Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

A Preference for Mephedrone: Drug Markets, Drugs of Choice, and the Emerging "Legal High" Scene

Academic journal article Journal of Drug Issues

A Preference for Mephedrone: Drug Markets, Drugs of Choice, and the Emerging "Legal High" Scene

Article excerpt

This study focuses on individuals' preferences for mephedrone, a new psychoactive substance that has emerged in several countries. We examine the reasons for mephedrone preferences, and describe the positive and negative effects of the drug experience, route of administration and consumers' views about the legality of mephedrone. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 45 adults who had used mephedrone since January 2010. Respondents resided in one of two jurisdictions that were characterized by different legislative controls over mephedrone. The findings suggest the importance of macro-level drug market factors that shaped people's preferences for mephedrone. Additionally, respondents' preferences were guided by pharmacological properties that helped them conceal the effects of mephedrone in public and semi-public spaces. Respondents were not deterred by the (impending) change from legal to illicit drug. The findings have implications for the study of localized drug markets, and in particular, legislative controls over emerging legal highs.

INTRODUCTION

New psychoactive substances continue to emerge in various countries, and have gained popularity within various drug scenes. In some regions, these substances have surfaced initially as legal psychoactive products, later to be prohibited by law. Known in several European countries as "legal highs," these substances produce psychoactive effects similar to illegal stimulants, depressants or hallucinogens. "Legal high" products are available in different forms (e.g., tablets, pre-rolled joints, herbal mixtures, powders, crystals) and can contain 1 ) plants found in nature (e.g., kratom, kava, salvia divinorum)1, 2) synthetic substances (e.g., 2-aminoindan, butylone, mephedrone, synthetic cannabinoids such as JWH-0 18), or 3) semisynthetic substances that are derived from natural oils (e.g., DMAA). Often sold in pre-sealed packages that feature "hippy style," "new age," or other symbols, many packages are labeled with nomenclature that reminds consumers of illegal street drugs or their effects (e.g., Snow Blow, Tijuana, Ice Gold, Charleeze, Sub-Coca, and X Pillz).

Hundreds of legal high products have been identified in Europe (Hillebrand, OlszewskL, & Sedefov, 2010; Long, 2010; Schmidt, 2009), although they can differ in terms of potency, form (e.g., powder or crystal) and additives. Several products contain synthetic stimulants, consistent with the popularity of "amphetamine-type stimulants" (ATS) with an estimated 30-40 million users worldwide (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2010). Mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) is a synthetic stimulant designed in part to mirror the effects of cathinone, a compound found in the Khat plant. Mephedrone produces stimulant-like properties (e.g., increased energy, talkativeness, insomnia), as well as feelings of empathy and euphoria. Anecdotal evidence suggests the availability of synthetic cathinones in Israel in 2004 (Power, 2009) and mephedrone in selected European regions in 2008 (e.g., Amsterdam, parts of Sweden), with mephedrone-focused discussions appearing on internet forums beginning in 2007 (Psychonaut WebMapping Research Group, 2009). During 2009 and 2010, mephedrone was situated in drug scenes across Britain (Carhart-Harris, King, & Nutt, in press; Measham, Moore, Newcombe, & Welch, 2010; Winstock, Mitcheson, Ramsey, & Marsden, in press) and North/South Ireland (McElrath & O'Neill, 2011; Van Hout & Brennan, 2011), and available for sale through various sources including dealers (Dargan, Albert, & Wood, 2010; McElrath & O'Neill, 201 1 ; Newcombe, 2009; Winstock et al., in press), street-based headshops2 (Van Hout & Brennan, 2011), and online shops3 (Dargan et al., 2010; European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2010). In April 2010, the UK banned mephedrone and other cathinone derivatives, and under the Misuse of Drugs Act ( 1 97 1 ) specified criminal penalties for possession and supply of the drug. …

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