ACMD. We need to deal with it as a health issue, not criminal justice issue, Carlin told the BBC.

In the same radio segment, the BBC reports:

And Professor Colin Blakemore, a former head of the Medical Research Council, warned against disbanding the council, as "decisions about the legality of drugs and the classification of drugs is being made essentially by politicians and red-top newspapers."

Users have claimed that it makes them feel alert, more verbal, and more confident. Others have said it caused blurred vision and even insomnia and hallucinations after prolonged use. The chemical structure of mephedrone is similar to ecstasy.

While mephedrone use has been booming in Britain, it is not all that common in the United States. In spite of that, North Dakota has already made mephedrone illegal.

But even though it is legal in most states, it could still land people in prison. According to AOL news:

U.S. law rules that any chemical that produces a "substantially similar" effect to an illegal drug is automatically outlawed. As Mephedrone is chemically similar to the controlled substance cathinone, possession of the drug in the United States could land users in jail....

However, as Mephedrone seems to have addictive properties – many users report feeling the need to take repeated doses – it's certain that some people will continue to buy after the ban. And it's the health of these users that really has experts worried. As the drug only took off in the U.K. around 18 months ago, there's almost no scientific research on its long-term effects. Martin Barnes, chief executive of nonprofit drug research center DrugScope, points out that although the narcotic ketamine (originally a tranquilizer) was outlawed four years ago, it's only now that regular users "are losing bladders because of the effect on their urinary system. Long-term harms can take some time to show through."

Image: RCS

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure