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06-06-2011 | Article

Adverse effects of mephedrone documented


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MedWire News: In the first known case series documenting the adverse psychological effects of mephedrone, UK researchers have found that use of the drug is associated with severe agitation, psychotic symptoms, and suicidal thoughts.

Mephedrone, also known by the street names of meph, 4-MMC, MCAT, drone, miaow, and bubbles, became a controlled Class B drug in the UK in April 2010. Prior to this reclassification, it was a 'legal high' - a legal alternative to cocaine and amphetamine - and could be purchased online and in specialized shops. Before it became a controlled drug, use of mephedrone was growing rapidly in the UK, with one survey finding it to be the fourth most used drug after cannabis, ecstasy, and cocaine.

"Mephedrone is derived from cathinone, the active ingredient of the African shrub khat," explained lead research Mark Taylor, from NHS Lothian. "Cathinone is structurally very similar to amphetamine, and it would appear that mephedrone also produces the same negative psychological side-effects - particularly in those people with a history of mental illness."

Taylor and colleagues studied 20 people (17 men) who sought medical treatment in emergency departments and from acute mental health services in Edinburgh and Falkirk between January and June 2010 after taking mephedrone.

The patients were aged 19-59 years, and most (n=14) were in the 19-29-year age group. Five patients had sought treatment after using mephedrone for the first time, while the remaining patients reported being regular or heavy users of the drug.

The team found that the most common symptom was severe agitation - reported by 70% of patients - which was often accompanied by aggression or abnormal behavior.

Furthermore, 40% of the patients reported experiencing psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, of whom 88% had used mephedrone either daily or heavily over the past 4 weeks.

In addition, 20% of the patients reported acute low mood and suicidal thoughts, which were not present before they had taken the drug, and one patient died by suicide.

Taylor concluded: "The UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has been criticised for prematurely recommending that mephedrone be classified as a Class B drug, but our data would suggest that mephedrone use can have serious harmful consequences.

"However, market forces have meant that as soon as one substance is made illegal, similar alternatives are produced. More work needs to be done to determine the risks posed by mephedrone and other so-called 'legal highs' - just because something is legal does not mean it is safe." The study is published in the journal The Psychiatrist.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Mark Cowen