[Note: This article was originally posted on the Hartford Advocate's website on June 17, 2010. We're featuring it once again, due to the recent upturn in bath salts-related crime.]
The story about the British teenager who tore off his scrotum while tripping for 18 hours on mephedrone, a popular-in-the-U.K.party drug? It turns out not to be true. (According to the tale, he’d gone after his balls because he thought centipedes were crawling all over him.) And the more than two dozen deaths linked to the same drug, which was legal in the U.K.until this year, also turned out to be mostly alarmist bullshit and media hype.
But Parliament reacted quickly to the panic surrounding the deaths and the supposed scrotum massacre, banning the drug officially in early April. The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported shortly after the ban was placed that the hysteria over the drug was overblown. They revealed that a police officer had lifted the scrotum story from mephedrone.com, a website that sells the drug. The British newspaper The Sun had picked up the gruesome anecdote, missing the officer’s attribution to a drug blog.
“The owner of the website that hosted this blog,” reported the Guardian , “says the posting was a joke.”
And it turns out none of the deaths could be pinned to the drug, either. “The reality is that there is yet to be a single death that a coroner blamed primarily on mephedrone,” the paper reported. (Though, to be fair, mephedrone seems to have certainly been present at the time of death.)
There’s no question that mephedrone is addictive and massively popular in nightclubs and on college campuses in the U.K. It has very similar effects found with the use of Ecstasy and MDMA: It causes increased alertness, feelings of euphoria and the “overwhelming desire to dance.” Before it was outlawed, you could walk into any headshop in London and buy it off the counter. It’s sold, and known on the street, as “plant food,” “bubbles,” “drone,” “bath salts,” “meow meow,” and “MCAT.” And most of it is bought online. The meow meow I bought came from Taiwan, took three weeks to get here, and cost $30 for a gram.
Mephedrone is made from a chemical called 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC), which is based on compounds found in “khat,” an East African plant that contains a natural stimulant. Though it’s called plant food by the people who buy and sell it, mephedrone is not actually ever used as plant food or fertilizer. It’s been called fertilizer and “bath salts,” and a “research chemical,” in order to make mephedrone commerce technically legal. Because it’s a synthetic chemical that’s an analogue of methcathinone — which is illegal — you could get busted in the U.S. under the Federal Analogue Act for selling mephedrone for consumption. Calling it “plant food” or “bath salts,” however, makes it possible for transactions to pass through the loophole: You’re buying this chemical to put it in your bubble bath, not to inject it into your body, swallow it, or snort it (which are the three ways mephedrone is typically illegally consumed). It’s considered a “gray-area” drug.
Meph hasn’t reached the level of popularity in the U.S. that it has in the U.K. The only state that explicitly outlaws it is North Dakota, where, in February, the Bismarck Tribune reported that police found packets of it being sold at headshops as “Stardust” bath salts. The state banned Stardust, along with a few synthetic strains of marijuana.
As for Connecticut, Lt. Paul Vance, Public Information Officer for the Connecticut State Police, told me he hasn’t seen any mephedrone here. Dr. Robert Powers, director of the state toxicology lab, also says he hasn’t seen any come through his lab.
I called a few headshops in Connecticut anyway to see if I could find some “Stardust”-style plant food. One store clerk sort of snickered and said the shop doesn’t carry it. I asked if he knew what I was talking about and he said he did. They get people looking for it every once in a while. Another store clerk, at Songbird’s in Newington, also knew what I was talking about, but said he didn’t have it, though he directed me to a smoke shop in East Hartford.
The guy in East Hartford sounded confused and/or annoyed, said no, and hung up. There was a similar response from a woman in a Wallingford store.
“Plant food?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “You know, plant food ?”
“Sweetie, if you want plant food, you’re gonna have to go to a plant store.”
If you want to talk about mephedrone, or get it, the easiest way is online. Hundreds of posts on messageboards and forums like Testosterone Nation (tnation.tmuscle. com) or HipForums.com or Drugs-Forum.com strongly indicate that mephedrone has a presence here in Connecticut and in the U.S. User “TheKindBud,” whose location is listed as Connecticut, posted on GrassCity.com, “I am currently in the process of filling a suitcase with some goodies to enjoy with my brothers over the holiday season. Right now it consists of: big bag of grass, some LSD doses, N2O chargers, kratom extract (for tea), xanax bars, couple packs of camels, a fifth of JD, and some mephedrone.”
The drug comes in the form of a fine white powder, and there are posts online that say mephedrone has dissolved the strips of credit cards used to cut the drug into lines for snorting. A guy named Jack Starks, who wrote about his mephedrone experience for MephedroneToday.com, speculates that the drug might instead be a plant decomposer, rather than food. “What it does to your insides I dread to think,” he writes. “I once accidentally left a spoon in a bag of the stuff and came back three days later to find it had stripped off the outer coating and my mephedrone scattered with tiny silver bits of spoon. We still snorted it.”
There are methods for dulling the pain of snorting meow meow; many people mix it with other chemicals, like lidocaine, to numb their nostrils. They also chew gum or eat Starbursts to temper the “burning” of the “drip.” Many more people recommend “bombing” meph — pouring some into a cigarette-rolling paper, wrapping it up into a little packet and swallowing it. One commenter on drugs-forum.com prefers to snort, but cautions that a friend of a friend “used a blockbuster card to make the lines and after the card sat in his wallet for a few days the plastic on the outside started to basically melt away.”
“Cant be good for ones nose,” he continues, “but oh well my [friend] finds it better than ingesting.”
Surprisingly, there are ads to buy meph in Connecticut, as though there’s some sort of domestic synthetic-drug warehouse here. It doesn’t look very convincing, though, and the ordering is done online. If you want to buy plant food, you’re better off ordering from one of the many sites Google Shopping ads will direct you to when you do a search for mephedrone. Naughtyplantfood.com, plantfeedshop. com, slyplants.com or vip-mephedrone. tk are all sites that claim to sell it, though many of them were shut down for a while right after the U.K. ban on meow meow, and are only now starting to look like they’re revving up again.
A couple of them say they’re currently out of stock, but there are many other “research chemicals” they offer, too. Watch carefully. According to MephedroneToday, a drug called desoxypipradrol, coming into the U.K. from Holland, is being used as a substitute for mephedrone. It’s legal, in case you’re wondering.
Stanley Foster, a spokesperson for buythemg.com, where I got my mephedrone, was cautious about speaking to me about his company.
He emphasized by e-mail that buythemg.com is strictly a research chemical company and does not sell products for human consumption. In 2004, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency targeted online sellers of gray-area drugs in an investigation called Operation Web Tryp, and 10 people were arrested. So a company like buythemg.com has to be careful in the way it characterizes itself.
“I prefer to keep as little exposure as possible to my locale and identity,” Foster wrote. “I’m probably much older than you think I am. I’m probably not the nationality you think I am. I live somewhere you’ve probably never even heard of.”
When my Ziplock baggy arrived — inside of a sealed, reflective bag that I had to tear to open — it had a warning label on it: “Not for human consumption.” I poured a tiny bit into a glass of water and swirled it around to dissolve it, then shot it, and chased it with a beer. It had a tingly, Ritalin-y effect on me, with that tell-everyone-you-see-you-love-them giddiness and the warm-tummy, happy-face feeling. And that was just after a little bit. I can’t imagine going through two or three full doses of the stuff in a night. The scrotum-ravaging story starts to seem plausible. One can only take so much of this kind of amphetamine buzz before losing one’s mind. (Though, according to the many messageboards I read, mephedrone levels off at a certain point and doesn’t take you any “higher.” Rather, it prolongs the high, and the jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding that so finely complement stimulant abuse.)
Foster says sales have dropped off since the U.K. ban. “We still ship some to the U.K. now, but most of our customers are law abiding (or perhaps law fearing),” he wrote. “Research chemicals (RCs), post Operation Web Tryp, had been available to only a small, geeky, group of psychonauts via secretive Internet forums. VERY low key, and hardly a commercial business for most vendors. And RCs were almost never mentioned in the press, either.”
“What’s playing out now is most disturbing,” he added. “Now that Mephedrone is illegal, customers (and vendors) are clamoring to find the ‘next big thing.’ I’m getting multiple requests in now for a chemical which never even existed just three weeks ago! People want to buy kilos of the stuff!!”
Foster suspects the U.S. will catch on to the joys of plant food, though he speculates that junky drugs like coke and Ecstasy and MDMA are already pretty easy to come by here, and that the synthetic alternative isn’t all that appealing.
“I can’t predict just how popular it will get,” he wrote. “The fact that it hasn’t done so already probably indicates that it has limited appeal to Americans for some reason. Well, you could say the same for Robbie Williams or James Blunt — hugely popular and talented musical artists in the U.K., but they just never really caught on in the U.S.A. And no one can really explain why.”
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