From 2003 onwards the purity of MDMA tablets plummeted in the UK to the point that the chemical compound had been replaced by other substances including caffeine and piperazine. Piperazine or ‘PEP Pills” were legally available in the UK through online vendors in 2003 thus predating mephedrone as the main ‘internet drug’ by nearly 5 years.
Mephedrone, also known as 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC), or 4-methylephedrone, is a synthetic stimulant drug of the cathinone classes and in its purer form has the potency of amphetamine. Slang names include meph, drone, and MCAT. It is chemically similar to the cathinone compounds found in the khat plant of eastern Africa. It comes in the form of tablets or a powder, which users can swallow, snort or inject and producing similar effects to amphetamines.
As well as producing the intended stimulant effects, negative side effects occur when mephedrone is used, with teeth grinding and sores to noses and throats due to snorting the drug, the most common. Nothing is known about the potential neurotoxicity of mephedrone, but scientists have suggested possible dangers associated with its use based on its similarity to other drugs. There have been reported deaths from consuming mephedrone, but some deaths that the media attributed to the drug were later determined to have been caused by other factors.
Pre-ban mephedrone was considered purer, initially having a strong ‘fishy’ solvent smell moving later to a crystal-like appearance with less of an odour. Post-ban mephedrone is normally adulterated, possibly cut with 4-Methylethcathinone (4-MEC) and other substances and the cost has risen from £10 to £20/£25 per gram. Also damp and badly produced batches have surfaced post-ban, sometimes of purer quality and may be an indication that it might be locally synthesised.
Pure mephedrone is much harder to come by and consumers are becoming disillusioned by online vendors promoting the next research chemical to be ‘Just Like Your Old Favourite!” When in reality it is not.