Of all the nicknames for a street drug, the newish “meow meow” might be the most innocuous ever, but its effects can be gruesome. On December 29th of last year, a British 19 year old, home for the holidays and geeked on meow meow, stabbed his mother before cutting off his own penis with the same knife. According to The Mirror, police responded to an emergency call placed by his mother, 46, and discovered the son “hanging out of a bedroom window with blood pouring from his wounds.” As of early January, the mother was in stable condition, and the son’s penis had been reattached. “He is normally a very lovely lad and very bright,” reported a family friend. “But unfortunately, he had started dabbling in drugs.” Yes, very unfortunately.
So what type of intoxicant could drive a level-headed teen to such a far corner of berzerk? Meow meow’s scientific name is “mephedrone,” and the drug is a type of designer amphetamine that produces effects similar to those of both MDMA and cocaine, including everyone’s favorite drug byproduct, teeth grinding. Meow meow’s proliferation began around 2007, when it started popping up for sale on the Internet; like other designer drugs such as synthetic weed, it was created as a means of sidestepping pre-existing bans on Schedule 1 drugs like its aforementioned analogues.
Cheap to synthesize and easy to get online, the DEA first identified mephedrone as a problem in 2011, approximately two years after it entered the United States, identifying it — and here’s where the penis-chopping comes in — as bath salts. (Bath salts are generally defined as synthetic cathinones, which include, but are not limited to, mephedrone, as the latter is a synthesis of cathinones and amphetemines. Party!) In November 2011, mephedrone was categorized as a Schedule 1 drug in the United States, “part of a large-scale crackdown on substances being sold on the Internet and at places like smoke shops, head shops, convenience stores, adult book stores and gas stations,” according to the DEA as well as those being marketed as plant food, research chemicals or bath salts. The rescheduling came one month after a Kentucky father and his two sons were handed down federal prison sentences for distributing 17 kilos of mephedrone across Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and the Internet under the name “Ivory Bath Salts.”
Mephedrone has so far mostly thrived in Europe, particularly at British raves, though it was banned in the U.K. in 2010. The popular dance magazine Mixmag published a reader survey in 2009 identifying meow meow as the fourth most popular drug (after weed, molly and cocaine), and in 2010, another survey from the publication reported that 75 percent of its readers had used the drug since the ban. But, like bath salts in the States, meow meow caused a lot of confusion and sensationalism in the British media when it came to drug-related deaths. Most notably, it was found that two teens in Scunthorpe whose drug-related death was used as a cautionary tale against meow meow — a case which expedited the drug’s illegal classification in the U.K. — had not, in fact, taken mephadrone, but instead had ingested alcohol and methadone. Britain’s former Chief Drugs adviser, Professor Nutt, told the BBC, “If these reports are true, the previous government’s rush to ban mephedrone never had any serious scientific credibility — it looks much more like a decision based on a short-term electoral calculation. This news demonstrates why it’s so important to base drug classification on the evidence, not fear, and why the police, media and politicians should only make public pronouncements once the facts are clear.”
Which is not to say mephedrone is safe — see, again, “Teen Cuts Off Penis.” But as with most emerging drugs, there’s an aura of sensationalism surrounding the truth, making clear and concise information difficult to parse. (Recall the Miami bath salts cannibal, who was never proven to have ingested bath salts.) That said, it’s still not a good idea to buy drugs off the Internet.