Inexcess: In search of recovery

Help and support for people and families
dealing with drug and alcohol problems

Addiction Info

Find out more about addiction and recovery

Legal highs

“Just because it’s legal, it doesn’t mean its safe”

This page will help you to recognise the signs, symptoms and behaviours associated with use and abuse of legal highs such as Mephedrone, understand their effects, and find help.

What are ‘legal’ highs?

Legal highs are substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as Ecstasy and Speed, but are not controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act and are therefore legal.

However, it is illegal to possess or supply these substances for ‘human consumption’. Providers of legal highs insist they are sold as plant food or industrial machine cleaners.

Mephodrone, the most well known legal high was banned in April 2010 and classified as a Class B drug.

The legislation adopted a generic approach covering a wide range of Mephodrone related compounds or Cathinone’s to prevent suppliers avoiding the law by creating new versions of the drug.

What is Mephedrone?

methadroneMephedrone is a stimulant, which is often described as a mix between Ecstasy and Cocaine.

The main chemical compound of Mephedrone is very similar to MDMA. It is sold in the form of a white powder which is usually snorted in a similar way to cocaine. It can also be found in capsules and pills or can be dissolved in a liquid. In very rare cases it can be injected.

Evidence suggests that the drugs have become popular among club-goers and among more general recreational drug users. The substance can be bought on the internet and there are a significant number of websites selling Mephedrone, Methadrone and Methylone. Usually, websites advertise the products as ‘plant feeder’ or ‘not for human consumption’.

This is because vendors are under the mistaken belief that this offers protection from prosecution under the Medicines Act. Neither Mephedrone nor any of the Cathinone derivatives have legitimate uses as fertiliser products.

Mephedrone is illegal under medicines legislation to sell, supply or advertise for human consumption. That means it is currently legal to buy and be in possession of the powder. However, the government has taken action and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has been asked to research the harms linked to legal highs like Mephedrone as little is still known.

Street names for Mephedrone: 4-MMC, Bubbles, Drone, MCAT, Meph, Methedrome, Mephedrome, Meow, Meow-meow

What are the effects of Mephedrone?

Research into Mephedrone suggests that –

“Chemically it is closely related to amphetamine and ecstasy but is not as potent.’’

“On the surface that would make it less harmful but any benefit is negated because users simply take larger amounts to get the same effect making it just as harmful as ecstasy and amphetamines.”

Users cannot know exactly what they are taking with a ‘legal high’, so the effects can be very unpredictable. However, a recent survey carried out by a popular clubbing magazine polled that Mephedrone users displayed such effects as excess sweating, headaches, heart palpitations, nausea and cold or blue fingers. Users say they feel more alert, confident and talkative. Like cocaine, the affects appear to last around an hour before wearing off.

People who have used Methylone, which is closely chemically related to ecstasy, particularly report a feeling of empathy with those around them.

People who snort these substances can experience extremely sore nasal passages, throats and mouths, with burns or cuts caused by the chemicals sometimes leading to nose bleeds. Some people choose to swallow the drugs instead to avoid these particular problems.

Like other stimulant drugs, the Cathinone derivatives can have an impact on the heart. Some users report heart palpitations, or an irregular or racing heartbeat, which may last for some time after taking the drug.

Users can experience blurred vision, hot flushes and muscle tension, particularly in the jaw and face, and some people report that their fingers and other extremities have taken on a blueish pallor after using Mephedrone. As with other stimulants, the substances tend to act as appetite suppressants. Nausea and vomiting has been reported, particularly if mixed with other drugs such as alcohol or cannabis.

A particularly concerning feature of many reports about Mephedrone use is that once users have started using the drugs in a particular session, it is very hard to stop, with compulsive use leading to a number of unpleasant side effects including insomnia, involuntary muscle clenching and hallucinations. In some cases, it seems, regular or heavy use may develop into psychological dependency.

Can I get addicted to Mephedrone?

As Mephedrone is a new substance to hit the drug scene, the effects and the chances of becoming addicted is not known. Reports suggest the effects of the drug last around an hour before users feel the need to re-dose, making it a possibly addictive drug.

Mephedrone and five other compounds in the same family are different versions of classical amphetamines and have all the problems associated with that: hyper excitability, aggression, heart problems and a high liability to dependence and addiction.

It is not known if this is all true for Mephedrone.

What are the health risks of Mephedrone use?

The truth is we just do not know the possible health risks. Many other illegal drugs, including Amphetamines and Ecstasy, were first developed as medicines. It means scientists have conducted tests and have some idea of the harm they can cause. Mephedrone does not have that scientific background and was developed in backstreet laboratories with no human testing so the long term effects are unknown.

However, Mephedrone has been linked to a series of deaths among its users. A 24-year-old woman who is thought to be the latest victim of the drug, also the favourite new drug of clubbers and school children hit the headlines when two young men died after taking it, combined with a heavy alcohol binge. Mephedrone also claimed its youngest victim, a 14-year-old girl died after using with friends.

The government’s team of drug advisors are now looking into the dangers and health effects of Mephedrone. Anecdotal reports suggest heavy use can lead to paranoia, hallucinations and serious panic attacks. It’s probably best to remember that most of these substances are illegal to sell, supply, or advertise for human consumption because of their effects on the body.

What happens next?

The Government’s chief drugs adviser has indicated that Mephedrone is likely to be made a Class B drug.

What help and support is there for families and friends affected by Mephedrone use?

Drug use affects the whole family, not just the user. When there’s a drug user in the family, whether it is a child or parent, everyone suffers and it can be so crippling that family members suffer as much as the user.

For those living close to a dependent drug user, trying to find help can be frustrating. It often seems that support is geared towards the user, when families struggle through problems too.

Fortunately there are support groups for family members too.

There are a number of groups whose sole focus is the support of family members and friends who have been affected by substance abuse and help address these issues.

One organisation that can help specifically with families and friends of drug users is Families Anonymous, who provide support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drug use.

Finding help

The Inexcess Support Directory lists more than 1600 service providers throughout the UK and is divided by region to help support and advise people how to find help in their own area. Click here to visit the Support Directory.