"Energising and euphorising like MDMA [the clinical name for ecstasy] but without the weak knees," this was how Michael (age 31) described his high on mephedrone. "It makes you extremely thirsty and you want to talk and dance. And your heart beats like crazy." He obtained two small bags of the white powder from a smartshop when it was still legally on sale in February.The Dutch Health Care Inspectorate (IGZ) recently classed the drug as an unregulated medicine so it is no longer legal to manufacture, sell, order or store it. Michael now buys his supply on the Internet: "many of the sellers were expelled from Marktplaats.nl [a Dutch auction site] and other websites, but I still have their numbers."
The Trimbos Institute has reported a slight increase in mephedrone consumption in the Netherlands, due to its high profile in the news at the moment. However, the number of users remains relatively small. "We believe that it is one of those products that will be popular for a while and then disappear, just like Explosion 69," remarks researcher Daan van der Gouwe.
Ecstasy is not what it used to be
Nonetheless, the Institute is concerned about the new drug. "The product is too recent for us to evaluate the long-term risks. Worse still, we cannot be certain if the recent deaths in the United Kingdom were solely caused by mephedrone or if they resulted from its use in combination with other products," he says. Van der Gouwe believes that mephedrone will soon be classed as an illegal drug in the Netherlands. For the moment the IGZ is "monitoring developments."
Liza (age 23) tried "miaow-miaow" for the first time at the Awakenings techno festival: a small bag of bubbles obtained "on the black market." With regard to her reasons for experimenting with the drug, she says "I had read a lot about it and I was curious to try it. My friends and I stopped using ecstasy two years ago. Ecstasy is not what it used to be."
Fourth most popular drug in the UK
Researcher Ton Nabben of the University of Amsterdam confirms that recent upheavals on the ecstasy market have contributed to the increased use of mephedrone in Europe: "there was a sudden drop in quality which led to a panic among consumers. At the same time, there was a significant increase in the market price of coke. So there was plenty of room for a new product." Nabben is amazed by the extremely rapid spread of mephedrone: "the illegal Internet marketing is very powerful. The drug has become the subject of a huge amount of interest in a relatively short time."
On April 16, British Home Secretary Alan Johnson banned Mephedrone, which is thought to be the fourth most popular drug in the UK. The Belgian government is also planning to list the drug as a banned substance, while the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is preparing a report on the risks associated with mephedrone use, now that the drug has emerged in several European countries.
On internet sites mephedrone is marketed as plant food, which is not for human consumption. Unwanted effects from taking the drug that have been reported include cold or blue fingers, possible constriction of the aorta, excessive perspiration and palpitations. Mephedrone may also be more addictive than other drugs. "Its effect wears off quickly, so users are tempted to take another dose," says Ton Nabben.