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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

Chemistry

(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
N,N-dimethylcathinone-MeMeMeH
Eth­cath­inone-MeEtHH
4-​​MethylmethcathinoneMephed­roneMeMeH4-​​Me
Bk-​​PMMAMethed­roneMeMeH4-​​MeO
4-​​FluoromethcathinoneFlephed­roneMeMeH4-​​F
3-​​Fluoromethcathinone-MeMeH3-​​F
bk-​​MDMAMethyloneMeMeH3,4-methylenedioxy
bk-​​MDEAEthyloneMeEtH3,4-methylenedioxy
bk-​​MBDBButyloneEtMeH3,4-methylenedioxy
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.

Pharmacology

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

DopamineSero­toninNorad­ren­aline
Amphet­amine++++++++
MDMA++++++++
Cath­inone++++++++
Meth­cath­inone+++++++
Methylone+++++++++
Mephed­rone???

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%
Oct-​​09376,75133,1678.8%7247019.2%4714012.5%357459.5%
Nov-​​09444,06947,95410.8%8024618.1%4848910.9%331677.5%
Dec-​​09314,23654,29917.3%5314116.9%3857012.3%286919.1%
Jan-​​10358,53766,23618.5%8198622.9%5373615.0%3791010.6%
Feb-​​10378,57680,96921.4%5131913.6%5373614.2%3802810.0%

*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

Number
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)
Agit­a­tion52
Pal­pit­a­tions20
Seizure12
Vomiting12
Sweating12
Head­ache4
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 = 81516%
Bruxism4%
Hyper-​​reflexia4%

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%)*
Head­ache

*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.

Dependence

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

Prevalence

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).

Stockpiling

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© 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.

Research

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.

Druglink. January/​February 2010. World Wired Web Vol 25. Issue 1. [Syn­chronium: This article quotes me. Woo!]

Feyissa, A.M. and Kelly, J.P. (2008) A review of the neuro­phar­ma­co­lo­gical prop­er­ties of khat. Pro­gress in Neuro-​​Psychopharmacology and Bio­lo­gical Psy­chi­atry. 32: 1147 – 1166.

Glennon, R.A., Yousif, M., Naiman, N. and Kaliz, P. (1987) Meth­cath­inone: a new and potent amphetamine-​​like agent. Phar­ma­co­logy Bio­chem­istry and Beha­vior. 26: 547 – 551.

The Guardian, (2009), Mephed­rone and the problem with ‘legal highs’, 5th December. Online at: http://​www​.guardian​.co​.uk/​s​o​c​i​e​t​y​/​2​0​0​9​/​d​e​c​/​0​5​/​m​e​p​h​e​d​r​o​n​e​-​p​r​o​b​l​e​m​-​l​e​g​a​l​-​h​i​ghs [accessed 30th March 2010]

Gust­affsson, D. and Escher, C. (2009) Mefedron. Inter­net­drog som tycks ha kommit för att stanna. (Mephed­rone — Internet drug that seems to have come to stay). Läkartid­ningen. 106: 2769 – 2771.

Hand, T., Rishiraj, A. (2009) Seizures of Drugs in England and Wales 200809. Home Office Stat­ist­ical Bul­letin 1609. London: Home Office.

Life­line. 2010. Mephed­rone Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions. www​.life​linepub​lic​a​tions​.org (publications@​lifeline.​org.​uk)

Linell, M. (2010) Case study: use of mephed­rone in a Northern Town. The Life­line project. Oral evid­ence to the ACMD.

McVean, C. (2009) The adverse effects of those “Legal High” powders con­taining cath­inone deriv­at­ives on the com­munity in Guernsey. States of Gurnsey, Customs and Immig­ra­tion Service.

McVean, C. (2010) The impact of cath­inones on a small island com­munity. States of Gurnsey, Customs and Immig­ra­tion Service.

Measham, F. and Moore, K. (2009) Rep­er­toires of Dis­tinc­tion: Exploring pat­terns of weekend poly­drug use within local leisure scenes across the English night time economy; Crim­in­o­logy and Crim­inal Justice, 9: 437 – 464.

Measham, F., Moore, K., New­combe, R. and Welch, Z. (2010) Tweaking, bombing, dabbing and stock­piling: the emer­gence of mephed­rone and the per­versity of pro­hib­i­tion. Drugs and Alcohol Today. 10: 14 – 21.

Meltzer, P.C., Butler, D., Deschamps, J.R. and Madras, B.K. (2006) (4-Methylphenyl)-2-pyrrolidin-1-yl-pentan-1-one (Pyro­va­lerone) ana­logues: a prom­ising class of monoamine uptake inhib­itors. Journal of Medi­cinal Chem­istry. 49: 1420 – 1432.

Nagai, F., Nonaka, R. and Kamimura, K.S.H. (2007) The effects of non-​​medically used drugs on monoamine neur­o­trans­mis­sion in rat brain. European Journal of Phar­ma­co­logy. 559: 132 – 137.

New­combe, R. (2010) Mephed­rone: the use of mephed­rone (m-​​cat, Meow) in Middles­brough. Manchester: Life­line Pub­lic­a­tions & Research.

New Musical Express (2010), Mephed­rone – How dan­gerous is the UK’s favourite new drug, 8th Feb­ruary. Online at: http://​www​.nme​.com/​b​l​o​g​/​i​n​d​e​x​.​p​h​p​?​b​l​o​g​=​1​0​&​a​m​p​;​p​=​7​9​5​6​&​a​m​p​;​m​o​r​e=1 [accessed 30th March 2010]

Ramsey, J. (2010) Ana­lysis of white powders seized by UK border agency at London Heathrow airport. Written evid­ence to the ACMD.

Serious Organ­ised Crime Agency (SOCA). (2010) Drugs report – Mephedrone.

Sumnall, H. and Wooding, O. (2009) Mephed­rone – an update on current know­ledge. North West Public Health Obser­vatory, Centre for Public Health, Liv­er­pool John Moores University.

Thomas, S. (2010) Enquiries relating to the cath­inones. National Poisons Inform­a­tion Service, Health Pro­tec­tion Agency. Oral evid­ence to the ACMD.

UK Border Agency (2010) UKBA – Treat­ment of cath­inones at the fron­tier. Written evid­ence to the ACMD.

White, M. (2010) Cath­inone Deriv­at­ives: Chem­istry, Pre­val­ence and Legal status. Forensic Science Service. Oral evid­ence to the ACMD.

Win­stock, A. (2010) Results of the 200910 Mixmag drug survey. Oral evid­ence to the ACMD.

World Health Organ­isa­tion (1995) WHO Expert Com­mittee on Drug Depend­ence. Twenty-​​ninth report. WHO Tech­nical Report Series. No.856.

Wood, D.M., Davies, S., Puchnarewicz, M., Button, J., Archer, R., Ramsey, J., Lee, T., Holt, DW. and Dargan, P.I. (2009) Recre­ational Use of 4-​​methylmethcathinone (4-​​MMC) presenting with sym­path­o­mi­metic tox­icity and con­firmed by tox­ic­o­lo­gical screening. Clin­ical Tox­ic­o­logy. 47: 733.

Zaitsu, K., Katagi, M., Kamata, H., Kamata, T., Shima, N., Miki, A., Tsuchi­hashi, H. and Mori, Y. (2009) Determ­in­a­tion of the meta­bol­ites of the new designer drugs bk-​​MBDB and bk-​​MDEA in human urine. Forensic Science Inter­na­tional. 188: 131 – 139.

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:

***

Freakonomics

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.

Crack

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:

Crackhead

Pic­tured: “The Crack Boom”

Drug sales$24,800
Dues$5,100
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
Weapons$300
Mis­cel­laneous$2,400
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 Syn​chronium​.net, 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 Syn​chronium​.com, 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.

Wut?!

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.

Comfort

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 Pot​seeds​.co​.uk 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 |

Mephedrone Cat

Mephedrone Cat

Mephed­rone Cat knows when enough is enough, and so should you!

Posted in Drugs | Tagged harm reduction, mephedrone, mephedrone cat |

Top 10 Reasons Why Legal Highs Should Stay Legal

Last week’s ban on a few legal highs will cer­tainly do more to harm the public than keeping them legal. Here are 10 ways in which every sens­ible legal highs user has just been shafted:

#1 - Don't associate with dodgy people

Drug DealerSelling legal highs can be done by a legit­imate busi­ness. Since these busi­nesses aren’t breaking the law, enga­ging in any other kind of illegal beha­viour (guns, viol­ence, money laun­dering, etc) is a massive risk. People that deal illegal drugs are already breaking the law — if they get caught, they’re going to prison for a long time. Breaking the law a second time is no longer such a big deal, espe­cially if the price is right. Not only do you get the safety of dealing with an organ­isa­tion that doesn’t want to break the law, but you’re also not seen with any dodgy char­ac­ters, whether that’s meeting up on a street corner, vis­iting their house or them turning up at your place at a sus­pi­cious frequency.

#2 - Comparison Shopping

We all live in hope that one day we could type in RateMy​Weed​Dealer​.com, find the best prices in town and arrange for a delivery. For­tu­nately, as cus­tomers of legit­imate products, legal highs fans can shop around to their heart’s content. Selling some­thing for more than you should be? Then no one will buy it! It’s as simple as that, so, not only can cus­tomers get a better deal by shop­ping around, this beha­viour also encour­ages healthy com­pet­i­tion between legal highs vendors. Another plus for the customer!

#3 - Buyer Protection

Perhaps RateMy​Weed​Dealer​.com is a long way off, but what about just ringing your dealer to com­plain about some­thing? Inad­equate pack­aging? Does the product weigh half as much as you were prom­ised? Unfor­tu­nately, I doubt your dealer gives a shit. Luckily, for legal highs con­sumers, most sites out there have some form of cus­tomer service, and if they can’t resolve things, facil­ities for refunds or chargebacks exist to protect the customer.

#4 - A Strength For Everyone

The sheer number of similar products avail­able mean there is usually a strength for every occa­sion. Want a bit of an energy boost for work? Caf­feine! Want to go to a rave all night? Syn­thetics! Want to go to a rave but it’s not going to be a “big one” because you’ve got work in the morning, and, let’s face it, your joints and muscles aren’t what they used to be? Some­thing herbal!

I think asking an illegal drug dealer for some­thing cheaper and less effective would be a world first.

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#5 - Diversity

Not only is there a range in price and strength, there’s also an incred­ible range of effects avail­able. Clear headed stim­u­la­tion, total euphoria, intense rushes, powerful relax­ants, shit that makes you laugh — whatever you want, there’s prob­ably some­thing avail­able some­where that will do the trick. In the world of illegal drugs, that kind of product diversity could only be main­tained via a data­base of epic pro­por­tions con­taining your mil­lions of “hookups” and your own data entry guy.

#6 - Passing A Drug Test

Drug TestingSome people might thing it’s unfair that their co-​​workers can party all night on a litre of vodka, sleep for a few hours in a bathtub along­side their own sick and even­tu­ally drive to work still pissed, while they get fired for smoking a bit of weed after work. Sure, people should get fired if they let their abuse of any sub­stance inter­fere with their work, but some people may feel that what they get up to in their own time is their own busi­ness. These people may feel drug tests are massive breach of their privacy, so it’s a good job that they have a legal altern­ative to turn to, since they shouldn’t show up on drug tests.

#7 - Friends More Likely To Do The Right Thing

People that over­dose on illegal drugs will some­times go without the treat­ment they need to avoid any legal trouble for them­selves or their friends. Perhaps a friend might not tell the doctor what someone else has taken for fear of getting their mate into trouble. With legal highs, there’s no risk of pro­sec­u­tion so a) people can fully dis­close what they’ve taken and could even present the doc with the ori­ginal pack­aging and b) the quantity of chem­icals in pills or powders will be con­sistent between batches…

#8 - Batch Consistency

Not only can doctors share notes on spe­cific products, but users can too. It’s no good trying to compare ecstasy pills from dif­ferent ends of the country, since the con­tents are likely to vary wildly, even if they share the same stamp. With legal highs, that’s a dif­ferent story. Con­sist­ency between brands and batches facil­it­ates a great deal of dis­cus­sion not only on how good they are, but also harm reduc­tion. Occa­sion­ally man­u­fac­turers do change their ingredi­ents, but it only takes a short while for the changes to reach the entire country.

#9 - The Government Could Learn A Thing Or Two

Straight away, the fact that the legal highs industry even exists tells us that people want to get high and that people think the current drug laws are stupid. There’s one massive lesson that could be learned from it though — why not use it as a model for even­tu­ally leg­al­ising can­nabis and the rest? Instead of trying to ban every new sub­stance before anyone has died, why not look at reg­u­lating their sales with similar legis­la­tion to alcohol and tobacco? If we as a country could get this right with legal highs, we could see if it works or not and them maybe think of abol­ishing our current bull­shit excuse for a drugs law.

#10 - Taxes

PoundHere’s a list of taxes that illegal drug dealers don’t pay:

  • Per­sonal Income Tax
  • National Insur­ance
  • Cor­por­a­tion Tax
  • VAT

If legal highs remained legal and were taxed like alcohol and tobacco, the gov­ern­ment would even more money on top of the taxes above that they already receive. These products are rel­at­ively harm­less com­pared with alcohol, for example, which hos­pit­al­ises 1200 people a day and costs the NHS at least £2 billion to deal with, so a tax on them wouldn’t be paying for the damage they’d cause to society — they’d be making the gov­ern­ment a massive profit to spend on more doctors, nurses, medical research and fucking moats!

Nice one, G’ Brown!

Posted in Legislation | Tagged drug testing, government, harm reduction, legal highs, taxes |