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5% Discount on Legal Highs, Salvia Divinorum and Everything Else From The Coffeesh0p

Shaun The Sheep

My last two posts have been a bit hard going, so here’s a little something to lighten the mood:

Ok, so now you’re addicted Shaun The Sheep instead of mephedrone.

Although Shaun The Sheep provides me with a cheap, 10 minute euphoria, at least it’s off the ACMD’s radar… for now! Just make sure you only tell your responsible friends about this so our nation’s kids don’t start getting hold of it. That said, you may want to start stockpiling the episodes on DVD before the inevitable.

Also, in case you’re wondering what a couple in their 20’s are doing watching kid’s telly, FUCK YOU, that’s what!.

Posted in Drugs | Tagged ACMD, mephedrone, shaun the sheep, tv |

The ACMD’s Mephedrone Report Part II

This post contains the important annexes from the ACMD’s report on mephedrone and related cathinones. You can read the main body of the report here: The ACMD’s Mephedrone Report Part I. The original pdf is linked to at the end of this post.

I’ll probably write a few comments about the entire report in my next post, whenever that may be. Anyhoo…

Annex A. Recommendation For The Generic Control Of The Cathinone Derivatives

Scope of a generic definition

The ACMD here set out recommendations on the range of compounds that should be included in a generic definition for the control of cathinone derivatives under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

It was proposed that the scope of compounds covered by generic control should be much wider than the 6 ring substituted compounds listed in Table 1 (annex A) and wider than the 10 compounds reported to the EMCDDA since 2006.

The scope should include all cathinone derivatives that have been found in seizures and collected samples together with compounds that have not been encountered but have misuse potential. This includes cathinone derivatives with and without ring substituents and with side chains longer than those usually encountered in the phenethylamine drugs.

The scope should also include any substances known or believed to be pro-drugs, i.e. substances that are metabolised to a known active substance (for example GBL is converted in the body to GHB).

The generic definition should not include those substances already controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, i.e. diethylpropion (Class C), cathinone (Class C), methcathinone (Class B) and pyrovalerone (Class C). Finally the definition should not include any substances, e.g. bupropion, that are ingredients of legitimate pharmaceutical products or that have other legitimate uses.

The structure of cathinone derivatives is represented by the generalised structure below:

Figure 1: Generalised structure of cathinone derivatives

R1= single alkyl group [but not H]
R2= H or alkyl
R3= H or alkyl or
[NR2R3] = pyrrolidino or phthalimido or other ring structure
R4= H (no substituents) or
= one or more of alkyl, alkoxy, alkylenedioxy and halide whether or
not further substituted with an other univalent substituent

The phthalimido group has so far only been encountered in the compound a-phthalimidopropiophenone. This substance has been found in a capsule in combination with 2-fluoromethcathinone and in capsules containing a mixture with 4-methylmethcathinone, N-ethylcathinone, and caffeine.

The reason for adding a-phthalimidopropiophenone is not clear. It may have been added deliberately, perhaps as a pro-drug for cathinone, but there is no information about its pharmacology or metabolism. This substance is also an intermediate in the synthesis of cathinone and N-alkyl derivatives of cathinone. It could therefore be present unintentionally as a residue of an intermediate, the product of a failed chemical synthesis, or even the miss-labelling of an intermediate.

In addition to compounds with the generalised structure in (Figure 1, Annex A) the phenyl ring can be replaced with a naphthyl ring (e.g. Figure 2, Annex A) or with a thiophene ring. The naphthyl analogue of pyrovalerone (Figure 2, Annex A) is available on the Internet and is being retailed as “NRG-1”. These compounds cannot easily be included in a generic definition for the cathinone derivatives having the generalised structure in Figure 1, Annex A, but they could be controlled as named substances or by one or more separate generic definitions. The ACMD intend to review these substances and provide further advice at a later date.

Figure 2: Naphthyl analogue of pyrovalerone

The systematic chemical name for the structure in Figure 2, Annex A is 1-(2-naphthyl)-2-(1-pyrrolidinyl)-1-pentanone and alternative names include naphthylpyrovalerone, naphyrone and O-2482.

Appendix I, of this Annex includes all the cathinone derivatives, with the general structure in Figure 1, Annex A, that have been encountered in seizures and collected samples, substances that are already controlled, ingredients of known pharmaceutical products, substances available via the Internet and substances that are listed in Wikipedia. However, the market for cathinone derivatives is still evolving and new substances will continue to appear.

Many cathinone derivatives are mentioned in patents for pharmaceutical applications but the only known non-controlled cathinone derivative with a marketing authorisation appears to be bupropion, an ingredient of ®Zyban.

Some cathinone derivatives are mentioned in patents for non-pharmaceutical applications.

A structure-based search of the 12th Edition of the Merck Index (1996), carried out previously by Dr Les King, found no contentious compounds.

Interestingly, a recent patent (WO PCT 2010006196) relating to water purification membranes mentions the compound in Figure 3 below, which is closely related to methylone (bk-MDMA). This compound would be included within a generic definition since the term methylenedioxy can have two meanings. However, compounds analogous to those in Figure 3, Annex A are unlikely to have any commercial uses.

Figure 3: 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methyl-ß-keto-amphetamine

Structure Activity Relationships

Cathinone derivatives have a range of effects (e.g. stimulant, empathogen and antidepressant).

The cathinone derivatives without ring substituents (e.g. diethylpropion, methcathinone, buphedrone, N,N-dimethylcathinone) are mostly stimulants.

Most of the cathinone derivatives encountered as legal highs are ring substituted compounds with a secondary amino group (R2 = methyl or ethyl and R3 = hydrogen) or with a cyclic amino group (NR2R3 = pyrrolidino group or phthalimido group). These substances are primarily stimulants, with varying degrees of empathogenic effects (i.e. similar in effects to MDMA). Ring substituents (R4) have included alkyl, alkoxy, methylenedioxy and halide.

The side chain substituent (R1) has mostly been a single alkyl group. However there are examples with allyl (an alkenyl) and propargyl (an alkynyl) groups and also examples with a second alkyl group attached to the same carbon atom as R1, but these compounds are not within the proposed scope.

No haloalkyl substituents (e.g. trifluoromethyl –CF3 as found in piperazine derivatives) in the ring (R4) or on the side chain (R1) have been encountered or reported in the literature. However, replacement of the ring methyl group, as in mephredrone, with a trifluoromethyl group is likely to produce substances with similar activities. It is recommended therefore that haloalkyl substituents be included in the generic definition for ring substituents.

Cathinone derivatives with a primary amino group (i.e. no N-alkyl substituents) are rarely encountered, possibly because of their instability. There are only two known examples, bk-MDA (known to substitute for MDMA in rats) and cathinone (a stimulant).

The NR2R3 amino groups reported in the scientific literature have included alkylamino (R2 = alkyl, R3 = H), dialkylamino (R2 =alkyl, R3 = alkyl), the cyclic pyrrolidino group and a large number of other cyclic amines. However, for the pyrovalerone analogues an increase in size of the nitrogen containing ring from a five-membered pyrrolidine ring to a six-membered piperidine ring resulted in a substantial loss in binding potency. There are also examples of N-allyl, N-propargyl and N-cycloalkyl substituents.

The anti-depressant drug bupropion has a tertiary-butyl group on the nitrogen atom and several other substances investigated for their potential as smoking cessation drugs also have a bulky alkyl group on the nitrogen atom, e.g. tertiary-butyl, iso-propyl or cycloalkyl, or the alkyl amino group is replaced by a cyclic piperidino group (a cyclic amino group with 6 membered ring).

Salts, stereoisomers, esters and ethers

Cathinone derivatives with the generalised structure in Figure 1, Annex A, all have an asymmetric a-carbon atom giving rise to R and S stereoisomers.

With the exception of the phthalimido derivatives, all cathinone derivatives have a basic nitrogen atom and can therefore form salts.

There is no definition of esters and ethers in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but from a chemical perspective esters usually only applies to derivatives of acids with a hydroxyl group, and derivatives of alcohols and phenols. Likewise ethers usually only applies to derivatives of alcohols and phenols. On this basis the cathinone derivatives would not form esters or ethers.

However, keto compounds, R1R2C=O, can form ketals, R1R2C(OR’)2, which arguably might be described as a special form of an ether. Ketals of cathinone derivatives have been discussed on drug forums in the context of a pro-drug and are mentioned in the scientific literature, usually as a means of protecting the keto group during chemical syntheses.

Generic definition for the control of cathinone derivatives

The ACMD have considered a number of options for the control of cathinone derivatives, including listing of named substances, several generic definitions and combinations of these approaches.

Taking into account the ACMD’s consideration of the scope, together with structure activity relationships and prevalence of known cathinone derivatives, the following generic definition is recommended:

Any compound (not being bupropion or a substance for the time being specified in paragraph 2.2) structurally derived from 2-amino-1-phenyl-1-propanone by modification in any of the following ways, that is to say,

  1. by substitution in the phenyl ring to any extent with alkyl, alkoxy, alkylenedioxy, haloalkyl or halide substituents, whether or not further substituted in the phenyl ring by one or more other univalent substituents;
  2. by substitution at the 3-position with an alkyl substituent;
  3. by substitution at the nitrogen atom with alkyl or dialkyl groups, or by inclusion of the nitrogen atom in a cyclic structure.


  • the parent compound is cathinone
  • “any” is taken to mean one or more


This is a definition that includes all permutations for the three substitution areas, i.e. in the ring (R4), in the side chain (R1) and on the nitrogen (NR2R3).

  • All the cathinone derivatives would be in the same Class which would result in some anomalies for compounds already controlled.
  • Includes all the compounds in Appendix 1.
  • Includes primary amines without ring substituents (no known examples, except cathinone which is not included within the scope of this definition).
  • Includes ring substituted primary amines (bk-MDA is the only example).
  • The term “cyclic structure” has a very wide scope (e.g. all ring sizes, all heterocyclic nitrogen compounds and structures with ring substituents).

Appendix 1

(Class C)

Note: only encountered in Khat although it has been encountered as the pro-drug, a-phthalimidopropiophenone (see below)

R1 = Me
R2 = H
R3 = H
R4 = H

Note: found in products from the Internet

R1 = Me
NR2R3 = phthalimide
R4 = H
(Class B)
R1 = Me
R2 = Me
R3 = H
R4 = H

Note: encountered in seizures

R1 = Me
R2 = Me
R3 = Me
R4 = H
Sub Coca II

Note: encountered in seizures

R1 = Me
R2 = Et
R3 = H
R4 = H
(Class C)
R1 = Me
R2 = Et
R3 = Et
R4 = H

Note: encountered in Germany

R1 = Me
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = H

Note: no seizures reported to EMCDDA but is available via the Internet and user reports are on drug forums.

R1 = Et
R2 = Me
R3 = H
R4 = H

Note: no seizure or user reports but listed on Wikipedia and in a patent

R1 = Et
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = H

Note: No seizures reported to EMCDDA, but metabolism study by Germany, as a result of 2 seizures, in Germany and Netherlands.

R1 = n-Pr
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = H
Sub Coca I

Note: most frequently encountered cathinone derivative

R1 = Me
R2 = Me
R3 = H
R4 = 4-Me

Note: seizure report from Germany

R1 = Me
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = 4-Me

Note: seizure report from Germany

R1 = Et
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = 4-Me
(Class C)
R1 = n-Pr
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = Me

Note: seizure report from Germany

R1 = n-Bu
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = Me

Note: encountered in seizures

R1 = Me
R2 = Me
R3 = H
R4 = 4-MeO

Note: seizure report from Germany

R1 = Me
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = 4-MeO
(Zyban – medicinal product in UK)

Note: To be excluded from control. No reports of abuse)

R1 = Me
R2 = t-Bu
R3 = H
R4 = 3-Cl

Note: encountered in seizures. The 3-fluoro and 2-fluoro isomers have also been found in products from the Internet.

R1 = Me
R2 = Me
R3 = H
R4 = 4-F
(also 2-F and 3-F)

Note: encountered in seizures

R1 = Me
R2 = Me
R3 = H
R4 = 3,4-methylenedioxy

Note: encountered in seizures

R1 = Me
R2 = Et
R3 = H
R4 = 3,4-methylenedioxy

Note: seizure reports from Germany and Denmark

R1 = Me
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = 3,4-methylenedioxy

Note: seizure reports from 7 countries

R1 = Et
R2 = Me
R3 = H
R4 = 3,4-methylenedioxy

Note: no seizure reports, but mentioned in Wikipedia and in patent

R1 = Et
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = 3,4-methylenedioxy

Note: no seizure reports, but mentioned in Wikipedia and in patent.

R1 = n-Pr
R2 = Me
R3 = H
R4 = 3,4-methylenedioxy

Note: encountered in seizures

R1 = n-Pr
NR2R3 = Pyrrolidinyl
R4 = 3,4-methylenedioxy

Annex B & C

…Aren’t really worth including here. They contain a list of ACMD members and a list of organisations and individuals who submitted evidence included in the report. Go and read it in the original pdf if you want to. Go on! Go and bloody read it!

Annex D. Letter From The Advisory Council On The Misuse Of Drugs To The Home Secretary

22nd December 2009

Dear Home Secretary,

Re: ACMD consideration of mephedrone (and related cathinones)

The ACMD wrote to you in March to explain that it would be pleased to accede to the Government’s priorities that your predecessor set out in her letter of 13 March 2009. Concerning the issue of ‘legal highs’ the ACMD has provided advice on the synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (Spice), 1-benzylpiperazine, GBL and 1,4-BD all of which we note will be controlled in the legislation on the 23rd December. In the ACMD’s letter of 30 September 2009 it was explained that we would next provide you with advice on the cathinones.

Despite the difficulties of the last 2 months the ACMD is committed to providing you with advice on the cathinones. Although attention has focused on mephedrone, five other synthetic psychoactive cathinone derivatives are also widely available. The ACMD explained in a previous letter to you that it has concerns about the apparent prevalence and potential harms of these compounds. Much has been made of these compounds in the media over recent weeks; we find it of concern that this may have had the consequence of bringing such drugs to the attention of a wider demographic sooner than may have been the case.

The ACMD understand that mephedrone, amongst other cathinones, is being marketed as a variety of apparently ‘benign’ products e.g. bath salts or plant food. Whilst the potential harms of these drugs are not yet fully known, it is apparent that the selling of such unregulated preparations in a form that they are clearly unintended for could have serious public health implications.

The ACMD is mindful that, after recent events, our statutory membership requirements need to be fulfilled before providing formal advice, according to the requirements of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. However, the ACMD would like to assure you that it will seek to provide you with such advice at the earliest possible opportunity on this important issue.

I would be willing to discuss the issue of the cathinones and, more broadly, new psychoactive substances (‘legal highs’) and the timing of advice with you.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Les Iversen
(on behalf of the ACMD)


The original (boringly formatted) report can be found here: ACMD-cathinones-report.pdf.

Posted in Drugs, Legislation | Tagged 3-FMC, ACMD, addiction, butylone, cathinone, chemistry, dependance, energy-1, government report, khat, mdpv, mephedrone, methylone, nrg-1, side effects, society |

The ACMD’s Mephedrone Report Part I

MephedroneWhile we were away, what’s left of the ACMD finished their report on mephedrone and structurally similar compounds – one of the final few hurdles before these research chemicals get slapped upside the head with Alan “more insightful than science” Johnson’s banning stick.

Since we’re up to the eyeballs here with a week’s worth of work to catch up on, and this report will have a monstrous impact, I’ll repost it here in full. Kind of. Below is the main body of the report including references. The equally important annexes including recommendations on how to actually ban these substances can be found here: The ACMD’s Mephedrone Report Part II.

I’ve kept page numbers in referring to pages in the original document and included the references, but not included the footnotes. Most of the footnote info has been incorporated in the article somehow though, and if you’re really desperate to read them, you can download the full pdf at the end of part two. Here goes:

Consideration Of The Cathinones

Letter To The Home Secretary From The ACMD

31st March 2010

Dear Home Secretary,

I have pleasure in attaching the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report on the ‘Consideration of the cathinones’.

The ACMD recommends that the cathinone compounds be brought under control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in Class B, Schedule I by way of a generic definition. Based on the attached evidence and by analogy with the amphetamines, the ACMD consider that the harms associated with the cathinones most closely equate with other compounds in Class B.

The ACMD also recommend that particular attention is focussed on credible and consistent public health messages that are promulgated both to the public and health professionals – the latter for the purposes of providing advice.

The ACMD is concerned that, particularly in the case of mephedrone, the internet plays a significant part in the marketing, sale and distribution of the drug and social networking sites may also play a role. The ACMD therefore believes that resources should initially be focussed on supply side activities with a concurrent emphasis on educating users of this drug so as to highlight the real dangers of mephedrone and the cathinones.

The ACMD indicated, in its letter to the Home Secretary, of the 22nd December 2009, its concerns about the sale of mephedrone and its plans for review. However, the rapid increase in the use of mephedrone in the UK has been exceptional. This sudden rise in prevalence of what we consider to be a harmful drug has brought to the fore our concerns that we need to consider a range of options for limiting the rapid spread of such substances. The ACMD intend to provide you with further advice on the possible control of ‘legal highs’ concerning recommendations and advice that is broader than the scope of what either this report or that on other individual or classes of compounds will allow.

In addition, I would like to draw your attention to further advice that we will provide on the napthyl analogues of pyrovalerone and other such analogues. The ACMD will meet to discuss other compounds that are not covered by this generic scope in the next few weeks.

Yours faithfully,
Professor Les Iversen FRS

1. Background

1.1. In March 2009 the then Home Secretary requested advice from the ACMD on so called ‘legal highs’. The ACMD have looked at a number of substances to date and provided advice on the piperazines and the synthetic cannabinoids (‘Spice). The ACMD wrote to the Home Secretary in December 2009 (Annex D) setting out the ACMD’s concerns regarding the cathinones and mephedrone in particular, which first came to the ACMDs attention in the summer of 2009. On the 2nd February 2010 the ACMD Chair (Professor Les Iversen) met with the Home Secretary to further discuss the issue and to provide an update.

1.2. The ACMD gathered evidence on the cathinones at a special meeting of the Technical Committee (22nd February 2010) and discussed additional evidence and possible recommendations at a further Technical Committee meeting on the 25th March 2010, and at the ACMD Council meeting on the 29th of March 2010.

2. Introduction

2.1. Cathinone is one of a number of alkaloids which can be extracted from the (fresh) leaves of Catha edulis (khat). It is structurally very similar to amphetamine (1-phenylpropan-2-amine) and represents the ß-keto analogue of amphetamine.

2.2. Cathinone (Class C), methcathinone (Class B), diethylpropion (Class C) and pyrovalerone (Class C) are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The three controlled cathinone derivatives are listed in the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and have been reveiwed by the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (WHO, 1995). However, other derivatives and analogues are not presently controlled (including mephedrone). Notwithstanding the potential harms of the cathinones it is apparent that mephedrone and other cathinones are being sold without any apparent effective regulation.

2.3. The ACMD has communicated its intentions to review the cathinones to the Home Secretary, over recent months, through meetings and correspondence (see the ACMD’s letter of the 22nd Dec 2009 – Annex D). The ACMD has been concerned about the rise in prevalence of the cathinones and potential harms initially through reports from drug services, young people’s treatment services, head teachers, drug surveys, the police and media, among others.

2.4. Other countries (including: Sweden Denmark, Norway, Ireland and Israel) have recently controlled specific cathinones. However, we are not aware of any country that has developed generic legislation to control the cathinones as a class.

2.5. The ACMD is aware of the collation of data on mephedrone by Europol and the EMCDDA in the form of a joint report under Article 5.1 of Council Decision 2005/387/JHA. The ACMD wrote to the UK focal point (the Reitox NFP) that would be providing information as requested by Article 5 of the Decision.

2.6. This report is compiled from oral and written evidence considered at the meetings (paragraph 2.3) above. A full citation of the evidence received and considered is provided in Section 10 and submitting individuals and organisations are given in Annex C.

3. Chemistry And Pharmacology


(White, 2010)

3.1. Cathinone (2-amino-1-phenyl propanone) is one of a number of alkaloids which can be extracted from the (fresh) leaves of Catha edulis (khat). However, the ACMD understands that most of the cathinones seized, and those that have been tested, are synthetic in origin.

3.2. Cathinone is structurally very similar to amphetamine (1-phenylpropan-2-amine), differing only in the functionality present at the ß-carbon. Cathinone possesses a ketone oxygen at the ß-carbon; cathinone can therefore be considered as the ‘ß-keto analogue’ of amphetamine (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: The structural similarity between amphetamine (left) and cathinone (right)

3.3. Structural modifications to the 1-phenylpropan-2-amine (amphetamine) backbone have produced a range of different compounds, many of which are closely related structurally to amphetamine; these are known as the ‘amphetamines’. In a similar manner, the molecular architecture of 2-amino-1-phenyl propanone (cathinone) can be altered to produce a series of different compounds which are closely structurally related to cathinone. Together these are known as the ‘cathinones’ or ‘cathinone derivatives’.

3.4. The N-methyl derivative known as methcathinone or ephedrone is the cathinone analogue of methylamphetamine, while 3,4-methylene-dioxymethcathinone (methylone) is the cathinone analogue of MDMA (ecstasy); 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone) has no commonly used amphetamine equivalent.

3.5. The basic cathinone structure (see Figure 2) can be altered in a number of predictable ways, such as the inclusion of additional functionality to the aromatic ring (ring substitution, R4), N-alkylation (or inclusion of the nitrogen atom in a ring structure, R2 and R3), and variation of the (typically alkyl) a-carbon substituent (R1). Multiple modifications may of course be present in a single derivative; cathinones are all usually N-alkylated (or the nitrogen is incorporated into a ring structure, typically pyrrolidine) and many also bear ring substituents.

Figure 2: Generic sites for structural variation of cathinone, detailing a and ß positions

(The generic cathinone backbone (see Figure 2) possesses a chiral centre (the a-carbon atom if R1?H); cathinone and its derivatives can therefore exist as stereoisomers, the potencies of which may be markedly different. Although it is the S-enantiomer of cathinone which is found in the fresh leaves of Catha edulis, the chirality of the cathinones is not determined during routine forensic analysis of seizures. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that the synthetic cathinones currently available are enantiopure; it is instead likely that they are supplied as racemic mixtures. The qualitative or quantitative differences between the enantiomers of the non-controlled cathinones is not known.)

3.6. The genesis of synthetic cathinone chemistry is rooted in the synthesis of cathinone over 120 years ago. Since this time, many synthetic cathinones have been reported, the vast majority of which have not been used in a medicinal setting. However, a handful of cathinones, such as diethylpropion, bupropion and pyrovalerone have been used in pharmaceutical preparations, and the properties of novel cathinones (such as napthylpyrovalerone (Meltzer et al., 2006)) is still an area of active research.

3.7. Bupropion (page 42) is used medically as an antidepressant and an aid to smoking cessation and is a prescribed drug, marketed under the trade name Zyban®. Although it is a ring substituted cathinone no samples of Bupropion have been encountered in forensic analysis of seizures in the UK, and there is no evidence for its misuse.

3.8. The misuse of selected synthetic cathinones is not new; methcathinone (ephedrone), originally used as an antidepressant in the former Soviet Union in the 1930’s, went on to be used recreationally there (especially during the 1970s and 1980s) and in the USA (1990s). The emergence of six synthetic cathinones in Germany was reported between 1997 and 2004. All six substances bear an a-pyrrolidino functionality and are therefore closely related to pyrovalerone (page 41).

3.9. More recently, there have been an increasing number of reports of other synthetic cathinones encountered within the European Union. Although many of these compounds are simply ß-keto analogues of well-known amphetamines, the presence of the ketone functionality often circumvents any control measures which may already be in place for the related amphetamine congeners. Since 2006, the following cathinones have been reported in the European Union (see Table 1; for the position of the substituents R1 to R4, see Figure 2). According to data from UK forensic providers, since January 2006 six of these have been encountered in the UK (emboldened in Table 1).

Table 1: Some of the non-controlled cathinones encountered in the European Union since 2006 (excluding reports of pyrovalerone derivatives from 1997-2004). those in bold type have been encountered in the UK.

NameCommon nameR1R2R3R4
MethylenedioxypyrovaleroneMDPV (corrected by me)n-Prpyrrolidinyl3,4-methylenedioxy

3.10. Of the total number of cathinone derivatives encountered by UK forensic providers, by far the most commonly encountered is 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone) (89% of seizures). However, data from the Forensic Science Service indicate that cathinones accounted for a very small fraction of Police seizures submitted in 2009. Tentative data also indicate a rapid rise in the number of cathinone submissions during 2009, with a concomitant decrease in the number of piperazine submissions.

3.11. Data from UK forensic providers suggest that the cathinones are normally submitted as either white or brown powders (the freebase forms of the cathinones are unstable and readily decompose; the cathinones are normally encountered as the hydrochloride salts.); data from January 2006 to mid-February 2010 indicate that, of all cathinone derivatives submitted, 95% were in powder form, 4% being submitted as tablets or capsules.

3.12. Purity data for the cathinones are not available from UK forensic providers, since it is not usually determined during routine forensic analysis. However, cathinones are normally advertised as being of ‘high purity’, typically >95%. Some adulterants, including benzocaine, lignocaine, caffeine and paracetamol, have been detected in a small proportion of seizures of the cathinones. Some submissions have been adulterated with controlled drugs such as cocaine, ketamine, amphetamine and 1-benzylpiperazine (BZP), although these are rarely encountered.

3.13. There are currently no colorimetric field tests available to identify all of the cathinone derivatives, although some chemical tests, such as the Simon’s test and Chen test may be used to give an indication of the presence of a small number of the cathinones. More specific field tests based on immunoassay technology are not yet available.

3.14. As with the amphetamines, both systematic (IUPAC) and non-standard nomenclature is common in cathinone chemistry. Often, the assimilation of a common structural motif is reflected in non-standard nomenclature. Thus, structural incorporation of the ‘2-methylamino-1-phenyl-1-propanone’ fragment, which is also known as methcathinone or ‘ephedrone’, is often indicated in nomenclature; 4-methylmethcathinone is ‘mephedrone’ and 4-fluoromethcathinone is ‘flephedrone’. The use of acronyms is also widespread; 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone is known as ‘MDPV’, whilst a-pyrrolidinopropiophenone, one of a number of a-pyrrolidino cathinones, is simply known as a-PPP. As a consequence of the ß-keto substituent, it is also common practice for widely accepted amphetamine acronyms to be augmented with the prefix ‘bk’. For example, 3,4-methylenedioxymethcathinone (methylone), the cathinone analogue of MDMA, is often referred to as ‘bk-MDMA’. Mephedrone [2-(methylamino)-1-(4-methylphenyl)-1-propanone] is the most commonly used cathinone derivative and forms the focus of this report.


3.15. As with the amphetamines, the cathinones act as central nervous system stimulants, although the potencies of the cathinones are generally lower then their amphetamine congeners, probably because the increased polarity conferred on a cathinone by the presence of a ß-keto group reduces their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.

3.16. Several cathinones have been used as active pharmaceutical ingredients (API). Bupropion has been used as an antidepressant, and as an aid to stop smoking cigarettes. Diethylpropion (Amfepramone) and pyrovalerone have both been proposed as appetite suppressants, although they are not currently in clinical use. 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone), the most commonly encountered synthetic cathinone derivative in the UK, has never been used as an API or patented as a potential API.

3.17. Little data are available on either the pharmacokinetics or pharmacodynamics of the cathinones. Research on the metabolism of the ring-substituted cathinones bk-MBDB and bk-MDEA has implicated N-dealkylation, demethylenation followed by O-methylation and ß-keto reduction as major metabolic pathways (Zaitsu et al., 2009).

3.18 The effects of cathinones bearing ring-substituents in human subjects are reportedly similar to those of cocaine, amphetamine and MDMA (Table 2; CairScotland, 2010). Self reported subjective effects of ring-substituted cathinones include:

  • Feelings of empathy (openness, love, closeness, sociability, well-being);
  • Stimulation / alertness / rushing;
  • Euphoria / mood lift / appreciation of music; and,
  • Awareness of senses.

3.19.  Studies of the effects of cathinones on monoamine neurotransmission in rat brain confirm their mechanisms of action to be similar to those of the amphetamines. Both groups of drugs bind to monoamine transporters for dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) in brain and promote release of these monoamines (Cozzi et al., 1999; Nagai et al., 2007). As with the different amphetamines, individual cathinone derivatives vary in their relative potencies as inhibitors of the three monoamine transporters – summarised in Table 2. There are no published data on the effects of mephedrone on monoamine transporters, but it may be expected to be intermediate in its profile between methcathinone and methylone.

Table 2: Actions of selected drugs on monoamine transporters


Data from Cozzi et al., (1999) and Nagai et al., (2007). Values are depicted as relative affinities since the studies did not use the same units. + = low affinity; ++++ = highest affinity

3.20. It is notable that the cathinones examined were potent inhibitors of the noradrenaline (norepinephrine) transporter (NET). This helps to explain the strong sympathomimetic actions of cathinones – due to their ability to promote release of noradrenaline from the sympathetic nerves in various peripheral organs, notably the heart and vascular system.

3.21. Cathinone and methcathinone are amphetamine-like behavioural stimulants. When administered to experimental animals they cause hyperactivity, with methcathinone being approximately 10 times more potent than cathinone (Feyissa and Kelly, 2008; Glennon et al., 1987)

3.22 When administered in vivo to rats trained to recognise and to distinguish the subjective effects of amphetamine, the animals cross-generalised completely to methcathinone (i.e. they were unable to recognise this substances as having different effects from amphetamine). Methylone, however, showed only weak cross generalization to amphetamine, but cross generalized completely to MDMA in rats trained to recognize this as the discriminative stimulus (Dal Cason et al.,1997).

4. Epidemiology Of Cathinone Use And Methods Of Use

Availability and use

4.1. Many of the cathinone compounds, particularly mephedrone, can be purchased from many different sources, and are readily available over the internet. Although the provenance of the substances is often not clear, several suppliers source compounds from China (Ramsey, 2010; UK Border Agency, 2010). Exercises at Heathrow targeting air courier traffic from China for delivery to UK domestic addresses gave rise to seizures of mephedrone. Claims of manufacture in a number of other countries are made on the internet.

4.2. Intelligence from Australia Customs and Border Protection Service has identified China and the UK as being the principal source of mephedrone. However, it is likely that in the case of the UK, this represents transit of the drugs and not necessarily production in the apparent country of origin.

4.3. Mephedrone and other cathinones are predominantly sold over the internet and in ‘head shops’. Websites selling cathinone based compounds – generally mephedrone – normally exhibit a disclaimer that the compounds ‘are not for human consumption’. Instead, they are sold as research chemicals, ‘novelty bath salts’ (3-fluoromethcathinone) or, more commonly, as plant food/plant growth regulators (Sumnall, 2009). However, none of the cathinones has any recognized efficacy as a plant fertilizer nor would they suitably function as bath salts.

4.4. Slang terms for some of the cathinones include Bubble(s), miaow, meow meow, 4-MMC, Mcat, sub-coca, toot and Top Cat.

4.5. Cathinones (generally mephedrone) are usually sold as white or brown powders, sometimes as capsules, or more rarely as pills, and are often advertised as being of ‘high’ purity (> 95%). CairScotland (2010) report that ‘Bubbles’ was originally sold in capsules, but now more often in 1g bags. Reports suggest varying prices: around £10-15/g if purchased from ‘headshops’, clubs or dealers (Druglink, 2010; Linell, 2010).

4.6. Self-reported dosages range from 5 mg or less (for MDPV) to 200 mg or more (for mephedrone), with some mephedrone users reporting ‘re-dosing’ (bingeing) to prolong the euphoric experience, leading to 1-2g being consumed in a session. The cathinones are sometimes used in conjunction with alcohol or controlled substances; co-abused substances include cocaine, cannabis, ketamine and MDMA. Studies of polysubstance use with the cathinones are not available, however, it should be noted that polydrug use is increasingly a feature of UK illegal consumption patterns more generally.

4.7. The reason for the apparent emergence and sudden increase in mephedrone use in the UK in 2009 is unclear. However, interviews with users and community workers (Newcombe, 2010; Measham et al., 2010, NME, 2010) suggest that the unavailability and/or low purity of cocaine and MDMA in 2009 (Hand and Rishiraj, 2009) have contributed to the increase in mephedrone use. In addition, the cathinones are presently a legal alternative to other drugs and are widely available from internet websites.

4.8 Mephedrone powder may be snorted (insufflated) (sometimes by keying – approximately 5-8 keys per gram (Linell, 2010)). The drug may also be swallowed – often after wrapping in tissue paper (bombing or dabbing) or, more rarely, injected (CairScotland, 2010; Linell, 2010; McVean, 2009; Measham et al., 2010).

4.9. Reports from users presenting at hospital A&E units are that mephedrone is taken in staggered doses (Wood pers. comm.).

4.10. Emergent research with mephedrone users suggests that they may appear to develop tolerance quickly and as a consequence tend to consume higher doses more frequently.

4.11. Evidence from the Bailiwick of Guernsey Customs report an increase in the prevalence of mephedrone from seizures and this has superseded the seizures of ‘Toot’ (identified predominantly as Butylone and methylone) (McVean, 2009 and 2010). It is reported that mephedrone and ‘Toot’ are being injected by users and has become popular among users of heroin (McVean, 2009 and 2010).

Prevalence and reported data

4.12. There are little published data on the prevalence of the cathinones; most available data are from self reported surveys of particular demographics.

4.13. Since many of the cathinones are not controlled, they are not included in the ‘stimulant’ group of substances in the British Crime Survey (BCS). However, we understand that the BCS will now include a specific question on mephedrone – interim data should be available to the ACMD after 6 months of the question becoming part of the survey.

4.14. The Mixmag survey (Winstock, 2010) is a cross sectional, self reported, self nominating, survey of over 2,000 UK individuals using the online website “Don’t Stay In” for the dance magazine Mixmag. The most recent survey included a question on mephedrone. Of self reported drug use, mephedrone was the fourth most commonly used drug in the last month (Cannabis (any), ecstasy (any) and cocaine powder ranked higher in terms of % use in the last month). The survey data show that 41.7% of respondents indicated they had ever used mephedrone, 33.6% in the previous month. These data suggest that the use of mephedrone is a new phenomenon since lifetime and past month prevalence is so similar in this survey. The synthetic cathinone methylone had been tried by 7.5% of respondents in the last month and 10.8% in their lifetime. Also other surveys of drug use show no reported mephedrone use amongst similar groups of young adults surveyed in bars and clubs in 2004-8 (Measham and Moore, 2009).

4.15. Data from the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) show that telephone inquiries and TOXBASE accesses relating to cathinones increased sharply over the latter part of 2009 into 2010 (Thomas, 2010). NPIS enquiries more commonly involved males (2:1 sex ratio) and fitted an age profile similar to those taking MDMA with the greater proportion being in the 10-19 and 20-29 age groups, compared to cocaine which has a greater proportion of enquiries concerning the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups.

4.16. The most up to date information regarding visits to the FRANK website relating to the cathinones page are presented in Table 3. The number of visits has more than doubled in the past six months and has shown a month on month increase since September 2009 when the page was first published. This is mirrored by similar increases in calls to the talk to FRANK helpline.

Table 3: Visits to selected pages of the FRANK website between September 2009 and February 2010*.

FRANK website visitsCathinones% of visitsCannabis% of visitsCocaine% of visitsEcstasy% of visits
Sept-09 (page published 18/09/09)255,7659,3663.7%5818522.7%3692514.4%225418.8%

*percentages are of total visits to individual drug webpages on FRANK website.

4.17. ‘Google Insights for search’ is a tool that allows search volume patterns, specifically using the Google search engine, to be compared across regions, categories, time frames, and properties. ‘Google Insights for search’ has been used in this instance to determine the proportion of searches, using Google, to search for the word ‘mephedrone’ since January 2009 to March 2010 in the UK (England region only). It can be seen from Figure 1 that there is a rising trend in the searches, although the month of March 2010 includes only partial data at this time. Please note that some months overlap due to the way in which the data is collated (weekly rather monthly).

Figure 1: Relative number of searches on Google for the term ‘mephedrone’.

4.18. Data provided by the Forensic Science Service (FSS) of police seizures show that the cathinone derivatives account for only a small proportion of total drug seizures. Although the cathinones are not illegal they generally present as ‘white powders’ (predominantly mephedrone – 89% of cathinone seizures).

5. Physical Harms (Toxicity, Dependency And Mental Health)

Acute toxicity

5.1. Most data regarding the harms of the cathinones (mephedrone in particular) are self-reported and there are very few clinical data available.

5.2. Wood et al., (2009) report the first case of sympathomimetic toxicity related to mephedrone (4-MMC) confirmed by toxicological screening where no other drugs or alcohol were detected.

5.3. Data from Guys and St Thomas’ hospital toxicology (Dargan and Wood, pers. comm.) over the last year show that from a total of 1600-1800 cases, of which 40% are due to recreational drugs, 25 of which presented with toxicity due to self reported mephedrone use (Table 4). Of these 25 cases cases, 80% were male with a mean age of 28.5y (SD ± 8.0 y). Reported clinical symptoms are shown in Table 5, clinical examination data are shown in Table 6.

Table 4: Cases of toxicity in individuals presenting due to self reported mephedrone use to Guys and St Thomas’ hospital

January – March 20092
April – June 20090
July – September 20098
October – December 20095
January 2010 – 22nd February 201010

Table 5: Reported Clinical symptoms for cases of toxicity in individuals presenting due to self reported mephedrone use to Guys and St Thomas’ hospital

% presentations (n=25)
Discoloration of the skin0
Cool peripheries0

Table 6: Clinical examination for cases of toxicity in individuals presenting due to self reported mephedrone use to Guys and St Thomas’ hospital

% presentations (n=25)
Tachycardia >100bpm48%
Tachycardia >140bpm16%
Hypertension (>160mmHg)16%
GCS = 8/1516%

5.4. The clinical management of those cases at Guys and St Thomas’ was that:

  • Four (16%) required benzodiazepines for management of agitation
  • Twenty (80%) discharged from ED/observation ward
  • Five admitted to hospital
  • Four to general medical ward
  • One to ICU (for other drug toxicity: GBL)

5.5. Various user reports and clinical observations indicate that mephedrone abuse can cause a number of adverse side effects. Table 7 summarises self reported side effects of mephedrone in terms of increasing severity.

Table 7: Self reported side effects of mephedrone

Modest severityModerate severityMost severe
Reduced appetiteInsomniaStrong desire to re-dose, craving to recapture initial euphoric rush
Dry mouthNausea (27%)*Uncomfortable changes in body temperature (sweating/chills) (67%)*
Pupil dilationTrismus and BruxismIncreased blood pressure and heart rate, palpitations (43%)*
Unusual body sensationsSkin rashesserious vasoconstriction in extremities, cold or blue fingers (15%*)
Change in body temperature regulationNystagmus and dilated pupilshigh doses can cause hallucinations and psychosis
Pain and swelling in nose and throat, nose bleeds, sinusitis (when insufflated)
Impaired short term memory, poor concentration
Dizziness, light headidness, vertigo (51%)*

*Data from Mixmag survey n=>2,000 (Winstock, 2010)

5.6. When taken in large quantities self-reported experiences by ‘psychonaut’ users described vivid hallucinations during 3 day binges of mephedrone (Linell, 2010). However, the quantities reportedly consumed are not likely to mirror those of most users.

5.7. The ACMD has received anecdotal reports from members of the public that when taken in conjunction with other drugs e.g. amphetamines the effects can be quite marked and lead to personality changes, paranoia and sometimes violent episodes.

5.8. Some of the adverse effects reported for methylone (Table 8 ) are similar to those reported for MDMA (ecstasy) (ACMD, 2009)

Table 8: Self reported side effects of methylone

Modest to moderate severityMost severe
Increase in heart rate and blood pressureInsomnia
General change in consciousness (as with most psychoactives)Hyperthermia and sweating
Pupil dilation, can lead to blurred visionDizziness, confusion
Difficulty in focusing, restlessnessDepersonalization, hallucinations, paranoia, fear (with high doses)
Change in perception of timeUnwanted life-changing spiritual experiences
Slight increase in body temperatureGastrointestinal discomfort, nausea and vomiting
Muscle tension and achingSkin rashes common
Trismus and bruxismHangover may include exhaustion, depression, disorientation, headache, amnesia

5.9. It is notable that several commonly reported side effects reflect the sympathomimetic actions of the cathinones. The NPIS is another important, independent source of information collected from telephone enquiries made by health professionals managing people presenting after mephedrone exposure and website visits. The most commonly reported clinical effects included tachycardia, palpitations, agitation, anxiety, palpitations and mydriasis. Chest pain, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, headache, hypertension, confusion, hallucinations, peripheral vasoconstriction and convulsions have also been reported in some cases (Thomas, 2010). It is notable how closely the NPIS data match those provided from other sources.

5.10. Data from clinical examination confirms that tachycardia is a common symptom of mephedrone ingestion. Severe cases of cardiovascular toxicity or conditions such as hypopyrexia due to use of cathinones have not been reported (Dargan and Wood, pers. comm.). The majority of presentations have been recent and during the winter months, it is not known if the number of presentations due to conditions such as hypopyrexia will change during warmer weather.

5.11. Users also report severe vasoconstriction of extremities, leading to bluing of fingers or hands. It is worth noting that hyperpyrexia and vascular collapse are among the most dangerous life-threatening side effects of amphetamine misuse. Some of the acute adverse side effects induced by methylamphetamine include (ACMD, 2005):

  • Insomnia
  • Increased physical activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased respiration
  • Hyperthermia
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Cardiovascular collapse and death (in overdose)
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors

Cases of death where cathinones have been implicated

5.12. There have been at least 18 deaths in England where cathinones have been implicated. Currently, seven of these have provided positive results for the presence of mephedrone at post mortem. To date, in one case the coroner concluded that the death was “natural” and that an inquest was not required. The remaining cases are awaiting inquest.

5.13. There have been at least seven deaths in Scotland where cathinones have been suspected. Of these, one has been confirmed as the result of the “adverse effects of methadone and mephedrone”. Another case is probable, but underlying health issues contributed to the death and it awaits formal confirmation by the relevant Procurator Fiscal. The presence of mephedrone has been confirmed in a third case.

5.14. One case on Guernsey has provided positive post mortem toxicology results for mephedrone and is awaiting inquest.

5.15. One suspected case in Wales and a further case in Northern Ireland are awaiting toxicology and inquest.

5.16. The UK number of cases are subject to several caveats:

  • Not all suspected cases may have been identified;
  • That mephedrone may have been involved in a death cannot be confirmed until the relevant coroner or Procurator Fiscal has concluded her/his inquest or other formal inquiry; and,
  • The presence of mephedrone in post mortem toxicology does not necessarily imply that it caused or contributed to a death.

5.17. Mephedrone has been linked to the death of an 18-year old girl in Sweden (Gustaffsson and Escher, 2009). The report (December 2008) indicates that she had taken mephedrone and smoked cannabis. The woman was observed to first become sick and then unconscious. Forensic autopsy showed severe brain swelling, preceded by respiratory and circulatory arrest. No other sedatives, narcotics or alcohol were detected in the blood.

Chronic toxicity

5.18. There are so far no reports of the potential harmful effects of the long term use of mephedrone and related cathinones because the substances have only been used in recent months in the UK.


5.19. Reports from a case study of mephedrone use (Linell, 2010) suggest that users can become regular users rapidly, although they are generally not in a ‘state of dependency’. However, this conclusion contrasts with the same report whereby users knew people who became daily users. Some users have reported developing cravings for mephedrone, methylone and MDPV after use. Arguing again by analogy with amphetamines, it is clear that the chronic use of amphetamines can lead to dependence, and a downward cycle of bingeing and periods of recovery associated with depression (ACMD, 2005), therefore it is likely that mephedrone use carries a similar risk of dependency.

5.20. Dargan and Wood (2010) report a single case of dependency on mephedrone in Glasgow where the individual had been using the drug for 18 months.

5.21. Data are not available on the number of individuals in treatment services related to the cathinones. However, the evidence suggests that the number is likely to be very small at the time of writing.

6. Societal Harms


6.1. The current prevalence of mephedrone and the related cathinones is not accurately known. Reports from drugs agencies, drug researchers, criminal justice, public health (Talk to FRANK) and education professionals suggest that mephedrone use appears to be very widespread and is growing. From emergence to current levels of usage, commentators have suggested that the rise in mephedrone use is unprecedented. Namely within a year it has risen from a very low baseline to become popular amongst adolescents and adults.

Young people

6.2. Media reports from the 8th March indicate that secondary school children were missing classes due to the use of the drug mephedrone causing sickness. The DCSF minister of State for Schools and Learners has written to schools. In the letter it makes clear that they do have the power to confiscate inappropriate items including a substance that they believe to be mephedrone (or any other drug, whatever its legal status); in line with the school’s behaviour policy and that such items do not need to be returned.

6.3. Mephedrone is sold by online retailers for an average price of £10/g. Given that users take approximately one gram over the course of a session, this makes the drug relatively cheap compared with other intoxicants, as well as being more easily available than alcohol and cigarettes for under 18 year olds who have access to the internet or a high street ‘head shop’.

6.4. There is some evidence that use has escalated following media reports. For example, Google Trends (which collates Google searches) shows that UK Google searches have increased from a very low base in the last twelve months (see paragraph 4.17), with peaks which coincide with media coverage of mephedrone use and deaths where mephedrone might be implicated. The most popular Google search term is for the words “buy mephedrone online”, with four of the top five search terms containing the words “buy” and “mephedrone”. Furthermore online mephedrone retailers have reported an increase in sales following media coverage (The Guadian, 2009)

Anti-social behaviour / acquisitive crime

6.5. The ACMD has been presented with two recent cases where mephedrone users have reported that their use was funded by acquisitive crime (robbery and burglary). At present there remains only limited evidence of a relationship between mephedrone and anti-social behaviour; mainly related to the open dealing and consumption of mephedrone. Notwithstanding the legal implications, the dealing in unspecified white powders for the purposes of intoxication can amount to a public nuisance with a detrimental impact on public confidence.

Organised crime

6.6. There are indications that criminal groups are becoming involved in the supply of mephedrone to the public in the UK (SOCA, 2010). At present the mephedrone retail trade operates mainly through internet importation and distribution and ‘head shops’. However, there are reports of some UK drug suppliers selling mephedrone in dance clubs and at street level either as well as, or instead of cocaine and MDMA, due to mephedrone’s relatively low price, high purity and easy availability. Reports from Guernsey, where importation is currently banned (and prices are reported to be considerably higher), suggest that a street trade in mephedrone has developed. Reports from Guernsey customs officials note that supply is through illegal drug suppliers and incidences of violence have emerged associated with the street trade in mephedrone (McVean, 2010).


6.7. It is reported that some users are planning to buy large quantities of mephedrone to ‘stockpile’ for future use and future sale should regulation be introduced (Measham et al., 2010; ACPO, pers. comm.). This could lead to an illegal supply of mephedrone coming on to the market should it be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Consumption patterns

6.8. It is of concern that there are reports that users of mephedrone have a tendency to re-dose (or ‘fiending’) and for some individuals the consumption of mephedrone is alone at home (Newcombe, 2010; Linnell, 2010). Together these two features of mephedrone consumption patterns may expose users to increased risks such as overdose or cardiovascular problems.

7. Current controls

Present UK controls

7.1. Cathinone (Class C), methcathinone (Class B), diethylpropion (Class C) and pyrovalerone (Class C) are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. However, other derivatives and analogues are not presently controlled (including mephedrone).

7.2. Although paragraph 1(c) of Part 1 (Schedule 2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 offers some scope for the control of substances which are structurally related to the phenethylamine backbone, it is primarily concerned with ring-substituted amphetamine-like compounds. Specifically, no mention is made of the presence of any substituents (other than hydrogen) at the ß-carbon of the phenethylamine backbone (recall that the cathinones all possess a ß-ketone oxygen; see Figure 1).

7.3. Irrespective of whether controls for the cathinones are implemented under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the rapidity and easy availability of mephedrone and other cathinones (including websites set up so that vendors that can deliver to individual addresses) does raise the question of whether other legislation and regulation should be available.

International Control

7.4. Some of the substituted cathinones could conceivably be considered as being ‘structurally similar’ to cathinone and methcathinone, which are both already listed in Schedule 1 of the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971. It is therefore possible that some cathinones could be controlled through the implementation of analogue control where such control mechanisms exist.

7.5. Denmark controls a number of cathinones, including mephedrone, methylone and MDPV. Mephedrone has been controlled in Sweden since December 2008; the Swedish authorities have indicated that they also intend to classify MDPV and butylone. Mephedrone is controlled (as a medicinal product) in Finland, and it is anticipated that it will shortly be controlled in Germany, since the German Federal Cabinet made a decision to subordinate a number of materials to the Betäubungsmittelgesetz in January 2009. Methylone is also controlled in the Netherlands.

8. Public Health

8.1. The FRANK campaign (see also paragraph 4.16) provides information on the potential risks of taking cathinone compounds and there was also a recent campaign to highlight the dangers of ‘legal highs’ (‘Crazy Chemist’).

8.2. Lifeline have produced an information leaflet that provides harm reduction advice specific to mephedrone and answers frequently asked questions from users or potential users (Lifeline, 2010). The ACMD is also aware that CairScotland have produced and distributed information leaflets warning of the dangers of these substances (CairScotland, 2010).

8.3. Other than the above there is presently a limited amount of public health information regarding mephedrone and the cathinones. Although recent media profile has presented much apparent public health information it is not always credible or consistent.

9. Conclusions And Recommendations

9.1. Although the current prevalence of mephedrone and related cathionones is relatively low in the UK, use appears to have grown rapidly in the past year.

9.2. The ACMD would like to emphasise that mephedrone and the related cathinones are likely to be harmful to users and in tandem with control mechanisms there should be a credible and comprehensive public health campaign. The messages promulgated by FRANK provide a good basis upon which this should be built.
Control and regulation

9.3. The ACMD consider that the harms associated with mephedrone and the cathinones are commensurate with the amphetamines and therefore those substances in Class B; therefore the ACMD recommend that the cathinones be controlled as Class B substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

9.4. The ACMD recommend that, excluding the four compounds already controlled (see paragraph 2.2) and the API Bupropion, the cathinones should be controlled by a generic definition under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – see Annex A, p31, and in schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.

9.5. The naphthyl analogue of pyrovalerone is now advertised on the Internet and is being retailed as “NRG-1”. The ACMD intend to review these substances and provide further advice at a later date.

9.6. The ACMD recommend that the government implement appropriate additional controls and regulation of the cathinones (which would include mephedrone) through, for example:

  • Import controls
  • Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA)

9.7 The ACMD understand that to implement import controls is not administratively burdensome and would stop non-EU imports; where it is understood much of the importated cathinones originate from. The ACMD also believe that SOCA have a role in informing suppliers of the cathinones of the implementation of import controls, trading standards and, if implemented, forthcoming control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

9.8. The ACMD notes that the cathinones have no efficacy as plant fertiliser products or as bath salts and could be the subject of a prosecution under the Trade Descriptions legislation.

Public Health

9.9. Directors of public health in PCTs should be tasked with cascading information to raise awareness of the cathinones – symptoms of use and information on where to seek advice – among GP’s, A&E departments, medical directors / advisors and others as appropriate.

9.10. The ACMD recommends that all agencies involved in the health, education and rehabilitation of young persons should disseminate information, in appropriate formats, as provided by the Department of Health and Home Office, as to the risks of using mephedrone (and associated compounds). We include in this Drug Action Teams (and equivalents e.g. DAATs in the Devolved Administrations), Childrens’ Trust Boards, Youth Offending Teams and Schools.

9.11. We recommend that the FRANK webpages related to the cathinones are given due prominence and that supplementary educational material is easily available. The information provided should be credible and consistent.

9.12. In relation to 9.9-9.11 it is important that the risks of mixing these drugs with other substances (including alcohol) are highlighted.

9.13. The ACMD are presently identifying information streams to update ministers and provide information on both emerging drugs of misuse and emerging trends concerning established illegal drugs. The ACMD consider that this work will assist it in advising on ‘legal highs’ in the future. Among other measures, the continuing development of datasets from drug amnesty bins will contribute to providing an early warning of such emerging trends.

9.14. Appropriate treatment advice and provision should be available to those who have developed cathinones-related problems of which health professionals and drugs service providers should be aware.


9.15. Present forensic analytical testing of the cathinones is expensive and a process that can take some time. Currently, there is no simple drug field test available for cathinones. There is an urgent need to develop a simple and reliable field test.

9.16. For the purposes of identification of cathinone derivatives by forensic providers and pathology laboratories, and the development of drug field tests, there is an urgent need to develop and make available a library of reference standards.

9.17. There is presently a lack of data concerning the involvement of the cathinones in drug-related deaths (DRDs). Therefore, we recommend that the Ministry of Justice approach Her Majesty’s Coroners to include, in the case of suspected DRDs, tests for the cathinones.

9.18. The ACMD welcome the collation of a joint report initiated by the European Drug Centre for Drugs and Drud Addiction (EMCDDA) in respect of mephedrone. However, we understand that this review will be limited in scope to mephedrone as an individual compound. The purpose of the present report is to review the broad spectrum of cathinone derivatives already encountered in the UK and to provide advice to ministers at the earliest opportunity. The ACMD will keep under consideration all emerging evidence including the EMCDDA’s forthcoming report(s) and will provide further advice to ministers accordingly.

9.19. There is a need for more basic research to examine the similarities and differences between the cathinones and their amphetamine equivalents.

9.20. We welcome the inclusion of a specific question on mephedrone in the British Crime Survey to develop the knowledge base on prevalence. The ACMD also recommends more social research to inform our understanding of drug trends, motivations for drug use, fluctuations in demand, and policy implications regarding deterrence, displacement and desistence.

9.21. The ACMD would welcome the continuing collation of data sets concerning toxicity, clinical case reports and dependence liability collected from hospital admissions and treatment services.

10. References (Including Written And Oral Evidence

ACMD, 2009. MDMA (‘ecstasy’): a review of its harms and classification under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. ISBN 978-1-84726-868-6

ACMD, 2005. Methylamphetamine Review.CairScotland, 2010. Report to the ACMD.

Cozzi, N.V., Sievert, M.K., Shulgin, A.T., Jacobill, P. and Ruoho, A.E. (1999) Inhibition of plasma membrane monoamine transporters by beta-ketoamphetamines. European Journal of Pharmacology. 381: 63-69.

Dal Cason, T.A., Young, R and Glennon R.A. (1997) Cathinone: an investigation of several N-alkyl and methylenedioxy substituted analogs. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 58: 1109-1120

Druglink March/April 2009. Mephedrone: The future of drug dealing?

Druglink. January/February 2010. Teenage Kicks. Vol 25. Issue 1.

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Posted in Drugs, Legislation | Tagged 3-FMC, ACMD, addiction, butylone, cathinone, chemistry, dependance, government report, khat, mdpv, mephedrone, methylone, scociety, side effects |

The Economics Of Crack Dealing

I’m currently reading Freakonomics, a great book about all sorts of interesting things. There’s no single theme or thread to tie it all together, but each chapter takes a look at some weird question or other. Examples include “What do the Klu Klux Klan and estate agents have in common?”, “How can your name affect how well you do in life?” and “Why do crack dealers live with their mothers?”

I’ve just finished the chapter on crack, so I thought I’d put that up here for y’all to read. It’s quite long, but worth it:



The sudden, violent appearance of crack cocaine had police departments across the country scrapping for resources. They made it known that it wasn’t a fair fight: the drug dealers were armed with state-of-the-art weapons and a bottomless supply of cash. This emphasis on illicit cash proved to be a winning effort, for nothing infuriated the law-abiding populace more than the image of the millionaire crack dealer. The media eagerly glommed on to this story, portraying crack dealing as one of the most profitable jobs in America.

But if you were to have spent a little time around the housing projects where crack was so often sold, you might have noticed something strange: not only did most of the crack dealers still live in the projects, but most of them still lived at home with their moms. And then you may have scratched your head and said, “Why is that?”

The answer lies in finding the right data, and the secret to finding the right data usually means finding the right person—more easily said than done. Drug dealers are rarely trained in economics, and economists rarely hang out with crack dealers. So the answer to this question begins with finding someone who did walk among the drug dealers and managed to walk away with the secrets of their trade.

Sudhir Venkatesh—his boyhood friends called him Sid, but he has since reverted to Sudhir—was born in India, raised in the suburbs of upstate New York and southern California, and graduated from the University of California at San Diego with a degree in mathematics. III 1989 he began to pursue his PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago. He was interested in understanding how young people form their identities; to that end, he had just spent three months following the Grateful Dead around the country. What he was not interested in was the gruelling fieldwork that typifies sociology.

But his graduate advisor, the eminent poverty scholar William Julius Wilson, promptly sent Venkatesh into the field. His assignment: to visit Chicago’s poorest black neighborhoods with a clipboard and a seventy-question, multiple-choice survey. This was the first question on the survey:

How do you feel about being black and poor?

  1. Very bad
  2. Bad
  3. Neither bad nor good
  4. Somewhat good
  5. Very good

One day Venkatesh walked twenty blocks from the university to a housing project on the shore of Lake Michigan to administer his survey. The project comprised three sixteen-story buildings made of yellow-gray brick. Venkatesh soon discovered that the names and addresses he had been given were badly outdated. These buildings were condemned, practically abandoned. Some families lived on the lower floors, pirating water and electricity, but the elevators didn’t work. Neither did the lights in the stairwell. It was late afternoon in early winter, nearly dark outside.

Venkatesh, who is a thoughtful, handsome, and well built but not aberrationally brave person, had made his way up to the sixth floor, frying to find someone willing to take his survey. Suddenly, on the stairwell landing, he startled a group of teenagers shooting dice. They turned out to be a gang of junior-level crack dealers who operated out of the building, and they were not happy to see him.

“I’m a student at the University of Chicago,” Venkatesh sputtered, sticking to his survey script, “and I am administering—”

“Fuck you, nigger, what are you doing in our stairwell?”

There was an ongoing gang war in Chicago. Things had been violent lately, with shootings nearly every day. This gang, a branch of the Black Gangster Disciple Nation, was plainly on edge. They didn’t know what to make of Venkatesh. He didn’t seem to be a member of a rival gang. But maybe he was some kind of spy? He certainly wasn’t a cop. He wasn’t black, wasn’t white. He wasn’t exactly threatening—he was armed only with his clipboard—but he didn’t seem quite harmless either. Thanks to his three months trailing the Grateful Dead, he still looked, as he would later put it, “like a genuine freak, with hair down to my ass,”

The gang members started arguing over what should be done with Venkatesh. Let him go? But if he did tell the rival gang about this stairwell hangout, they’d be susceptible to a surprise attack. One jittery kid kept wagging something back and forth in his hands—in the dimming light, Venkatesh eventually realized it was a gun—and muttering, “Let me have him, let me have him.” Venkatesh was very, very scared.

The crowd grew, bigger and louder. Then an older gang member appeared. He snatched the clipboard from Venkatesh’s hands and, when he saw that it was a written questionnaire, looked puzzled.

“I can’t read any of this shit,” he said.

“That’s because you can’t read” said one of the teenagers, and everyone laughed at the older gangster.

He told Venkatesh to go ahead and ask him a question from the survey. Venkatesh led with the how-does-it-feel-to-be-black-and-poor question. It was met with a round of guffaws, some angrier than others. As Venkatesh would later tell his university colleagues, he realized that the multiple-choice answers A through E were insufficient. In reality, he now knew, the answers should have looked like this:

  1. Very bad
  2. Bad
  3. Neither bad nor good
  4. Somewhat good
  5. Very good
  6. Fuck you

Just as things were looking their bleakest for Venkatesh, another man appeared. This was J. T., the gang’s leader. J. T. wanted to know what was going on. Then he told Venkatesh to read him the survey question. He listened but then said he couldn’t answer the question because he wasn’t black.

“Well then,” Venkatesh said, “how does it feel to be African American and poor?”

“I ain’t no African American either, you idiot. I’m a nigger” J. T then administered a lively though not unfriendly taxonomical lesson in “nigger” versus “African American” versus “black.” When he was through, there was an awkward silence. Still nobody seemed to know what to do with Venkatesh. J. T, who was in his late twenties, had cooled down his subordinates, but he didn’t seem to want to interfere directly with their catch. Darkness fell and J. T. left. “People don’t come out of here alive,” the jittery teenager with the gun told Venkatesh. “You know that, don’t you?”

As night deepened, his captors eased up. They gave Venkatesh one of their beers, and then another and another. When he had to pee, he went where they went—on the stairwell landing one floor up. J. T stopped by a few times during the night but didn’t have much to say. Daybreak came and then noon. Venkatesh would occasionally try to discuss his survey, but the young crack dealers just laughed and told him how stupid his questions were. Finally, nearly twenty-four hours after Venkatesh stumbled upon them, they set him free.

He went home and took a shower. He was relieved but he was also curious. It struck Venkatesh that most people, including him sell; had never given much thought to the daily life of ghetto criminals. He was now eager to learn how the Black Disciples worked, from top to bottom.

After a few hours, he decided to walk back to the housing project. By now he had thought of some better questions to ask.


Mmmm. Delicious Crack.

Having seen first hand that the conventional method of data gathering was in this case absurd, Venkatesh vowed to scrap his questionnaire and embed himself with the gang. He tracked down J. T. and sketched out his proposal. J. T. thought Venkatesh was crazy, literally—a university student wanting to cozy up to a crack gang? But he also admired what Venkatesh was after. As it happened, J. T. was a college graduate himself, a business major. After college, he had taken a job in the Loop, working in the marketing department of a company that sold office equipment. But he felt so out of place there—like a white man working at Afro Sheen headquarters, he liked to say—that he quit. Still, he never forgot what he learned. He knew the importance of collecting data and finding new markets; he was always on the lookout for better management strategies. It was no coincidence, in other words, that J. T. was the leader of this crack gang. He was bred to be a boss.

After some wrangling, J. T. promised Venkatesh unfettered access to the gangs operations as long as J. T. retained veto power over any information that, if published, might prove harmful.

When the yellow-gray buildings on the lakefront were demolished, shortly after Venkatesh’s first visit, the gang relocated to another housing project even deeper in Chicago’s south side. For the next six years, Venkatesh practically lived there. Under J. T.’s protection he watched the gang members up close, at work and at home. He asked endless questions. Sometimes the gangsters were annoyed by his curiosity, more often they took advantage of his willingness to listen. “It’s a war out here, man,” one dealer told him. “I mean, every day people struggling to survive, so you know, we just do what we can. We ain’t got no choice, and if that means getting killed, well shit, it’s what niggers do around here to feed their family.”

Venkatesh would move from one family to the next, washing their dinner dishes and sleeping on the floor. He bought toys for their children; he once watched a woman use her baby’s bib to sop up the blood of a teenage drug dealer who was shot to death in front of Venkatesh. William Julius Wilson, back at the U. of C, was having regular nightmares on Venkatesh’s behalf.

Over the years the gang endured bloody turf wars and, eventually, a federal indictment. A member named Booty, who was one rank beneath J. T., came to Venkatesh with a story. Booty was being blamed by the rest of the gang for bringing about the indictment, he told Venkatesh, and therefore suspected that he would soon be killed. (He was right.) But first Booty wanted to do a little atoning. For all the gang’s talk about how crack dealing didn’t do any harm—they even liked to brag that it kept black money in the black community— Booty was feeling guilty. He wanted to leave behind something that might somehow benefit the next generation. He handed Venkatesh a stack of well-worn spiral notebooks—blue and black, the gang’s colors. They represented a complete record of four years’ worth of the gang’s financial transactions. At J. T.’s direction, the ledgers had been rigorously compiled: sales, wages, dues, even the death benefits paid out to the families of murdered members.

At first Venkatesh didn’t even want the notebooks. What if the Feds found out he had them—perhaps he’d be indicted too? Besides, what was he supposed to do with the data? Despite his math background, he had long ago stopped thinking in numbers.

Upon completing his graduate work at the University of Chicago, Venkatesh was awarded a three-year stay at Harvard’s Society of Fellows. Its environment of sharp thinking and bonhomie—the walnut panelling, the sherry cart once owned by Oliver Wendell Holmes— delighted Venkatesh. He went so tar as to become the society’s wine steward. And yet he regularly left Cambridge, returning again and again to the crack gang in Chicago. This street-level research made Venkatesh something of an anomaly. Most of the other young Fellows were dyed-in-the-tweed intellectuals who liked to pun in Greek.

One of the society’s aims was to bring together scholars from various fields who might not otherwise have occasion to meet. Venkatesh soon encountered another anomalous young Fellow, one who also failed the society stereotype. This one happened to be an economist who, instead of thinking grand macro thoughts, favored his own list of offbeat micro curiosities. At the very top of his list was crime. And so, within ten minutes of their meeting, Sudhir Venkatesh told Steven Levitt about the spiral notebooks from Chicago and they decided to collaborate on a paper. It would be the first time that such priceless financial data had fallen into an economist’s hands, affording an analysis of a heretofore uncharted criminal enterprise.

So how did the gang work? An awful lot like most American businesses, actually, though perhaps none more so than McDonald’s. In fact, if you were to hold a McDonald’s organizational chart and a Black Disciples org chart side by side, you could hardly tell the difference.

The gang that Venkatesh had fallen in with was one of about a hundred branches—franchises, really—of a larger Black Disciples organization. J. T, the college-educated leader of his franchise, reported to a central leadership of about twenty men that was called, without irony, the board of directors. (At the same time that white suburbanites were studiously mimicking black rappers’ ghetto culture, black ghetto criminals were studiously mimicking the suburbanites’ dads’ corp-think.) J. T paid the board of directors nearly 20 percent of his revenues for the right to sell crack in a designated twelve-square-block area. The rest of the money was his to distribute as he saw fit.

Three officers reported directly to J. T: an enforcer (who ensured die gang members’ safety), a treasurer (who watched over the gang’s liquid assets), and a runner (who transported large quantities of drugs and money to and from the supplier). Beneath the officers were the street-level salesmen known as foot soldiers. The goal of a foot soldier was to someday become an officer. J. T. might have had anywhere from twenty-five to seventy-five foot soldiers on his payroll at any given time, depending on the time of year (autumn was the best crack selling season; summer and Christmastime were slow) and the size of the gang’s territory (which doubled at one point when the Black Disciples engineered a hostile takeover of a rival gang’s turf). At the very bottom of J. T.’s organization were as many as two hundred members known as the rank and file. They were not employees at all. They did, however, pay dues to the gang—some for protection from rival gangs, others for the chance to eventually earn a job as a foot soldier.

The four years recorded in the gang’s notebooks coincided with the peak years of the crack boom, and business was excellent. J. T’s franchise quadrupled its revenues during this period. In the first year. it took in an average of S18,500 each month; by the final year, it was collecting 568,400 a month. Here’s a look at the monthly revenues in die third year:


Pictured: "The Crack Boom"

Drug sales$24,800
Extortionary taxes$2,100
Total monthly revenues$32,000

“Drug sales” represents only the money from dealing crack cocaine. The gang did allow some rank-and-file members to sell heroin on its turf but accepted a fixed licensing fee in lieu of a share of profits. (This was off-the-books money and went straight into J. T.’s pocket; he probably skimmed from other sources as well.) The $5,100 in dues came from rank-and-file members only, since full gang members didn’t pay dues. The extortionary taxes were paid by other businesses that operated on the gang’s turf, including grocery stores, gypsy cabs, pimps, and people selling stolen goods or repairing cars on the street.

Now, here’s what it cost J. T., excluding wages, to bring in that $532,000 per month:

Wholesale cost of drugs$5,000
Board of directors fee$5,000
Mercenary fighters$1,300
Total monthly nonwage costs$$14,000

Mercenary fighters were nonmembers hired on short-term contracts to help the gang fight turf wars. The cost of weapons is small here because the Black Disciples had a side deal with local gunrunners, helping them navigate the neighborhood in exchange for free or steeply discounted guns. The miscellaneous expenses include legal fees, parties, bribes, and gang-sponsored “community events.” (The Black Disciples worked hard to be seen as a pillar rather than a scourge of the housing-project community.) The miscellaneous expenses also include the costs associated with a gang member’s murder. The gang not only paid for the funeral but often gave a stipend of up to three years’ wages to the victim’s family. Venkatesh had once asked why the gang was so generous in this regard. “That’s a fucking stupid question,” he was told, “’cause as long as you been with us, you still don’t understand that their families is our families. We can’t just leave ’em out. We been knowing these folks our whole lives, man, so we grieve when they grieve. You got to respect the family.” There was another reason for the death benefits: the gang feared community backlash (its enterprise was plainly a destructive one) and figured it could buy some goodwill for a few hundred dollars here and there. The rest of the money the gang took in went to its members, starting with J. T. Here is the single line item in the gang’s budget that made J. T. the happiest:

Net monthly profit accruing to leader $8,500

At $8,500 per month, J.T.’s annual salary was about $100,000— tax-free, of course, and not including the various off-the-books money he pocketed. This was a lot more than he earned at his shortlived office job in the Loop. And J. T was just one of roughly 100 leaders at this level within the Black Disciples network. So there were indeed some drug dealers who could afford to live large, or—in the case of the gang’s board of directors—extremely large. Each of those top 20 bosses stood to earn about $500,000 a year. (A third of them, however, were typically imprisoned at any time, a significant downside of an up position in an illicit industry.)

So the top 120 men on the Black Disciples’ pyramid were paid very well. But the pyramid they sat atop was gigantic. Using J. T.’s franchise as a yardstick—3 officers and roughly 50 foot soldiers— there were some 5,300 other men working for those 120 bosses. Then there were another 20,000 unpaid rank-and-file members, many of whom wanted nothing more than an opportunity to become a foot soldier. They were even willing to pay gang dues to have their chance.

And how well did that dream job pay? Here are the monthly totals for the wages that J. T paid his gang members:

Combined wages paid to all three officers$2,100
Combined wages paid to all foot soldiers$7,400
Total monthly gang wages (excluding leader)$9,500

So J. T. paid his employees $9,500, a combined monthly salary that was only $1,000 more than his own official salary. J. T.’s hourly wage was $66. His three officers, meanwhile, each cook home $700 a month, which works out to about $7 an hour. And the foot soldiers earned just $3.30 an hour, less than the minimum wage. So the answer to the original question—if drug dealers make so much money, why are they still living with their mothers?—is that, except for the top cats, they don’t make much money. They had no choice but to live with their mothers. For every big earner, there were hundreds more just scraping along. The top 120 men in the Black Disciples gang represented just 2.2 percent of the full-fledged gang membership but took home well more than half the money.

In other words, a crack gang works pretty much like the standard capitalist enterprise: you have to be near the top of the pyramid to make a big wage. Notwithstanding the leadership’s rhetoric about the family nature of the business, the gang’s wages are about as skewed as wages in corporate America. A foot soldier had plenty in common with a McDonald’s burger flipper or a Wal-Mart shelf stocker. In fact, most of J. T.’s foot soldiers also held minimum-wage jobs in the legitimate sector to supplement their skimpy illicit earnings. The leader of another crack gang once told Venkatesh that he could easily afford to pay his foot soldiers more, but it wouldn’t be prudent. “You got all these niggers below you who want your job, you dig?” he said. “So, you know, you try to take care of them, but you know, you also have to show them you the boss. You always have to get yours first, or else you really ain’t no leader. If you start taking losses, they see you as weak and shit.”

Along with the bad pay the foot soldiers faced terrible job conditions. For starters, they had to stand on a street corner all day and do business with crackheads. (The gang members were strongly advised against using the product themselves, advice that was enforced by beatings if necessary.) Foot soldiers also risked arrest and, more worrisome, violence. Using the gang’s financial documents and the rest of Venkatesh’s research, it is possible to construct an adverse-events index of J. T.’s gang during the four years in question. The results are astonishingly bleak. If you were a member of J. T.’s gang for all four years, here is the typical fate you would have faced during that period:

Number of times arrested5-9
Number of nonfatal wounds or injuries2.4
Chance of being killed1 in 4

A l-in-4 chance of being killed! Compare these odds to being a timber cutter, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the most dangerous job in the United States. Over four years’ time, a timber cutter would stand only a 1 in 200 chance of being killed. Or compare the crack dealer’s odds to those of a death row inmate in Texas, which executes more prisoners than any other state. In 2003, Texas put to death twenty-four inmates—or just 5 percent of the nearly 500 inmates on its death row during that time. Which means that you stand a greater chance of dying while dealing crack in a Chicago housing project than you do while sitting on death row in Texas.

So if crack dealing is the most dangerous job in America, and if the salary is only $3.30 an hour, why on earth would anyone take such a job?

Well, for the same reason that a pretty Wisconsin farm girl moves to Hollywood. For the same reason that a high-school quarterback wakes up at 5 a.m. to lift weights. They all want to succeed in an extremely competitive field in which, if you reach the top, you are paid a fortune (to say nothing of the attendant glory and power).

To the kids growing up in a housing project on Chicago’s south side, crack dealing was a glamour profession. For many of them, the job of gang boss—highly visible and highly lucrative—was easily the best job they thought they had access to. Had they grown up under different circumstances, they might have thought about becoming economists or writers. But in the neighborhood where J. T.’s gang operated, the path to a decent legitimate job was practically invisible. Fifty-six percent of the neighborhood’s children lived below the poverty line (compared to a national average of 18 percent). Seventy eight percent came from single-parent homes. Fewer than 5 percent of the neighborhood’s adults had a college degree; barely one in three adult men worked at all. The neighborhood’s median income was about $5,000 a year, well less than half the U.S. average. During the years that Venkatesh lived with J. T.’s gang, foot soldiers often asked his help in landing what they called “a good job”: working as a janitor at the University of Chicago.

The problem with crack dealing is the same as in every other glamour profession: a lot of people are competing for a very few prizes. Earning big money in the crack gang wasn’t much more likely than the Wisconsin farm girl becoming a movie star or the high-school quarterback playing in the NFL. But criminals, like everyone else, respond to incentives. So if the prize is big enough, the}’will form a line down the block just hoping for a chance. On the south side of Chicago, people wanting to sell crack vastly outnumbered the available street corners.

These budding drug lords bumped up against an immutable law of labor: when there are a lot of people willing and able to do a job, that job generally doesn’t pay well. This is one of four meaningful factors that determine a wage. The others are the specialized skills a job requires, the unpleasantness of a job, and the demand for services that the job fulfills.

The delicate balance between these factors helps explain why, for instance, the typical prostitute earns more than the typical architect. It may not seem as though she should. The architect would appear to be more skilled (as the word is usually defined) and better educated (again, as usually defined). But little girls don’t grow up dreaming of becoming prostitutes, so the supply of potential prostitutes is relatively small. Their skills, while not necessarily “specialized,” are practised in a very specialized context. The fob is unpleasant and forbidding in at least two significant ways: the likelihood of violence and the lost opportunity of having a stable family life. As for demand? Let’s just say that an architect is more likely to hire a prostitute than vice versa.

The rules of a tournament are straightforward. You must start at the bottom to have a shot at the top. (Just as a Major League shortstop probably played Little League and just as a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan probably started out as a lowly spear-carrier, a drug lord typically began by selling drugs on a street corner.) You must be willing to work long and hard at substandard wages. In order to advance in the tournament, you must prove yourself not merely above average but spectacular. (The way to distinguish yourself differs from profession to profession, of course; while J. T. certainly monitored his foot soldiers’ sales performance, it was their force of personality that really counted—more than it would for, say, a shortstop.) And finally, once you come to the sad realization that you will never make it to the top, you will quit the tournament. (Some people hang on longer than others—witness the graying “actors” who wait tables in New York— but people generally get the message quite early.)

Most of J. T.’s foot soldiers were unwilling to stay foot soldiers for long after they realized they weren’t advancing. Especially once the shooting started. After several relatively peaceful years, J. T.’s gang got involved in a turf war with a neighboring gang. Drive-by shootings became a daily event. For a foot soldier—the gang’s man on the street—this development was particularly dangerous. The nature of the business demanded that customers be able to find him easily and quickly, if he hid from the other gang, he couldn’t sell his crack.

Until the gang war, J. T.’s foot soldiers had been willing to balance the risky, low-paying job with the reward of advancement. But as one foot soldier told Venkatesh, he now wanted to be compensated for the added risk: “Would you stand around here when all this shit is going on? No, right? So if I gonna be asked to put my life on the line, then front me the cash, man. Pay me more ’cause it ain’t worth my time to be here when they’re warring.”

J.T. hadn’t wanted this war. For one thing, he was forced to pay his foot soldiers higher wages because of the added risk. Far worse, gang warfare was bad for business. If Burger King and McDonald’s launch a price war to gain market share, they partly make up in volume what they lose in price. (Nor is anyone getting shot.) But with a gang war, sales plummet because customers are so scared of the violence that they wont come out in the open to buy their crack. In everyway, war was expensive for J. T.

So why did he start the war? As a matter of fact, he didn’t. It was his foot soldiers who started it. It turns out that a crack boss didn’t have as much control over his subordinates as he would have liked. That’s because they had different incentives.

For J. T., violence was a distraction from the business at hand; he would have preferred that his members never fired a single gunshot. For a foot soldier, however, violence served a purpose. One of the few ways that a foot soldier could distinguish himself—and advance in the tournament—was by proving his mettle for violence. A killer was respected, feared, talked about. A foot soldier’s incentive was to make a name for himself, J. T.’s incentive was, in effect, to keep the foot soldiers from doing so. “We try to tell these shorties that they belong to a serious organization,” he once told Venkatesh. “It ain’t all about killing. They see these movies and shit, they think it’s all about running around tearing shit up. But it’s not. You’ve got to learn to be part of an organization; you can’t be fighting all the time. It’s bad for business.”

Gang Violence

Bad Fo' Bizniz.

In the end, J. T. prevailed. He oversaw the gang’s expansion and ushered in a new era of prosperity and relative peace. J. T. was a winner. He was paid well because so few people could do what he did. He was a tall, good-looking, smart, tough man who knew how to motivate people. He was shrewd too, never tempting arrest by carrying guns or cash. While the rest of his gang lived in poverty with their mothers, J. T. had several homes, several women, several cars. He also had his business education, of course. He constantly worked to extend this advantage. That was why he ordered the corporate-style bookkeeping that eventually found its way into Sudhir Venkatesh’s hands. No other franchise leader had ever done such a thing. J. T once showed his ledgers to the board of directors to prove, as if proof were needed, the extent of his business acumen.

And it worked. After six years running his local gang, J. T. was promoted to the board of directors. He was now thirty-four years old. He had won the tournament. But this tournament had a catch that publishing and pro sports and even Hollywood don’t have. Selling drugs, after all, is illegal. Not long after he made the board of directors, the Black Disciples were essentially shut down by a federal indictment— the same indictment that led the gangster named Booty to turn over his notebooks to Venkatesh—and J. T. was sent to prison.


Be sure to check out their blog, buy a copy of Freakonomics and their latest book, Superfreakonomics..

Posted in Essays | Tagged books, cocaine, crack, dealing, economics, Freakonomics |

What Do You Lot Think About The Odd Vendor Link?

Capitalist Pig

Yes, I'm A Capitalist Pig. 😐

So, I keep getting emails from vendors of various substances offering increasing amounts of cash for advertising on this site. To be perfectly honest I could use a bit of extra cash since we’re saving up for a wedding. But, I’m not about to start advertising without asking your opinions first.

Here’s what I propose for the best outcome for us all. On individual pages, such as Mephedrone:
The Facts
and JWH-018 Toxicology, for example, I was thinking of including a single link to a single vendor, clearly marked out as an advert. Then, I’d be happy for people to email me with any bad feedback on those vendors, and we could get rid of the link together and wait for a better vendor to come along.

That way, there’s no hidden spammy links or otherwise tricking people into visiting a vendor’s site. It would be completely transparent and you lot all all get some say.

So what do you think? Love it? Hate it? Got a suggestion to improve the idea for everyone? Plz leave a comment!!1

By the way, if you hate it, I’ll have to look at other options, like a “Donate” button next to every awesome joke. Like that side-splitter below the image above. Or, how about this one:

Why did the mushroom go to the party?

Because he was a fungi.

Or this one:

A load of scientists are playing hide & seek in heaven. Einstein’s on and has nearly finished counting. 98. 99. 100. He opens his eyes and sees Newton standing there in plain view. Einstein immediately tags Newton – “Got you, you sociopathic alchemical bastard!”

“Not quite!” exclaims Newton. A smug grin starts to emerge. “You see, I’ve drawn a box around me on the floor who’s sides are of length one metre”.

“You’ve actually got one Newton per meter squared, so Pascal’s on!

Ho ho ho!

Quick edit: Thinking about it, a donate button might be another great way to benefit a few more people other than myself (not that I need your money to spend hundreds of pounds on several pairs of shoes for our wedding…). How about a single donate button down the bottom of the right hand side, but then we’ll give say 20% of each donation to charity, or at least a worthwhile organisation. 10% could be given to one of your choice from a select few and 10% could be given to one of my chosing, again from those select few. Some that spring to mind include Erowid, Drugs Forum or the Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason & Science (very much like the Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too).

Quick Edit #2: Perhaps we could earn a few donations… Like writing “[Your name] does drugz lolmayo!” in the sand of the Dominican Republic and taking a picture of us next to it. (Yes, we’re going there for our honeymoon…). We could even get those pix printed out on a mug or something for anyone particularly generous.

Other silly ideas welcome..

Posted in About This Site | Tagged advertising, money, vendors, wedding |

I Hate You All

Nice one, guys. Seriously.

You’ve all just cost me a shitload of money. Once again, I’ve been forced to hand over more cash to upgrade my web hosting packages, due to the blog’s precipitous, yet perfectly predictable peak in popularity.

Synchronium Server

"Would you like to host a blog?"

I suppose you aren’t the only ones to blame. If my logical, well thought out, excellently articulated ideas and opinions require upgrading the infrastructure necessary to pipe them to the masses, I suppose I’m at fault too, if only a little bit. If I was wrong about something just a fraction of the time, or I was a tiny bit less modest, then maybe I could have kept the money for that death ray I’ve had my eye on.

Actually, running out of bandwidth timed rather nicely with my JWH-018 Toxicology write-up receiving over 100 mostly sensible comments. Neither is worth writing about on its own, but both things happening within a few days of each other practically forced me to write a bit of an update post.  So here’s a graph, some stats, and a few mediocre blog-related achievements:

Here’s the site’s traffic for every month since time began (I certainly can’t remember a time before, and neither can you) to the end of January 2010. No actual numbers, but that’s some nice growth.

Sexy Statistics:

  • We’ve written 87 posts between us
  • Posts have rated 235 times with an average of score of 4.55
  • There are 714 comments approved so far
  • 9,178 spam comments have been dealt with
  • Tim is our top commentator, closely followed by MauiGreenDragon
  • Jo’s Hash Brownie Recipe has been viewed just over 100,000 times
  • My first post has only had 27 views to date 🙁
  • There are almost 10,000 links pointing to this site

Awesome Achievements

I’ve somehow convinced people that I know what I’m talking about

Thanks to my recent mephedrone coverage, I’ve given interviews and/or helped with research on the subject for BBC Radio, DrugScope and AOL, as well as a handful of smaller things like local or university newspapers or local radio stations. We also had the privilege of telling Jeremy Kyle to fuck off when he wanted to interview us for some (presumably terrible) legal highs “documentary”.

People keep nicking my shit

A lot of people have republished articles and images on their site without asking or linking back – the bastards. It seemed that every dickhead research chemical vendor who set up shop recently in an attempt to get rich quick has used my rather snazzy chemical structure images, and I’ve read more copied blog posts than I care to count. While definitely annoying, it’s also pretty cool to have created something worth nicking. One blog even had my entire RSS feed running down the right hand side for a while, but that was great, since each item linked back here multiple times. Which brings me onto…

People keep “licensing my content”

That’s basically the same as the above, but they ask me first and link back to the original article. (If you’re planning on nicking my shit, ask me first!)

We’ve stood up for the industry and druggies everywhere

Since Jo’s review on the second worst documentary ever made, Can I Get High Legally (the recent Horizon about infinity has to be the worst), we’ve published the views of a couple of interviewees, which tell a completely different story. Journalists occasionally mention that review when they get in touch, agreeing with us, or using that as an example of what they’re not trying to do. Are they trying to earn our trust? Maybe. I think the real reason is that my “Internet powers” scare the shit out of them. Well, maybe not.

We’ve had some interesting results in Google

First off, we immediately began to rank number one when searching for “synchronium”, above, which has been there since 2004. Funnily enough, that guy probably gets more traffic now than ever, since no one ever actually searched for “synchronium” before this site came along.

Google Image Search is where all the fun is at though. At one point, our picture of Neal’s Yard Remedies superimposed with a giant rubber duck was on the first page of results for their name, but not any more. When you search for Daniel Siebert (“the salvia guy”), near the top is a picture of Kenny G, thanks to this post. Finally, Mephedrone Cat has shown his cheeky little face on the first page of results when searching for “mephedrone”.

If things continue like this, I reckon I’ll be king of the Internet in approximately 4 years.  Thanks to all of you for participating!.

Posted in About This Site | Tagged bandwidth, media, statistics, traffic |

Legal Highs & Terrorism

This past week, there has been a series of devastating firebomb attacks on a number of pubs in the centre of Birmingham. These attacks were carried out by a militant Islamic group seeking to put an end to the “evils of alcohol”, as it is forbidden by their religion. In the weeks leading up to the attacks, each of the pubs targeted was issued a warning by the group, threatening serious consequences for those that didn’t shut down immediately. Other pubs in Birmingham have received a similar warning.

EthanolThe group has received sympathy and support from those addicted to the drug and the family and friends of those affected by alcohol.

Alcohol is a volatile and extremely flammable liquid that is used as an industrial solvent. Users commonly mix it with other liquids, or “soft drinks”, to mask the unpleasant taste and to prevent chemical burns to their mouth and throat. This mixture is referred to as a “hard drink”, drawing attention to the underlying violence and aggression associated with Britain’s depraved drink culture. Side effects such as dizziness, confusion, headaches and depression are reported by the majority of drinkers, especially following large doses.

The attacks have highlighted the addictive nature of alcohol and the danger it poses to society. Birmingham officials have responded by calling for the closure of all pubs in the city and trying to fast track legislation for a nationwide ban on alcohol.


Ahhhhhhhhh, just kidding! Kind of.

If you replace Birmingham with Ireland, militant Islamic group with paramilitary “vigilante” group known as the “Republican Action Against Drugs”, pub with headshop and alcohol with legal highs, then this is exactly the kind of bullshit story you might have read about these past few weeks.

Basically, a load of illegal drug dealers thinly veiled as a vigilante group are going round burning headshops down and in one case shooting someone who sold legal highs from his shop. These are acts of terrorism.

First off, the fact that these people are illegal drug dealers is speculation, but since half a million euros was found in the burnt out husk of just one of these headshops, it’s not hard to find a motive. They claim they’re against drugs in general, but no one who feels that drugs are so morally wrong would go out and shoot someone – a far more immoral crime. They’re either completely moral, completely immoral or completely nuts. The situation is chillingly similar to that Christian loon who shot that abortion doctor in the US.

"Hey! Guys! Get a hit of this crazy shit! Bring crisps."

That aside, the biggest issue is how these blatant acts of terrorism are being reported.  Just like my bullshit news story above (c’mon, you fell for it at least for a few seconds, right?), the reports on these headshop fires and shootings somehow manage to segue past the whole terrorism thing to focus on just how bad for us these shops are. Check out these quotes from the Irish Times:

On Friday, the Nirvana head shop and a number of neighbouring outlets on Capel Street were destroyed in a fire which began around the same time local residents reported hearing a loud bang coming from the outlet at 6am on Friday.

Gardaí are treating the Capel Street fire as arson although the exact cause of the blaze may never be known because most of the building has had to be demolished for safety reasons.

Although a link between the two fires has not yet been established there has been speculation that the incidents are related to a widespread campaign to outlaw such outlets.

Regulations which will outlaw a range of products sold as legal highs in head shops across the State are expected to be introduced later this year.

However, Mr Costello today called for legislation to be brought forward to outlaw such products within weeks.

“There has been real anger in the local community over the failure of the authorities to act in relation to head shops because a lot of young people around the area are customers buying products from them which mimic illegal drugs.

“It certainly seems too much of a coincidence that there has been two such fires within days, and there is a real concern that these shops are being targeted, and there is a worry that not enough action is being taken either to stop the selling of these products or to protect people living near head shops who could be hurt in a fire,” he added. (My emphasis)

What the hell, Mr Costello? Go and catch these terrorists! Not only does no one seem to care, but banning these products literally diverts more profit to people that support this kind of senseless violence..

Posted in Drugs | Tagged alcohol, headshops, legal highs, Republican Action Against Drugs, terrorism |

Music On Drugs

Everyone knows that music sounds better on drugs, right? Right. Sure, some drugs make music sound better than others, and some music is better suited to particular drugs. I can’t imagine a heroin user sitting back, shooting up and slapping on the latest happy hardcore vinyl, for example, but in general, music and drugs are regarded as an excellent combination.

Here’s what everybody’s hero, Carl Sagan had to say about cannabis and music:

A very similar improvement in my appreciation of music [compared with art] has occurred with cannabis. For the first time I have been able to hear the separate parts of a three-part harmony and the richness of the counterpoint. I have since discovered that professional musicians can quite easily keep many separate parts going simultaneously in their heads, but this was the first time for me. Again, the learning experience when high has at least to some extent carried over when I’m down.

Music Is The Drug
Since there’s such an obvious synergy between good music and good drugs, I thought I’d put together a littler series of posts reviewing some music that I reckon is essential to listen to while high. I’m not sure yet how it’s going to work – it might be single album recommendation, the odd collection of awesome tracks or focusing on one particular genre. I’m also not sure how frequent posts in this series will be. I’ll try to keep them pretty regular, but other more important stuff might crop up. I’ve created a new Music On Drugs category for these posts though, so they’ll all be in there.

This is the first post in that series, but today I’m not going to be suggesting any music – there’s a lot of preparation work to do before that!

Getting Your Shit Together

Before you can get the most out of your music, you’re going to need to spend a bit of money. Your auditorium (bedroom) needs to not only sound good, but also be comfortable and look great too. Luckily, you don’t need to spend a fortune to really improve the atmosphere.


This is important – you can’t get stoned sitting on a bar stool, so get yourself some kind of massive bean bag or reclining chair if your bed isn’t suitable. You’ll want to be lying down so you can just focus on what you’re listening to.

Excellent Aesthetics

If the only lighting options in your room are having a harsh energy saving bulb either on or off, then consider getting some other lighting before we begin. You can spend hundreds on amazing lighting technology, or you can get yourself a red light bulb for a couple of quid. Here are a tonne of options roughly ordered by price:

Salt Rock Lamp

If you play music through your computer, you might want to get yourself some great visualisations for whatever media player your using. I’d recommend G-Force.

Awesome Audio

You can NOT listen to any of the music I’ll be reviewing through shitty little PC speakers or built-in laptop speakers. You might think that they’re fine because you can hear all the words to your favourite Afroman song, but you are wrong. Luckily, you can get some adequate speakers for under £50. So long as you’ve got a subwoofer (or sub; a giant speaker who’s job is to pump out the kind of bass that’s inaudible through laptop speakers), you’ll be OK. I’d recommend these Logitech X-230 speakers, which will plug straight into your PC or laptop.

Logitech X-230 Speakers

Great, so you’ve got some speakers. Now you need to arrange them so they sound good. First pick out where you’ll be sitting to listen to your music, then arrange the left and right speakers symmetrically in front of you. Next, put your sub on top of a blanket or something. This will stop vibrations from the sub travelling through your walls or floor. Not only will this make the bass sound better, but it also won’t piss off the neighbours anywhere near as much, so you can turn it up even louder. Finally, make sure your speakers aren’t buried away at the back of your desk behind a load of crap. If sound waves have to navigate past old crisp packets, unpaid bills and ounces of weed, then the sound quality won’t be as good. If you’re going to spend the money on decent speakers, I’d also recommend actually buying (or at least illegally downloading) the music talked about. YouTube quality will not do it justice.

You’ve got at least a week to get yo’ shit together. In the mean time, here’s some more from Carl Sagan:


Posted in Music On Drugs | Tagged cannabis, Carl Sagan, heroin, lighting, music, sound quality, speakers |

Some More Excellent Editing By The BBC

ChargeSince we watched and reviewed that BBC documentary Can I Get High Legally? a while back, you may remember Matt Bowden, one of the people interviewed, had some much more interesting points to make than those they actually showed in the documentary. Chris from said a similar thing – they spent about three hours talking about all sorts of interesting stuff, which was edited down to a couple of sentences on Salvia divinorum and a joke about Horny Goat Weed.

I’ve recently been in touch with “Sam” (not his real name), the user of research chemicals interviewed at the end of the program, and it’s no surprise that the same thing happened to him too. He commented on our review saying “What a fucking farse. I sat there an hour giving them a detailed interview about the state of affairs in the industry and they cut it down to fuck all and made me look like a fool.” Since every research chemical user I’ve spoken to (excluding those only interested in mephedrone) have all been at least reasonably intelligent, and at least two other pro-drugs interviews were heavily edited, it seemed highly likely that Sam was telling the truth.

Once again, its down to me to report the full story. Here’s Sam’s recollection of the events:

They asked me about my drug history.  I explained about using cannabis since I was 13 and research chemicals, which I informed them I started researching at the age of 16, before consuming 2C-B at age 18, using correct safety precautions. They then asked me to list the research chemicals I had taken, then cut them down to only the legal list (which they got wrong).

They asked who I experimented with. I told them generally if one of us found an interesting chemical we would explore it with the same group of 8 to 10 friends.

He asked what I gained from using these substance. I explained that these chemicals give me an insight on a perception of this world which only a few thousand people in the whole world will have experienced. It’s a little piece of insight. Or outsight!

All the drugs shown in the interview were their own which they had ordered. They ask me to explain how they were similar. After showing the substances to me they remarked about the purity of the mephedrone (75%). I explained this was probably a retailer issue as most major manufacturers produce quality chemicals. Our 2C-B HCL tested at 98.9%. I remarked about Dutch bacon being 90% water from certain manufacturers yet they didn’t complain…

Why did I not want to be seen? As this is a documentary on national TV and me being about to graduate, it may spoil my career if someone were to recognise me actively promoting these activities. Admission to illegal activity on national TV would guarantee me problems even if I chose to continue them.

I explained the age old idea of the government controlling these drugs properly and using the proceeds to better our world. The problem with drugs is propaganda and the use of them as a weapon or as a tool for control and domination (some places vary with this). Wanting to get high is natural and everyone does it in their own way. We have been put into a position where we are forced to pick from only a specific list of intoxicants based on what’s socially acceptable, dictated by upbringing, religion and corporate meddling.

These drugs should be made under quality controlled conditions, taxed and used sensibly. We as a whole need to open our eyes.

I think we now have overwhelming evidence that this documentary was far from balanced, and intentionally misleading. They just did such a bad job of it, it was painfully obvious from the beginning..

Posted in Drugs | Tagged interviews, journalism, legal highs, research chemicals |

Should Mephedrone Be Legal?

Mephedrone isn’t just another obscure research chemical. Everyone’s at it, all the time. Despite the media scare stories, over 20% of mephedrone users polled on Drugs Forum take more than 10g each month, with just under half of those consuming over 20g.  A lot of replies to that thread also reveal how quickly usage can escalate, meaning those results are probably on the conservative side. “More acceptable than weed”, some have been saying. “Even my non-druggie friends are doing it!”

Mephedrone MoleculeMephedrone has achieved this unusual status thanks to a number of factors. Firstly, it’s an effective stimulant, which is more than can be said for ecstasy and cocaine these days; the former consisting mainly of disagreeable piperazines (due to their cheapness, and until recently, their legal status) rather than MDMA, and the latter being incredibly inpure. Next up is the lack of a comedown that would normally be experienced with other stimulants, especially for new users. This means people can keep taking it for days on end with little to no perceived negative effects. The other major contributor is the price – at around £10 a gram, it undercuts a great many of its illegal counterparts, while often being more effective, or at least more reliable. Other factors include (potentially inaccurate) purity measures, the ease of buying it from the comfort of your own home  with a credit card, rather than handing over a fistful of crumpled notes to a typical drug dealer, and of course its legal status.  Although the majority of users understand that legal doesn’t mean safe, the fact that you can’t be imprisoned alongside murderers, rapists and other violent criminals for possessing it is certainly a plus. Oh, and it’s psychologically addictive – it won’t kill you if you stop taking it, but you might be able to think of nothing else.

Reports of children doing it, entire friendship groups crumbling as a result of compulsive use and the media frenzy have got people understandably worried and calling for this “evil” drug to be banned.

I Disagree.

Why We Shouldn’t Ban Mephedrone

If you haven’t read Top 10 Reasons Why Legal Highs Should Stay Legal, have a quick look now. Here are a few more mephedrone-specific points:

  • Changing the law won’t change demand – we’ve already seen this with the reclassification of cannabis and the massive popularity of the synthetic cannabinoids that just got banned. Also, the decriminalisation of drugs in Portugal has resulted in not only a decline in drug use, but also a decline in drug-related illness and death (HIV from sharing needles, for example), as well as a increase in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction.
  • The current classification system doesn’t work – Our current ABC system is a shambles, as any scientist, or indeed anyone that values evidence, will testify. Currently, one of the safest drugs, MDMA, sits alongside one of the (if not the) most dangerous, heroin. Cannabis, and soon the synthetic cannabinoids, which haven’t killed anyone, are positioned alongside amphetamine, a drug with far more potential dangers and addiction, meanwhile alcohol, which hospitalises over 1200 people a day and costs the NHS several billion pounds a year, remains legal along with tobacco. I would estimate the harms of mephedrone to be similar to amphetamine, if not a little worse, but placing it in class B would give the message that it is as dangerous as cannabis. Placing it in class A wouldn’t be right, as it certainly doesn’t appear to be as dangerous as heroin, but it’s probably worse than MDMA. Placing it in class C would be ridiculous, as it suggests cannabis is more dangerous. It would be impossible to have a sensible think on how to classify it properly without getting a headache.
  • If mephedrone’s popularity persists, more people will die – in the event of an overdose or an idiosyncratic response, people taking illegal drugs are far more likely not to either tell the doctors what they’ve taken or even go to hospital in the first place. That’s not to say that mephedrone will kill a tonne of people, but if no one ever died whilst on mephedrone, that would be pretty weird…

What Should We Do Instead?

Just because I don’t think it should be illegal doesn’t mean I think the current situation is perfect. Instead, I think the best thing the government could do to reduce harm is keep it legal, restrict its sale to people over the age of 21 and slap on a tax of something like £15 per gram. This would make it much harder to buy large quantities at a time, especially for kids with little expendable income, and so curb mephedrone’s addictive nature. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the perfect solution, as some teenagers would still be able to get hold of it just like they do with alcohol, but at least less people will be taking it and a lot more money would be available to better fund the NHS, harm reduction methods, education about the drug and scientific research.

Why Mephedrone Won’t Be Classified Immediately

Heh. The government have certainly shot themselves in the foot here. Thanks to the sacking of Dave Nutt and the resignation of three others on the ACMD, the government now lacks the skills to ban it. Dr Les King, one of the resignees, was responsible for a large part of the ban last month, so without people like him, the government can’t do anything for a while. Looks like it’ll be legal for a good year or so yet.

How YOU Can Help

Well, you can’t really do anything about the mephedrone situation, but you can help me out by posting Mephedrone Cat everywhere!

You might save millions of lives by directing them to some of my harm reduction articles. 🙂.

Posted in Legislation | Tagged ACMD, alcohol, classification, David Nutt, harm reduction, legal highs, mephedrone, mephedrone cat, NHS |