Image posted on YouTube.

A plant food compound that has become one of Britain's favourite recreational drugs will become illegal in two weeks following its connection with 25 deaths in the country. A mephedrone consumer tells us why the ban could make it all the more dangerous.

Mephedrone, which is known by recreational drug users as "meow meow", "bubbles" and "MCAT", is a chemical compound originally used to feed plants. It's a synthetic form of cathinone, the active ingredient in the mildly narcotic leaves of the khat plant. Readily available online, a Google search for "Buy Mephedrone UK" produces 1,360,000 results.

Largely unheard of by the British public for over five years, the legal high came under the spotlight in November last year when the death of a 14-year-old was linked to the drug. Since then the UK tabloid press has launched a crusade to ban the legal sale of mephedrone.

Public concern pushed the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to complete a report about the drug. Released on Monday (29 March), the council listed the following potential side effects: hallucinations, blood circulation problems, rashes, anxiety, paranoia, fits and delusions. The same day, parliament voted to ban the drug and categorise it as a Class B substance. As of 16 April, those running the websites that have been selling it will face up to 14 years in jail should they continue.

A print-screen of the homepage of one mephedrone supplier taken on Thursday, a few days after the ban was announced.

“Once mephedrone’s been made illegal, drug dealers will move in and monopolise the market”

Isobel (not her real name) works to socially rehabilitate drug addicts as part of a government programme. Many of her clients take mephedrone. 

The government ban is a knee-jerk reaction to public fear. It's similar to the Leah Betts case [in 1995 an 18-year-old's death was attributed to ecstasy by the tabloid press.] She didn't die from taking ecstasy, she died because she panicked and drunk too much water. But the direct result of the publicity was that ecstasy became a class A drug.

Many of my clients like ‘meow meow' very much. They say it feels like a mix between cocaine and ecstasy, but that it's also a cleaner high because it's not cut with anything.  It's also good value for money - only £5 a gram on the street [€5.60], whereas a gram of cocaine costs around £30 [€34] and is usually cut with dog worming tablets, amongst other things. None of my clients have needed medical help after taking mephedrone.

As for the 25 people who died; I don't know the details of each case but for the most prominent cases they had been mixing the drug with other substances [methadone (a heroin substitute) and alcohol]. Combining any drugs is dangerous as it puts the body under a huge amount of stress, which can lead to overdose.

Once mephedrone's been made illegal, drug dealers will move in and monopolise the market. The price will probably go up because it will no longer be available online, and because once it's classified, it will be deemed more exciting by those looking for street cred. Drug dealers tend to cut everything so it's unlikely it will remain clean. That will most certainly pose higher risks."

“I'll switch back to ecstasy when mephedrone becomes illegal”

Graham, 23, is from Leeds, north England. He has taken mephedrone several times.

When you use mephedrone in small doses, with little or no alcohol, it elevates your mood, makes you chatty, confident and puts a grin on your face. In large doses, it has a specific feeling it puts into your body, you suddenly feel it hit you and it's amazing.

I have had some pretty bad side effects. When I got home once I was having spasms of shivering, my heart rate was going mental and I got a pain in my leg. But that was from mixing it with alcohol and using too much. I've used it sensibly many times with pretty much no come-down.

It's everywhere at the moment. At the house party I went to on Saturday, absolutely everyone was doing it completely openly, there were bags all over the floor; people were just bringing out credit cards and doing lines.

There is a lot on internet forums about a new substance [that] will take over mephedrone after the ban. It's called 'Energy-1' (Naphyrone), which is apparently active in very small doses. Personally I'll switch back to ecstasy when mephedrone becomes illegal, at least if the price goes up and the quality way down."

What the "meow meow"-affected look like

Probably because it's legal, you can find a selection of videos on YouTube of people under the influence of "meow meow" (at least they say they are).

This video was posted on YouTube by "mazey3" on 14 March 2010. The caption reads: "Raving their hearts out, time is 02.46 in the am in a hotel located somewhere in Blackpool. Not under the influence of anything.....mephedrone".

For the most off-putting footage, see "After 108 hours without sleep and food, six grams of mephedrone...".