Given all the recent hoo-ha about mephedron, I decided to write to the Home Office and ask for the underlying information behind the Government's hasty decision to classify mephedrone without any real scientific evidence of its toxicity or pharmacology. Here's the response I got:
Dear Mr Herbert,
Thank you for your e-mail of 1 April to the Home Office about the drugmephedrone. Your e-mail has beenpassed to the Direct Communications unit and I have been asked to reply.
On 29 March, the Home Secretary received advice from the AdvisoryCouncil on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) on the control of cathinones and theirderivatives, including mephedrone. The ACMD is the independent expert bodywhich advises the Government on drug issues and its report on cathinones can befound at http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs-laws/acmd/.
The ACMD advised that mephedrone and other cathinone derivatives areharmful and dangerous drugs with similar effects to amphetamine, to which theyare closely related. These harms include anxiety and paranoid states,over-stimulation of the cardiovascular system, with risk of heart andcirculatory problems; and over-stimulation of the nervous system, with risk offits and agitated and paranoid states and hallucinations, as well as the riskof dependency.
The Home Secretary accepted the ACMD’s recommendation that mephedroneand other cathinone derivatives should be brought under the control of theMisuse of Drugs Act 1971 as Class B drugs.
The Government took a series of immediate actions. Firstly, to limit thesupply of mephedrone, other cathinone derivatives and all products containingthese drugs, the Government banned their importation and instructed UK BorderAgency officials to seize and destroy shipments of mephedrone at theborder. The Home Secretary alsowrote to local authorities urging them to use powers under consumer protectionlegislation to seize mephedrone. Police forces and other agencies contacted‘head shops’ and other premises warning them of the ban and making it clearthat enforcement action will follow.
The Parliamentary process to control mephedrone and other cathinonederivatives was started immediately and, with Parliament’s agreement, thesedrugs have been banned with effect from 16 April. By enshrining in law ageneric definition, the Government has encompassed a wide range of cathinonederivatives which is, as far as we are aware, a world-first for this group ofdrugs. This approach provides the strongest controls on cathinone derivativesand aims to stop organised criminals and dealers from tweaking substances tocircumvent our drug laws.
Legislative control is, of course, only part of the solution. Educationis of paramount importance. In respect of its health messages, the Government’sdrugs information service, FRANK, provides information on cathinones, includingmephedrone, with clear information about the risks of these substances. The FRANKhelpline advisers are fully equipped to deal with queries relating tocathinones and inform people about their risks to health.
The Government’s ‘Crazy Chemist’ information campaign, which ran in late2009, included warnings about mephedrone and targeted young people both onwebsites and when they are searching to purchase ‘legal highs’. The campaignhighlighted the potential danger of taking ‘legal highs’ particularly when theyare mixed with alcohol. It made clear that just because a drug is legal doesnot mean that it is safe. In addition, the Government has produced a dedicatedfact card and updated leaflets on mephedrone for young people and parents,including leaflets providing advice on mephedrone via the National Union ofStudents.
The schools Minister, Vernon Coaker, has also written to all headteachers, providing guidance for dealing with mephedrone in schools. Mephedroneand ‘legal highs’ will also be included in the new Drugs Guidance for schools.Also, the Department of Health has issued a formal health alert through thepublic health warning system to ensure that all frontline hospital staff,medical staff and drug treatment staff have the most up-to-date informationabout the harms of mephedrone.
Direct Communications Unit"
As you can see it doesn't really answer the question of "why and on what grounds" except by parrellels with amphetamine. The linked report from the ACMD makes quite interesting reading though. Some choice paragraphs:
"3.17. Little data are available on either the pharmacokinetics or
pharmacodynamics of the cathinones. Research on the metabolism of the
ring-substituted cathinones bk-MBDB and bk-MDEA has implicated N-
dealkylation, demethylenation followed by O-methylation and β-keto
reduction as major metabolic pathways (Zaitsu et al., 2009). "
5.1. Most data regarding the harms of the cathinones (mephedrone in
particular) are self-reported and there are very few clinical data available. "
5.3. Data from Guys and St Thomas’ hospital toxicology (Dargan and
Wood, pers. comm.) over the last year show that from a total of 1600-1800
cases, of which 40% are due to recreational drugs, 25 of which presented
with toxicity due to self reported mephedrone use" That's only 25 people in 1 year who went to hospital because of mephedrone. Of those 25,
"Four (16%) required benzodiazepines for management of agitation
• Twenty (80%) discharged from ED/observation ward
• Five admitted to hospital
• Four to general medical ward
• One to ICU (for other drug toxicity: GBL)"
Let's recap that: in 1 year, 25 people turned up at hospital after taking methedrone; twenty were sent home (4 on some downers); 5 were admitted with the only serious case due to taking other drugs as well. Doesn't really sound that bad does it?
Cases of death where cathinones have been implicated13
5.12. There have been at least 18 deaths in England where cathinones have
• The presence of mephedrone in post mortem toxicology does not
necessarily imply that it caused or contributed to a death. "
"There are indications that criminal groups are becoming involved in
the supply of mephedrone to the public in the UK (SOCA, 2010). At
present the mephedrone retail trade operates mainly through internet
importation and distribution and ‘head shops’." - not any more thanks to the Government making it illegal. It's all in the hands of the criminal groups now.
"7.3. Irrespective of whether controls for the cathinones are implemented
under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the rapidity and easy availability of
mephedrone and other cathinones (including websites set up so that
vendors that can deliver to individual addresses) does raise the question
of whether other legislation and regulation should be available. " - Interesting. What form might this "other" legislation have taken. Conveniently overlooked by the Government.
"8.3. Other than the above there is presently a limited amount of public health
information regarding mephedrone and the cathinones. Although recent
media profile has presented much apparent public health information it is
not always credible or consistent. " - But we're going to ban it anyway.
I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions but, for me it seems a rash and hasty decision based on no real solid evidence and one that is merely giving the crooks a whole new line of business.