Kids who took their D.A.R.E. class seriously may think all drugs are illegal. Not so. Getting a legal buzz bigger than a bumble bee is only as difficult as searching Google and placing an order. Half the time the drugs for sale online aren't regulated. And the variety of legal highs up for grabs is bigger than ever.
Take mephedrone, a.k.a. meow meow, meph, bubbles, or M-Cat. A close cousin to ecstasy, mephedrone is a highly potent synthetic amphetamine that can be swallowed, snorted, or injected. If its popularity in Europe is any indication, it's coming soon to a club near you. And according to The Sun, it caused a kid in England to rip off his scrotum when he thought centipedes were crawling on him.
Recently, we spoke to a London bartender with a Lowcountry connection about meow meow. We'll call her Jules. "It's quite a happy, warm feeling," she says. "You're more friendly, things just seem better."
We presume she means things seem better until a bunch of hundred-legged insects start repelling off of your gonads, but that's neither here nor there.
Users across Europe have claimed meph as the ultimate party accessory, even with the potential for vivid hallucinations and other uncomfortable side effects.
"The most annoying part of it, both me and my friends found, was it had quite a 'laxative' effect on your body, and you spend a lot of time in the toilet after the first few lines of bumps," Jules says.
A one-time Suicide Girl who describes herself as a reformed recreational drug user, Jules got her hits of meph from her buddies.
"My friend bought it online once, and it was sent to the house in a plain envelope and sold as plant fertilizer," Jules says. "The other times we bought it from other people."
Plant fertilizer? The Hartford Advocate reports, "It's been called fertilizer and 'bath salts' and a 'research chemical' in order to make mephedrone commerce technically legal." Basically, that means that if a dealer wants to sneak past regulators in order to sell a seedy substance, they need only to dub a drug something like plant food, which qualifies it as "not for human consumption." The ruse is evidently working in the U.S.
Currently, meph is reportedly available in every state except North Dakota. However, a ban has been much more widespread across Europe. Recently, British Parliament prohibited the amphetamine and its importation under the Misuse of Drugs Act this spring.
Jules says the UK ban was necessary. "Mephedrone was too cheap and easy to get and very likable, and all of those things in a drug can only lead to bad things," she says. In Britain, anyone found carrying mephedrone can face up to five years in prison, and dealers can get up to 14 years, according to the BBC.
"People were quite stupid about it because it was 'legal,' and the papers said people thought that meant it was safe. No drugs are safe," Jules says.
While that may sound obvious, a look at the toxicology of a drug like meph proves the point.
Lowcountry pharmacist Dr. Sean Jesinkey explains the dangers. "There is no regulation on mephedrone's packaged purity. The synthesis of it generates impurities, as does the synthesis of most molecular compounds, and sometimes these impurities can be fatal," he says.
Most alarming is meph's molecular similarity to ecstasy and methamphetamine.
"These three molecules all work by stimulating the neurotransmitters to varying degrees, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which then leads to feelings of euphoria," Jesinkey says.
According to the Daily Telegraph, most of the meph going up the noses of jolly young Brits, both pre- and post-ban, originated in China and Southeast Asia. Google "Buy Mephedrone" and a website like Slyplants.com will appear. For just $72.99, plus shipping and handling, five grams can be delivered to your door. However, the site does feature a strong warning: "The chemicals sold by Slyplants are strictly not for human intake."
As of now, meph has been linked to 26 deaths in the U.K., according to the Telegraph. In most instances, it appears that overdosing was partly to blame. The reason for that, Jesinkey explains, is that meph has a short half-life, meaning the effect of a dose wears off quickly.
"This means that the concentration needed to put me in diapers and make love to a telephone pole has a short duration," Jesinkey jokes.
He adds, more seriously, "Given that there is no toxicity data associated in humans, this could actually be a serious problem."
Meow meow can lead to something called bioaccumulation, a fancy scientific word for when a substance is ingested at a rate higher than your body can eliminate it by either metabolizing the drug or excreting it through the urine or feces.
On this side of the pond, Charleston Police Department information officer Charles Francis reports that the local narcotics team has yet to spot any meph. In fact, he said, "They've never heard of it."
Jules thinks it's only a matter of time before it shows up in the Holy City, however. "If internet sales are still allowed, it's cheap and easy to get, so giving it a try won't be so difficult," she says.
Suffice it to say, Jules is laying off the hard stuff these days. "I don't really drink or take drugs anymore," she says. "I find the aftereffects and comedowns are not really worth the fun in my old age."