Technology & Science

Club drug mephedrone faces ban in U.K.

Mephedrone, a legal drug linked to several deaths last year in Britain, will be criminalized, a government official says.

Mephedrone, a legal drug linked to several deaths last year in Britain, will be criminalized, a government official says.

The U.K. government's panel of scientific experts recommended restrictions on mephedrone, a synthetic drug also known as M-Cat and Meow-Meow. The drug can be bought over the internet and is popular in nightclubs.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended classifying mephedrone as a Class B controlled substance. This class includes cannabis and amphetamines. Possession carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail, while supplying it carries a penalty of up to 14 years, according to the Home Office.

The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction said more than 30 web sites promote the substance, which often originates in Chinese labs. A single dose costs about $4.50 US, according to public health researchers.

Mephedrone is a synthetic form of cathinone, the active ingredient in khat, which is a stimulant popular in parts of Africa, said Steven Grant, chief of the clinical neuroscience branch at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"As a result of the council's advice, I'm introducing legislation to ban not just mephedrone and other cathinones but also to enshrine in law a generic definition … so that we can be in the forefront of dealing with this whole family of drugs," Home Secretary Alan Johnson told reporters Monday.

"This will stop unscrupulous manufacturers and others peddling different but similar harmful drugs."

Khat, which is often chewed or brewed into tea, is chemically and pharmacologically similar to amphetamines and cocaine, Grant said.

"With mephedrone, you are taking a purified drug in pill form so unlike tea made out of khat, you're taking substantially more," Grant said. It has no known medicinal use, he added.

Drug prohibited in Canada

Mephedrone grabbed headlines in Britain after the deaths of Louis Wainwright, 18, and his 19-year-old friend Nicholas Smith earlier this month.

In Canada, mephedrone is a controlled substance under Schedule III of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Production, importation, exportation, trafficking and possession of mephedrone is prohibited unless authorized by regulation, Health Canada said in an email to CBC News Monday.

There is relatively little scientific information on the amphetamine mephedrone or 4-methylmethcathinone, the department noted.

"Amphetamines also increase heart rate and blood pressure, and untoward effects can include palpitations, irregular or abnormal heartbeat, heart attack, and cardiovascular collapse," Health Canada warned.

"People with underlying neurological, cardiac or psychological conditions, especially those on medication, are likely to be at greatest risk of serious adverse events. Co-abuse with other stimulant drugs or even alcohol may put the user at greater risk."

Health Canada's drug analysis service has received few exhibits of mephedrone from police.

Elsewhere in Europe, Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands have made mephedrone illegal.

In the U.K., Johnson said he is determined not only to ban mephedrone but also close legal loopholes that allow similar compounds to slip through.

"I've instructed the U.K. Border Agency to seize and destroy shipments of these drugs at our borders, and shops and websites that are supplying the drug … will be warned that they will very soon on the wrong side of the law," Johnson said.

In the U.S., mephedrone is not illegal, and the low level of usage means it's not a priority, the Associated Press reported.

With files from The Associated Press