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.

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
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
Latest stories from i100
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

    English Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + Pay between ?110 - ?130 Day: Randstad Education Cardiff:...

    SAP Deployment Manager

    £480 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Deployment Manager-Ta...

    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant

    £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

    Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game