Banned bath salts 'act the same way on the brain as cocaine'
The effects of mephedrone on the brain's reward circuits are comparable to similar doses of cocaine
16:21 GMT, 24 July 2012
Designer drug Meow Meow effects the brain in the same way as cocaine, scientists say.
The drug's active ingredient is mephedrone, which has been banned in the UK and classified as a Class B drug in 2010.
It is also one of the active ingredients in the family of drugs known as bath salts, which have been blamed for a wave of cannibal attacks in the US.
Mephedrone: It's a Class B drug so illegal to have for personal use, to give away or sell
The most infamous was the case of Rudy Eugene, who was shot dead by police as he tore off most of a homeless man's face with his teeth.
The drugs have gained popularity among recreational drug users over the last five years as they were easy to get hold of.
And new research shows mephedrone, acts the same way as cocaine in the brain – giving it the potential for abuse and addiction.
Mephedrone was banned in the UK after a number of deaths were linked to it, under its street name Meow Meow.
Studies were conducted on mice using a technique developed in the 1950s – intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) – that measures a drug's ability to activate reward circuits. In ICSS studies, animals are trained to perform a behavioural task – pressing a lever or button with their nose or spinning a wheel – to receive a reward.
Mice were implanted with brain stimulating electrodes, with measures of their wheel spinning effort made before, during and after they received various doses of either mephedrone or cocaine.
Dr Carl Malanga, of the University of North Carolina, explained: 'One of the unique features of ICSS is that all drugs of abuse, regardless of how they work pharmacologically, do very similar things to ICSS: they make ICSS more rewarding.'
Results of the Behavioural Brain Research study showed cocaine increased the ability of mice to be rewarded by self-stimulation and mephedrone did the same.
Dr Malanga said: 'The effects of mephedrone on the brain's reward circuits are comparable to similar doses of cocaine.
'As expected our research shows that mephedrone likely has significant abuse liability.'
Last year, the US Drug Enforcement Administration placed mephedrone on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act for one year, pending further study.
Dr Malanga said: 'Basically, the DEA was saying we don't know enough about these drugs to know how potentially dangerous they could be, so we're going to make them maximally restricted, gather more data, and then come to a more reasoned decision as to how we should classify these compounds.'
On July 9, President Obama signed into law legislation passed by Congress to permanently ban the sale of bath salts in the US.