The Big Question: Should legal-high drugs such as mephedrone now be made illegal?

Why are we asking this now?

Two teenagers from Scunthorpe, Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, died on Monday, apparently after taking mephedrone. Police are investigating whether they were taking other drugs. Their deaths have focused attention on the perils of so called "legal highs", chemical and herbal preparations sold on the high street and over the web which are claimed to have effects similar to illegal drugs of abuse but have not been specifically banned.

Should parents be worried?

Teachers certainly are. The National Association of Head Teachers said a ban on mephedrone should be urgently considered. Schools have become increasingly worried that because the drug is legal, children as young as 12 are trying it. Some heads say the drug should be made illegal immediately - even if it risks some children getting a criminal record.

What is mephedrone?

It is a form of cathinone, a naturally occurring stimulant found in the khat plant. Khat is widely used in parts of Africa, where the fresh leaves and tops are chewed, or dried and brewed to make a tea, to achieve a state of mild euphoria. It is also used by Somalis living in London. Other cathinones include methylone, which is very similar to mephedrone, and MCAT, a powerful psychoactive stimulant, which is usually snorted but can be smoked.

What effects does it have?

Similar to ecstasy, amphetamine and the dance drug MDMA. It increases alertness, talkativeness and feelings of empathy. It can also cause anxiety and paranoid states and risk overstimulating the heart and nervous system to cause fits. The drug is sold as a white or off-white powder and severe nosebleeds have been reported after snorting it. It may be also be swallowed. Mephedrone was linked to the death of a young woman in Sweden in 2008. It is banned in Sweden, Israel and Denmark but is legal elsewhere, including in the UK.

Isn't the sale of chemicals for human consumption restricted under the Medicine Act?

Yes. But traders get round the law by describing mephedrone and similar substances as "plant foods", "fertiliser" and "cleaning fluid", with labels that state "not for human consumption". Mephedrone is available for as little as £5 a gram. The illegal drug MDMA, which has similar effects, is about £35 a gram.

What other legal highs are there?

Lots. The Home Office is already consulting on plans to outlaw two party drugs – BZP, also known as herbal ecstasy, Red Eye and pep love, and GBL, an industrial solvent – after they were linked to the deaths of two young people. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has already banned the sale of BZP, although it's not an offence to possess it. Spice, which is smoked, is also causing concern. It contains a chemical linked to the active ingredient in cannabis – and could be a lot stronger, some researchers believe. Others include Salvia, a plant related to sage which gives a short hit when chewed, amyl nitrate and isobutyl nitrate.

Is the danger growing?

Some experts think it is. Legal highs are not new but stronger variants are appearing, legal loopholes are being exploited and anxiety among health experts is growing. The problem, they say, is that it takes a long while to control each new compound and as soon as one chemical is controlled another appears. Many legal highs are not very different from current illegal drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine, and have similar side-effects. But most of those taking them have no idea what is in them.

Why can't the Government ban mephedrone today?

It could, though not without a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) (it is not obliged to follow it). Experts have warned that to ban mephe-drone precipitately, before all the facts have been examined, could do more harm than good. Professor David Nutt, who was sacked as chairman of the ACMD last November after ministers objected to his outspoken style, said yesterday that a ban would put users at risk of a criminal convction that could be more damaging than the drug itself. Some previously reported deaths linked with the drug had turned out to be false alarms, he said.

What are ministers doing?

Making the regulation of legal and illegal drugs more difficult. The intervention by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson in the work of the Advisory Council and the sacking of David Nutt last November effectively set their work back months. The Council had at the time a sub-committee examining the risks of mephedrone and other cathinones but the resignation of five council members in the wake of Professor Nutt's sacking threw the organisation into disarray.

What happens next?

The newly constituted ACMD under the chairmanship of Professor Les Iverson said yesterday it planned to provide advice to ministers on 29 March. However, several key committee members have to be appointed first. The appointments had been expected in April but are now likely to be brought forward. The Home Office minister Alan Campbell said the Government was "determined to act swiftly" but it was important to consider independent advice to "stop organised criminals exploiting loopholes by simply switching to a different but similar compound".

What do relatives of those affected think?

Matt Smith, brother of 19-year-old Nicholas Smith, who died on Monday, said the legal status of mephedrone could have given him a, "false sense of security". He said: "If he thought he was taking something illegal, that he shouldn't have been taking, he wouldn't take it." Tony Smith, Nicholas's father, said: "We are now aware the Government are looking at making this drug illegal, but the fact is that young people have already died and had something been done before now our son would still be with us."

Do health experts support the Government's approach?

No. A spokesman for drug campaign group Release said: "The Government's rejection of the role of science in drug policy through the sacking of Professor Nutt has both slowed down our ability to react to mephedrone and is part of a worrying trend that places more importance on ill-informed and hysterical voices in the media than on scientific evidence when it comes to drug policy, leaving us less well prepared to protect our children from drugs, through making informed balanced choices on such issues." Martin Barnes, chief executive of the charity DrugScope, said: "There is currently more control on the content and sale of a tin of baked beans than there is for mephedrone."

Should mephedrone be banned immediately?

Yes...

* It has caused serious side-effects in some people including heart problems epileptic fits and death.

* Children as young as 12 are said to be trying it because they have been reassured it is legal.

* It has effects similar to powerful illegal drugs such amphetamine, ecstasy and the dance drug MDMA.

No...

* It is wrong to ban a drug without considering the evidence that it causes serious harm.

* Criminalising children for possession could cause more problems than the drug itself.

* Some reports implicatiing mephedrone in the deaths have turned out to be false alarms.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

    C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

    £50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

    C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?