Young adults in the north west of England have turned to unidentified white powders following the ban on former ‘legal high’ mephedrone and the falling purity of popular street drugs such as cocaine, according to new research published today in the journal Drug and Alcohol Today.
These white powders are called by the generic term ‘bubble’ and because their exact content is unclear they could pose a greater risk to public health. Bubble seems to be a north west and Scottish phenomenon.
The research suggests a rapidly changing drugs market with these cheap stimulants emerging and often used in conjunction with other popular illegal drugs.
Drs Fiona Measham and Karenza Moore of Lancaster University surveyed at random over two hundred young adults across four Lancashire towns and cities - Lancaster, Preston, Burnley and Chorley, about their drug use to see how it had changed in the seven months following the ban on mephedrone in April 2010. They found that young adults were pursuing the stimulant effects of bubble, but were uncertain and often also unconcerned about its content and risks.
Dr Measham said: “We found that one in ten of the young adults questioned had taken mephedrone within the past year and one in twenty within the past month. In the case of the next generation of ‘legal highs’, no clear substitute for mephedrone has emerged. Instead, there was uncertainty, confusion and a degree of disinterest. In this vacuum, bubble has emerged and evolved as a generic term used in the north of England to refer to any unknown white powders which are synthetic stimulants.”
The findings of the study, funded by Lancashire Drug and Alcohol Action Team (LDDAT), also calls into question reports that mephedrone acted as a ‘gateway drug’ for young adults who had never before consumed illicit drugs. Instead Drs Measham and Moore found that where it remains available, former ‘legal high’ mephedrone has been added to the ‘polydrug repertoires’ of already experienced drug users. Drug users in the north west are taking mephedrone and Bubble as well as rather than instead of popular illegal drugs such ecstasy pills, cocaine and amphetamines.
Dr Moore explained: “Street mephedrone, ‘bubble’ and generic pills and powders signals the reappearance of drugs with predominately stimulant effects that carry little of the ‘celebrity culture’ kudos of powder cocaine or premium quality MDMA. We could be witnessing the renaissance of ‘cheap and cheerful’ stimulants appropriate to our ‘age of austerity’. This rapidly changing drug market poses particular challenges for already hard-pressed drug services catering for teenagers and young adults.”