14:00 22 March 2010
A group of 50 university students will openly take and report on the effects of the controversial "legal high" drug mephedrone.
The drug, which is also known as 4-methylmethcathinone 4-MMC, 4-methylephedrone, meow meow, Miaow and MMCAT, has been linked to a string of addictions and five deaths, although scientific proof that the drug is deadly has not been found.
John Moores University (JMU) in Liverpool will examine the direct effects of the drug which is marketed as a form of plant food as it is an offence under the Medicines Act to sell it for human consumption.
Pressure has been mounting for the Government to ban the substance after two teenagers, Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, were found dead in Scunthorpe, after allegedly taking the high.
It can be snorted through the nose, as cocaine is, or dabbed on the tongue. In some cases it can be injected directly.
The public health department at JMU has won "ethical approval" to begin researching the drug. Volunteers who take mephedrone will be monitored by scientists based in the university laboratory.
While undergoing the effects, they will be questioned by university academics throughout the night about their different states of consciousness.
Tests will study their thoughts and ability to think and act coherently. They will be asked to describe how they feel on an "adjective bar", with "sad" or "depressed" and "euphoric" or "very happy" on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Further tests include matching objects to numbers and being asked to recall logical sequences.
The students will also be interviewed days later, to analyse their "come down" and any apparent dependencies.
The drug has been linked with side-effects including nose bleeds, nose burns, hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, blood circulation problems, rashes, anxiety, paranoia, fits, and delusions.
Academics have stressed that they are not supplying the substance to students and those taking part would already be using the legal high regardless of the university tests.
Dr Cathy Montgomery, senior lecturer in psychology, said: "Nobody is an expert in mephedrone. It's only in the last year that we've seen use of it. Most evidence comes from people anecdotally.
"They liken it to a euphoric stimulant, similar to ecstasy.
"People say it increases energy, openness and improves their sociability. It can also lead to pupil dilation, goose bumps, and blood pressure and heart rate going up.
"Supply of mephedrone is relatively easy, and the substance itself relatively pure.
"Students here at Liverpool JMU tell us they prefer to use mephedrone over the drugs they were using before."
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will to issue a report into a group of "legal highs", which includes mephedrone, at the end of this month.
Mephedrone is already illegal in Sweden, Israel, Denmark and Norway.
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