Do you remember the pointless clusterfuck that was the Mephedrone scare? Well, it may just be back. Ivory Wave is the new Miaow Miaow*, declares The Telegraph today, in what I am fairly sure is the latest round in a long running game of “Who can get the most ridiculous two-word phrase into the papers?“.
There are, of course, several holes in the story. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, Ivory Wave is not a legal high. “Ivory Wave” is a mixture of Epsom salts and a chemical called methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) which, as a cathinone analogue (PDF, p. 8 ) – i.e., a drug which operates by a similar route to amphetamines – is illegal.**
Secondly, it doesn’t really sound like a party drug. For one thing, the recommended route of delivery is to dissolve it in bath water, which presumably releases the MDPV as a breathable vapour. I’ve not been to many parties where everyone sits in bathtubs having a relaxing soak.
The Express claims it can be snorted, in which case it is “three times stronger than cocaine”, which is technically true – though I can’t find a direct comparison, it apparently has four times the potency of methylphenidate, which is roughly as potent as cocaine. Of course, potency isn’t most important measure of a drug’s risk at all. Methylphenidate for instance, the chemical that’s as potent as cocaine, is better known as the safe and legal drug Ritalin. For another thing, the MDPV used in those tests would have been pure, rather than being cut with bath salts. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, no-one has ever performed any pharmacological tests on MDPV, so we don’t know whether it’s three times as effective or three times as dangerous as cocaine. One thing to point out though is that the DEA also claim no deaths have ever been linked to the drug.
Thirdly, but the recent hospitalisations connected to Ivory Wave do not appear to be due to the MDPV at all, at least according to Dr. Adrian Dawson of NHS Bournemouth and Poole, the health official who originally broke news of the drug. In fact, the real risks associated with Ivory Wave appear to be dehydration and renal failure caused by the presence of bath salts in the mixture. The fact that these hospitalisations appear to be coming in clusters – Bournemouth, Edinburgh and Whitehaven have all reported several cases, but apparently there have been none outside these areas – also suggest that the problem is not the drug itself, but something dealers are cutting it with.
As it stands, snorting Ivory Wave probably is a stupid idea, but ironically the drug appears to be dangerous largely because it is illegal. If it was available in a form that wasn’t cut with salts and bases, presumably the cases of kidney failure and dehydration would not have occurred – without any form of scientific study into MDPV, of course, we haven’t a clue how dangerous it actually is.
* A little piece of anecdata about how ineffective the media scare about mephedrone was. In the wake of the ban on the chemical, suddenly every streetlamp and signpost in our neighbourhood was covered with stickers advertising ‘plant food’ or Miaow Miaow. By banning it, they gave the drug more free advertising than its dealers could ever have dreamed of.
** In fact, The Telegraph now seems to have “legal” and “illegal” completely confused:
Police this week issued a warning about so-called ‘legal highs’ after two West Cumbrian men were arrested on suspicion of supplying Class B drugs.
On Wednesday officers raided four premises in Whitehaven and Workington, Cumbria, and seized numerous legal highs.
As a result two Whitehaven men were arrested on suspicion of supplying illegal class B drugs.
If they’re classified drugs, then by definition they’re not legal highs!