Welsh authorities find themselves stumped by the so-called designer drug Mephedrone, sold freely on the Internet as "plant food."
It also known as 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC), 4-methylephedrone, meow meow or MMCAT. It is a stimulant and entactogen drug of the phenethylamine, amphetamine, and cathinone chemical classes.
AdvertisementIt is sold as "plant food" online as a work around of the Medicines Act which prohibits its sale for human consumption. It is reported to be contained in some legal highs and is sometimes sold mixed with methylone, also known as "Bubbles".
Mephedrone, imported from laboratories in China, is believed to have first entered Britain last year. By the summer, it was sweeping through clubs and parties throughout the country.
In December last 14-year-old Gabrielle Price died after taking a suspected drug cocktail including Mephedrone at a house party in Brighton. A friend who was there said Mephedrone was being taken by children as young as 11 who assumed it was safe because it's not illegal.
Youngsters all over Britain are now turning up in casualty after experimenting with Mephedrone. In the Durham area, five victims have been hospitalised in recent weeks. In one case, a reveller suffered horrifying self-inflicted injuries during a Mephedrone-induced 'high'
Websites dedicated to selling the white powder - described by experts as a "designer drug" and "a couple of molecules away from Ecstasy" - have sprung up in their hundreds.
The Welsh authorities find it such a menace, all four police forces in the province have put out warnings against its use.
Dyfed-Powys Police said it was issuing a warning after "a drug advertised as plant food has been sold to young people".
Police in North Wales, Gwent and South Wales also said they had heard of reports of people abusing the drug and in Flintshire the Young People's Drug and Alcohol Team (YPDAT) said children as young as 14 were addicted to it.
On another website, which advertised a mephedrone-based product as "bath salts", one worker was happy to speak openly about it being used as a drug.
She told Wales On Sunday: "Our product, charge, is less like bleach up your nose. It goes up smoother, you feel less rough afterwards and the high feels cleaner and clearer."
When asked if there were any side effects, the seller answered: "Nah. It's a stimulant so it'll keep you awake but I find it easier to get to sleep on it than most drugs."
Experts disagree, Clare Hutchinson reported.
Research carried out by the University of Liverpool's Centre for Public Health produced a long list of side-effects, including: suicidal thoughts, nosebleeds, heart palpitations, vasoconstriction (which is when your extremities turn blue), turning hot and cold, increased blood pressure, poor short-term memory, insomnia, tightened jaw muscles, grinding teeth and light-headedness.
A recent survey for the dance magazine Mixmag found that 67% of mephedrone user reported excess sweating; 51% headaches; 43% heart palpitations; 27% nausea; and 15% cold or blue fingers.
Most of those side effects are common with other stimulants like ecstasy and cocaine.
Other anecdotal reports suggest heavy use can lead to paranoia, hallucinations and serious panic attacks.
Similar psychotic effects have been reported with heavy amphetamine use.
The government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has been asked to research the harms linked to legal highs like mephedrone.
The panel is expected to report back to the Home Office in March this year although that process may be delayed by the recent sacking of its chairman, Professor David Nutt.
An EU agency, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, also says it is "following closely" the growth of mephedrone.
It could produce its own report on the health risks which the UK government could then use as a blueprint to speed up legislation to outlaw the drug.
That process would take at least six months and any recommendations would then have to be incorporated into European and British law, Jim Reed wrote for the BBC.
Steve Worobec, who works for social care organisation Turning Point, said: "We know it is a stimulant drug and it works in a similar way to cocaine in that it works on dopamine receptors in the brain and releases serotonin, both of which increase pleasure.
"It is also addictive. People will have a little bit more and more as they become immune to the effects and I've heard reports of some people bingeing 20 grams over a weekend.
"But whatever goes up has to come down. The harms I see from it are plentiful."
Janet Roberts of the Wales Drug & Alcohol Helpline, Dan 24/7, warned: "If you are already using these drugs you need to be aware that they can be psychologically addictive, your need to use them may increase and each time you use them the chemical make-up of the drug may be different.
"This means that just because you had no ill effects the first time, it doesn't mean that the next use will not result in having severe medical implications for you and in some cases result in your death."
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