The untold story of Mephedrone

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What made you choose mephedrone to look at academically?

About 12 months ago I noticed that the accounts presented by MDMA users suggested that this drug was becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of and was more likely to be “cut” with other substances. It also became apparent that the users I spoke to had started using a new drug called “mephedrone” which was said to have similar effects to MDMA, was considerably cheaper, readily available and (interestingly) at the time, legal.

Mephedrone attracted my interest from an academic point of view for several reasons; firstly (and most obviously) it was legal which, given the way the UK government has a history of criminalising drugs before their harms are truly known, was a rare situation to be in. Secondly, the methods through which mephedrone could be purchased were fascinating, whether over the internet with guaranteed next day delivery, or by traditional dealing. Thirdly the media reaction to mephedrone seemed almost akin to that surrounding the tragic death of Leah Betts from water intoxication in 1995 (which at the time was linked to the ecstasy pills she had consumed earlier that night). Finally, mephedrone was not the first “legal high” on the market yet it seems to have attracted the most attention.

How do you feel the drug culture of illegal and legal highs is progressing in universities?

There are some fairly generic claims which have been put forward surrounding the prevalence of illicit substance use (which can be both legal and illegal) by young people; but these are related to young people in general, not simply university students. A considerable amount of drug research has been conducted in social spaces usually frequented by young people (such as dance clubs), most of which has looked at the use of illicit substances by the young people who engage in the night time economy. With regards to the progression of drug culture in universities I suppose it could be argued that there is more opportunity to use drugs now than there used to be. It is generally acknowledged that illicit substances are becoming increasingly available in the UK, especially with the emergence of legal highs which are available online. It has also been suggested that young people are delaying entering the work force owing to extended training (at college/university etc) which could mean an increase in disposable income. These factors combined could logically be used to argue that young people are more likely to use drugs now than they used to be, but this does not necessarily mean that they do. I would also highlight here that drug use is not simply the preserve of those classed as “young”, indeed, I have spoken to some very interesting people who fall outside this age classification (by their own admission, I’m not saying they were classed as “old”).

Do you feel that there’s a large drug culture at our Lancaster University?

That depends on what you class as “large”, and how you define “drug culture”? A recent piece of research conducted by my supervisors Doctor Fiona Measham and Doctor Karenza Moore highlighted that club customers were considerably more likely to report lifetime, past month and fieldwork night drug use than bar customers. Given the fact that Lancaster only has four clubs (only one of which is a predominantly student venue), it would be a stretch to suggest that Lancaster has a particularly large club scene. With larger university cities like Manchester, Liverpool and even Preston on our doorstep (each of which with a considerably stronger night time economy than Lancaster) it would be difficult to suggest that students come to Lancaster for the nightlife.  It is difficult to establish how big the drug scene is at Lancaster University at any point because of the influx of new people every year and the departure of others.  Of course this is not to suggest that there isn’t a drug scene at Lancaster, there is, this cannot be denied.

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