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Mephedrone study documents rise of 'legal high'

Story supplied by LU Press Office

Dr Fiona Measham and Dr Karenza Moore Dr Fiona Measham and Dr Karenza Moore

The control of cocaine and ecstasy supply has contributed to the rise in popularity of new party drugs such as mephedrone.

'M-Cats' (most notably mephedrone and methylone), a group of psychoactive drugs not currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, have similar effects to ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines.

From the summer festivals through to the Christmas parties of 2009, mephedrone has established itself as a popular 'legal high' in a wide range of social scenes in the UK, from street corner teenage gatherings, to the well established polydrug repertoires of people ranging from committed clubbers to internet savvy over-40s without previous experience of illegal drugs.

An ongoing study published this week in the journal Drugs and Alcohol Today shows that the appearance and appeal of this group of so-called 'legal highs' can be partly explained by the supply reduction and the consequent slump in availability and purity of ecstasy and cocaine in 2009.

The paper 'Tweaking, bombing, dabbing and stockpiling: the emergence of mephedrone and the perversity of prohibition' argues that this slump in supply resulted in drug users turning to unfamiliar and under-researched chemicals such as mephedrone, easily purchased online.

Dr Fiona Measham Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Lancaster University, one of the authors of the report said: "Substitute displacement, resulting from fluctuations in the supply of illegal drugs, is a key issue in understanding changing patterns of drug use.

"The voracious appetite for psycho stimulant weekend party drugs by the British population, from teenagers to the middle aged means that when one substance becomes difficult to get hold of people are inclined to substitute their preferred drug with another.

"The emergence and rapid increase in mephedrone use in the UK in the last 12 months can in part be explained by this type of behaviour."

"One thing is certain: no matter how wide the net is cast in terms of framing legislation to control mephedrone use, the 'research chemists' searching for new cheap and legal highs and cyber-entrepreneurs selling drugs online are likely to remain one step ahead

Dr Karenza Moore, co-author of the report, added: "Until people no longer want to take drugs to experience altered states of intoxication and until the possibilities for chemically 'tweaking' molecules are exhausted, the the cat and mouse antics will continue.

"This presents a considerable challenge to policy makers who are attempting to provide rapid yet considered harm reduction responses to emergent drug trends in the face of a minimal scientific evidence base and eager press demonisation."

Sat 31 March 2012