JASON Chappelhow doesn’t do drugs. As a sports studies student at York St John University, it would be odd if he did.

But the 21-year-old has a friend who does. And among the substances the friend uses is mephedrone, the legal drug popularly known as bubbles, meow and M-CAT which has appeared on the party scene.

“He’s only recently started,” Jason said. “He uses it on nights out, in clubs and bars. When he takes it, you can tell because he gets really hyper really quickly – he’s in his own little world. He says it is a really easy way of going about it [getting high], and it is much cheaper than drink.”

As far as Jason knows, his friend has not experienced any unwanted side effects. “But I’ve only seen him on his highs.”

Even though his friend hasn’t come to any harm, Jason still supports calls for mephedrone to be declared illegal.

“It should be classified,” he said. “I have never agreed with taking drugs. You can get in a bad enough state through alcohol.”

There has been a huge response since The Press launched its campaign last week. Many people agree that mephedrone should be illegal.

They include Jeff Bower, the head of Woldgate College, in Pocklington where a sixth-former had to be rushed to hospital when he collapsed after taking the drug, and a York mother who spoke of seeing her “loving and gentle” son turned into an “aggressive and paranoid liar” because of mephedrone.

Others, however – including some who commented on The Press website – accused the newspaper of overreacting.

“Is the Press under the illusion that prohibition stops people doing things?” asked one correspondent.

“It is legal and has hospitalised/killed some people. Alcohol is legal and has hospitalised/killed lots of people,” pointed out another. There were even calls for more drugs to be legalised “in order that the vicious black market of drug dealing is scuppered”.

York St John student Jason, however, believes if mephedrone were to be banned, and there were real evidence about the harm it could do, it might make people like his friend think twice about taking it.

“My friend is quite clueless, to be honest. He doesn’t seem to worry,” he said. “But if there was hard evidence that it could do damage, it might affect his attitude. Though admittedly he’s only one person.”

Fellow students at York St John approached by The Press agreed with Jason. Dan Ridsdale, who is studying dance, says he was brought up not to smoke or take drugs.

A close family member suffered real problems with drugs before he himself was born, Dan says. “My mum says if she ever caught me doing anything like that, she would just abandon me.”

The 19-year-old agrees that UK drugs policies – which recently saw cannabis upgraded from category C to B – are confused and contradictory. In many ways, alcohol and tobacco are more harmful than most other drugs, yet remain legal, he says.

But he thinks mephedrone should be banned nonetheless.

Alcohol and tobacco have been around so long they have become part of the culture, he says. When that happens, it becomes very difficult to change attitudes towards them. “We need to stop it [mephedrone] before it becomes part of the culture.”

At least with tobacco, we now understand what the harmful long-term effects can be, adds Liz Parker, a 20-year-old film and TV student. “With drugs like mephedrone, we still don’t really know what they can do.”

All three students accept that media reports generally tend to exaggerate the risks and incidence of drug taking.

“Young people do get stereotyped – you would think they were all going out every single night taking drugs and getting plastered out of their heads. But that’s only a minority,” said Dan.

Nevertheless, all agreed the drug should be banned – and the sooner the better.

“A girl died in Sweden from taking it, and the next day it was banned,” said Dan. “It shouldn’t have to get that far before something happens.”

York St John students’ union president Jason Wallis, 22, has friends in London who use mephedrone. There, it has been around for as long as two years, Jason says.

His friends describe the effects of the drug as “like being drunk, but without being bloated from drinking five pints”.

Because the drug is legal, there are no problems with aggressive dealers, Jason says. Nevertheless, he too favours a ban.

His friends have reported having very bad hangovers after taking the drug at the same time as alcohol.

What worries him more is that young people who started out on mephedrone could move on to harder drugs.

From a practical point of view, he adds, banning the drug would make it easier for door staff at pubs and clubs to keep their establishments clean.

The York St John students’ union bar has a strictly zero tolerance policy on drugs, he said. “If we find any drugs on anyone, they will be confiscated and the police will be informed. This is not a drugs kind of place.” Banning mephedrone, he said, would make it much easier for the bar to stay that way.

Ali Boyd, 22, who graduated from St Johns last year and now works in the student union bar, agreed. Bar staff will control the amount of drink students can have if they think they have had too much, she said.

And yet legally, until the drug is banned, they cannot do the same with mephedrone. It doesn’t make sense.

The drugs expert

MEPHEDRONE is now being widely used by young people in York’s bars and clubs, according to Paul Tye of the York Crime Reduction Initiative.

Paul, who runs substance abuse programs for adults and young people, worked with several young users of the drug over Christmas.

As far as he is concerned, the sooner it is classified and made illegal, the better.

What worries him about the drug is that young people are using it without having any real idea what the effects will be on their bodies.

Everybody is different, he says – and so people react to drugs differently. No one who takes mephedrone knows what it will do to them.

“A drug is a chemical that you put in your body. But everybody has a different chemical makeup. What nine people will get away with, one won’t.”

Users have described the effects of taking mephedrone as being similar to ecstasy. “There is a quickening of the heartbeat, heightened senses, an illusion of grandeur,” says Paul.

But often, as a result of taking the drug, the heart can beat fast for up to 12 hours. “And it is not good for the heart to be beating too fast if you have a weak heart.”

The drug doesn’t appear to be addictive in the strict sense. “But if you go out on a night and have a line, you will very quickly want another line.”

It can also disturb sleep patterns, he says. “It knocks the body clock out, so you will stay awake at night and sleep during the day.”

Worst of all, however, is the fact that we really know very little indeed about the possible long-term effects of the drug.

We are still just beginning to understand some of the longer-term psychological and behavioural affects of drugs such heroin. We are very far away from understanding what the longer-term effects of mephedrone could be.

The sooner the drug is classified, the sooner scientists can begin to put together definitive information about what it does to the human body.

Until then, he urges young people to “be very, very careful”.

There is no point in simply telling them not to take it, he says: that will just prompt young people to go out and try it.

“But the effects of this drug are unknown. So what I would say is be sensible. Think about what you are doing and how it could affect your future.”

Palpitations, blurred vision, muscle spasms... and they call it a ‘high’

ACCORDING to charity DrugScope, which provides online information about drugs, mephedrone comes as a white, off-white or yellowish powder which is usually snorted, but can also be swallowed in bombs (wraps of paper) and may also appear in capsule or pill form.

The drug is derived from cathinone, a chemical found in the khat plant.

There is little research on the effects of mephedrone, so information is anecdotal, the charity says.

But it adds: “Many people who have used mephedrone and similar drugs report that their experiences are similar to taking amphetamines, ecstasy or cocaine, producing a sense of euphoria and wellbeing, with users becoming more alert, confident and talkative.

“People who snort these substances can experience extremely sore nasal passages, throats and mouths… Some people choose to swallow the drugs instead to avoid these particular problems.

“Like other stimulant drugs, the cathinone derivatives can have an impact on the heart. Some users report heart palpitations, or an irregular or racing heartbeat, which may last for some time.

Users can experience blurred vision, hot flushes and muscle tension… and some people report that their fingers and other extremities have taken on a blueish pallor.

“As with other stimulants, the substances tend to act as appetite suppressants. Nausea and vomiting has been reported, particularly if mixed with other drugs such as alcohol or cannabis.

“A particularly concerning feature… is that once users have started using the drugs in a particular session, it is very hard to stop, with compulsive use leading to a number of unpleasant side effects including insomnia, involuntary muscle clenching and hallucinations. In some cases, it seems, regular or heavy use may develop into psychological dependency.”

Just before Christmas, Professor Les Iversen, of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), wrote to Home Secretary Alan Johnson to confirm that the ACMD had “concerns about the apparent prevalence and potential harms” of mephedrone and related drugs.

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