Lifestyle and exercise

Legal drug 'meow meow' probed

The legal drug “meow meow” is being investigated in the wake of two teenagers’ deaths, says The Sun. The two boys from Scunthorpe are believed to have taken the stimulant, also known as mephedrone, shortly before their deaths. Several newpapers report that the synthetic drug is legally sold on the internet under names such as “M-CAT”, and “drone”, but is not subject to medical regulations because it is sold as plant fertiliser.

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Oliver, of Humberside police, reportedly told the BBC: “We have information to suggest these deaths are linked to M-CAT. We would encourage anyone who may have taken the drug or knows somebody who has taken the drug to attend a local hospital as a matter of urgency.” The substance is currently legal in the UK, but is part of an ongoing investigation by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

What is a 'legal high' drug?

Legal drugs and “legal highs” are substances used like illegal recreational drugs, such as cocaine or cannabis, but not covered by current drug misuse laws. They currently include a number of drugs such as mephedrone and salvia. Legal highs are marketed under dozens of different names, including, Legal E, Legal Cocaine, Fast Lane and Silver Bullet. To get advice on specific 'legal highs' and drugs talk to FRANK.

Although a drug may be referred to as being legal, this does not mean it is safe or approved for use; simply that it has not been declared illegal. For example, of those that were banned last year, many common ‘legal highs’ were based on the drug GBL, BZP and Spice.

Equally, the use of the term “legal drug” does not mean that a substance is a prescribed drug with a medical use. Because many legal highs are relatively new and occupy a grey area within the law, they are often untested. This means no one can really be sure that they are safe.

What exactly is ‘meow meow’?

Meow meow is a common name for 4‐Methylmethcathinone, a synthetic substance based on the cathinone compounds found in the khat plant of eastern Africa, which locals chew for an amphetamine-like high. Meow meow can come in the form of capsules, tablets or white powder that users may swallow, snort or even inject. It acts as a stimulant and a "psychedelic", with reportedly similar properties to the drug ecstasy (MDMA).

Other street names for mephedrone, or meow meow, include 4MMC, M-CAT, meow, miaow or drone. It can be obtained relatively easily via the internet, where it is often sold as plant food, a “research chemical” or a “legal high”. It often features the label “not for human consumption”, which means it will not fall under the strict laws governing medical drugs. Meow meow may also come mixed with other stimulant substances or chemicals, or be an ingredient in other legal highs. 

A publication by the NorthWest Public Health Observatory reports that mephedrone can cost as little as £3 a hit.

What are its effects in the body?

Mephedrone users report that it stimulates the body, typically causing heightened awareness, excitement, alertness, lowered inhibitions and talkativeness. The NorthWest Public Health Observatory reports that the timing of the onset of effects can vary depending on how the drug was taken and whether the user has eaten food recently. Typically noticeable effects are likely to persist for two to three hours after being taken orally, but there is usually a one to four-hour period of insomnia after this.

However, effects of any recreational drug are always unpredictable and likely to vary from person to person and depending on the composition of a hit. A person taking mephedrone, or any other legal high, may experience paranoia, anxiety, overstimulation of the heart, sweating and chills, and effects on the nervous system, including lightheadedness and fits. This is in addition to, or instead of, the “high” effects. The effects of recreational drug use can be as serious as coma or death.

Just how dangerous is mephedrone?

Although medical and scientific information on mephedrone is scarce, the risks are likely to be increased if it is used alongside alcohol, other stimulants or depressant substances. Many of the initial medical case reports on mephedrone suggest that it can cause problems with breathing and the circulatory system, particularly when combined with alcohol. It seems sensible to assume that mephedrone is not safe unless rigorous scientific research proves otherwise.

What else do I need to know?

The Home Office sets out important advice to help parents talk to their children openly about the risks of drugs, both legal and illegal. Their advice on legal highs says that:

  • You can never know what you’re taking in any drug, so the effects can be very unpredictable.
  • Just because the drugs are legal to possess doesn’t mean they are safe.
  • Legal highs can contain a range of potentially dangerous chemicals, and their chemical makeup changes all the time. This means you can never be 100% certain of what you have bought, and what the effects might be.
  • Although legal, most of these substances are actually illegal to sell, supply, or advertise for human consumption, under medical legislation, due to their effects on the body.
  • The chemicals in legal highs have, in most cases, never before been used as drugs, and their safety has not been tested.
  • Suppliers may use descriptions such as bath salts, plant food, research chemicals, fertiliser and cleaning fluid, or statements such as “not for human consumption” in order to try to get around the law.
  • Legal highs can carry a serious health risk and have been implicated in some cases of death.
  • Risk is increased if the drug is combined with alcohol.

Where does the law stand?

In December last year some of the more common ‘legal highs’ were banned. These are:

  • GBL and other chemicals derived by 1,4-Butanediol (1,4-BD) (to be criminalised when intended for human consumption only)
  • BZP and its related compounds (mCPP, TFMPP etc)
  • Synthetic cannabinoids (such as those found in Spice)

Since the legislation came into force, GBL, BZP and their related compounds come under class C legislation, the same class as ketamine and tranquillisers. Cannabinoid drugs such as Spice now fall under higher, class B legislation, in line with cannabis and amphetamines.

Although it is illegal to supply or advertise mephedrone for human consumption it is not currently illegal to possess it. The Government and its Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) constantly monitor the risks of both legal and illegal substances, and have set a goal to tackle legal highs that pose a significant risk to health. According to the Home Office its ongoing review of mephedrone and other cathinone compounds is one of its current priorities.

Although mephedrone has been linked with recent deaths, details of the latest cases are as yet largely unconfirmed and are the subject of ongoing police investigation.

There have been published case reports of two people admitted to A&E who were confirmed to have mephedrone in their bodies.

NHS Attribution