Mephedrone: also known as 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC) or 4-methylephedrone.
Synonyms: Miaow, 4-MMC, MMCat, MD3, Roxy, Bubbles, Rush, Plant Feeder, Drone.
Most common modalities of intake: Oral ingestion by swallowing capsules or ‘bombing’ (wrapping mephedrone powder in cigarette papers and swallowing); insufflation.
According to users there is a highly addictive quality to the substance i.e., a strong compulsion to redose (this may be related to the duration of effects). This addictive quality means that binges in which large amounts of the substance are consumed in single sessions is common. Users also report the development of tolerance to the substance after prolonged use.
Sustained use of mephedrone can result in flash headaches, intermittent pain in feet, numbing sensation on left side of head/scalp, tinnitus, ulcerations, vasculitis, kidney pain, cardiac problems and respiratory problems.
Most desired psychoactive effects: euphoria, empathy, stimulation, increased insight/mental clarity, intensification of sensory experience stimulation (particularly auditory e.g. music appreciation), decreased hostility/insecurity.
Most common physical/medical untoward effects: loss of appetite, insomnia, numbness and lack of tactile sensitivity, influenza like symptoms, painful joints, fatigue, anxiety/paranoia, hallucinations, depression, tremors and convulsions, loss of concentration and memory loss/amnesia.
The duration of mephedrone effects are on average: come-up 10-20 minutes; peak 45-60 minutes; comedown 60-120 minutes.
In May 2010, my best friend committed suicide after three slow years of addiction had become too much for him to bear. He was twenty. He overdosed and was found by his sister. He was lying on his bed, wrapped under the covers. She thought he was sleeping until she noticed the white foam on the sides of his mouth, a purplish tinge underneath his eyes, and dried vomit on his pillow. There was a piece of paper next to him. That piece of paper was his suicide note.
However much you think you know someone, you never really do and never will. That suicide note ensured that sentence will always be embedded inside of me, because that was his final sentence in that note. It was an A4 size piece of paper, and he’d only filled one side in. It was the hardest and longest thing I’ve ever read. Knowing the torment, anguish and sorrow he’d gone through, while he’d put on a very different façade, really opened my eyes up and gave me the push I needed to kick my own addiction. Knowing that someone who was more like a brother rather than a friend, someone who I’d known since childhood, someone who I loved, had been in so much hidden pain without me knowing or without him even taking the first step and telling me, someone, anyone, not only hurt me, it destroyed my world. As cliché as the saying is, when he went, a part of me went too. It’s never been more true.
The first time we did drugs was when we were seventeen. From then on in, we were hooked. Addicted. It went from smoking weed to popping valium to sniffing coke to swallowing acid to sniffing glue to snorting ketamine and then, eventually, the one that pushed us into a state of decline, mephedrone. At first, it’s the best feeling in the world. You know everything, and want to talk to everyone, and aren’t afraid of anything. The world is yours. That is until you develop a state of ‘walling’ – where a few grams doesn’t have any effect anymore. Leading to more and more of it being taken to have the desired effect. In turn, an addiction of it ensued. And there was no way out for him. Because of him, I got out at the right time. I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want my friends and family to carry my coffin, I didn’t want my dad to have no-one to watch the rugby with, I didn’t want my mother’s laughter to stop, I didn’t want my sister to grow up without a brother. I got off the drugs within a year of his death and haven’t touched them since. I don’t want any sort of congratulations for that because it’s not needed. I got myself into the mess and I got out. He didn’t. That’s it.
He was a beautiful person. You hear friends say that about lost ones all the time, but he really was. When you were around him, everything was so much brighter. I remember him telling me once, after a poem got rejected by a magazine, to keep doing what I do and to not let anything negative get in my way and that something will come. His words turned out to be right. Actually, most of the things he said turned out to be right, he never let a word go to waste. He didn’t say much but what he did say he meant. His words were to be treasured, to be collected and hoarded and to be brought out in times where you really needed some sun to break through the clouds. I’ve lost count how many times his words helped me after he went, and even now I think of what he’d do when I’m feeling low. One look at our sixth form prom photo together makes me realise that I’ll only have one chance and the fact that he can’t be around to see what I’m doing gives me much more incentive to succeed. He may be gone but he’ll always be around.
James, I can’t forgive you for leaving me but I want you to know that I understand. I don’t know if I’ll see you again, I’m still unsure of believing, but every word I write has part of you in it, every bottle that goes down is shared with you, and every cigarette – yeah, I’ve cut down, don’t start – brings back memories of us sat in a beer-garden somewhere. Smoking and drinking, waiting for the future. You don’t need me to say that your future never came because it sort of did. With me. Wherever I go, you’re there. I still go round yours and your mam and dad are doing alright. So is Bethan. She’s growing up now, man! It’ll be boyfriends and all that next. I’ll take care of her, though, don’t worry.
I hate you for leaving me.
But I’ll always love you, man.
You’ll never be forgotten and will always have a place in my heart.
I’ve meant to do this for a while but now I have the chance. I’m not going to write a misery memoir, because his life wasn’t miserable. I’m going to tell you about some of my most cherished memories of James, without any of the bleak memories. I want to celebrate who he was, and you’re invited to the party.
I first met James in infant’s school, Craig-Yr-Eos Infants, which was in Pen-y-Graig, wrapped in the heart of the Rhondda Valleys – where I grew up. The school has been demolished now and instead of a huge, intricate, Victorian-style building which was once satiated with young laughter, flowering friendships and yellowed maths books, there’s now a blank tarmaced waste-ground with the walls decorated in unintelligible graffiti and the corners piled with corner-shop waste.
It was at dinnertime, after the actual dinner, in the school-yard when we first met. I remember it being a really warm day so I was sat on the wall in the shade while everybody else was playing games; games that children play at that age. I was quite shy and introverted so I didn’t really have friends, I didn’t talk to people and they didn’t talk to me. I was pretty content being by myself. I’d look forward to going home so I could be with my parents and to finish the jigsaw I’d started that morning or to finish another Mr Men book.
Just as I started to drift in and out of my thoughts about why Mr Grumpy was as miserable as he was, a football slowly rolled towards me and glanced against my feet. I ignored it, whoever’s ball it was they could come and get it themselves. I didn’t like football. I wasn’t joining in with any of their games. I picked a small, loose stone from the wall and started to roll its cold, sharp edges against my palm, the taste of warm milk dissolving from my senses as shouts, screams, whispers, laughter, cries, filled and echoed around the school-yard.
I started to pick more stones from the crumbling wall and lined them up, making patterns, faces, anything. I was so engrossed in this that I didn’t realise there was someone standing in front of me until he spoke.
‘Don’t like football.’
‘Let’s play your game then.
He sat down next to me. A dark blonde bowlcut, piercing green eyes and a constant grin. He started to pick up the stones and copied what I was doing. Before long we had loads of patterns on the wall. A mini-army of circles, triangles, rectangles, squares. Next, we arranged the stones to spell our initials, then our names. That was how we first knew what each other were called. This pattern-making was performed in silence, until James said:
‘C’mon, this is boring now, let me show you something.’
I didn’t think the stones were boring but I followed James, anyway. This knee-high, bowl-haired enigma. We were out of the shade, into the sun, across the yard, to the gate that led to the lane behind the school.
‘Go on,’ he said.
‘What if the dinnerlady sees us, though?’
‘She won’t. I’ve done it loads of times, go on.’
I pushed the gate but it wouldn’t budge. I tried again, harder, and it dragged across the ground, moaning sleepily, crunching against the ground and scratching its dandruff-like rust amongst the gravel. It swung fully open and rested against the wall. The lane was strictly out-of-bounds, we’d probably be told on if we left the yard and went into the lane, but that was exactly what we did. We closed the gate after us and stood there, watching through the rusted metal bars as the rest of the children played. James started to run up and down the lane, like he’d won something, ecstatic. I stood there and watched. After he finished running, he came back to the gate and stood there with me. The bell went and we slid back into the yard.
Things were never the same again.
As we grew up, one of the things we did a lot was walk his Westie dog up and along the mountain behind James’ house, which was just behind Craig-yr-Eos. His house rested on the mountain like a lower lip, the upper lip being the farmer’s cottage which sat on top of the mountain with the sheep, barbed-wire fencing and the weird men with binoculars.
We’d pretend we were running away from something or someone, what we were running from was never clear but we spent hours, days, even weeks, kicking up dried dirt and scattering paths amongst the wimberry bushes. Molly, his dog, would be running around us and in front of us, occasionally stopping to sniff something, but she’d never be too far away. It was as if there was an invisible leash attached to her and James. Wherever he went, she followed.
This particular day was in the summer holidays. We were ten. On that mountain there’s a huge quarry, deep and dark, as if it’s the belly of the mountain itself. We were running around the top of the quarry, ducking and diving into the grass that textured its craggy claws. The snipers were shooting at us, weren’t very good shots, though. We crawled and crouched through the bushes as the sound of the park (which was about a five minute walk from the mountain and viewable from our position on the edge of the quarry) – people shouting, laughing, dogs barking, the water in the pool splashing – echoed and carried through the air. It was strange, even though we could hear other people, they couldn’t hear us and it felt as if we were in a place where no-one else could get to. The mountain was ours. They could have everything else, and they did. They slowly took over everything, even our mountain, when a fire raged and shrieked for days, a few years later.
Molly was on the edge of the quarry, looking down into it, when suddenly she barked. Something down there must have startled her, because as she barked her whole body juddered forward and her claws slipped on the silky stone of the cliff-face. I was nearest to her and I looked at her when she barked; hearing her bark was like Man United losing then, it just didn’t happen, and as I saw her claws trying desperately to cling on to the stone, I rushed up from the prickly bushes and grabbed her back-end before she fell into the quarry. In one movement, I turned her body around so that her rear-legs were now facing the quarry, rather than her front ones. I pushed her and she scrabbled to the safety of the grass and to James, who was watching in a state of silent shock, his mouth hanging open like the gaping, curling aluminium on a half-opened tin. He picked her up and turned his back, probably so that I wouldn’t see him kissing her.
As I pushed myself up from my knees, my feet slipped on the stone. I banged a knee and scraped a shin as I went down and I remember the pain being so sudden and hard that I winced and instinctively reached down. As I did this, I slipped further and the pain didn’t register anymore. I was hanging on to the cliff-face, one hand on the stone, one hand clutching the dusty, greyed root of some forgotten tree. I was thirty foot from my death. I shouted to James and I heard him running.
‘Where are you? Rhys, where are you?’ his voice was laced with terror and worry.
‘Down here,’ I said, fighting back tears. ‘Quick, help me. Grab my hand.’ A tear danced down my face.
He reached down and grabbed my forearm on the arm that was hanging onto the cliff. He tried to pull me up but he wasn’t strong enough. We were both about seven stone soaking wet, all skin and bone and hair.
His effort was enough, though, for me to get a better grip on the cliff-face. I was now able to swing my legs onto an out-shooting rock below me and I stood on it, hoping that it wouldn’t slide away. It didn’t. I composed myself, and pulled myself up onto the cliff-face and onto the creased, old mountain.
The blood was streaming down my shin and soaking my trainers. There was already a lump on my knee. It hurt standing up, but James helped me as I struggled down the mountain. Molly kept looking back at us, as if she knew what was going on, as if it was her fault. I think I kind of felt it was her fault.
We got into James’ house and his mother made us fish-fingers, chips and beans. I’ll always remember the smell of the vinegar, freshly-washed clothes and the faint smell of his father’s cigarette drifting in from the back-garden. She repaired my knee and my shin, and after we ate our food James and I played on the Playstation until my mother came to pick me up. He never mentioned my tears.
Being part of something, anything, when you’re young is really important. It gives you a sense of protection and allows you to interact with other children who’re not in your school or live in your street. James and I were part of our local rugby team, Penygraig. I played scrum-half, he played wing. I was faster than him, but he wouldn’t admit it. He played on the wing because, at that age (we were fifteen), he was bigger than the rest of us and having a big player on the wing used to kick fear into the opposition’s guts even before kick-off. He also couldn’t pass that well so he just used to run with the ball. He wouldn’t even look around to see if a pass was on. A proper winger.
We’d reached the semi-finals of a ten-a-side tournament, which was pretty exciting because we hadn’t won a game all season. We were playing Pontypridd in this game, and they were one of, if not the, best teams in the tournament. We were shitting ourselves.
It was raining, puddles were flowing into other puddles. Mud was caked onto our boots, socks, faces, hands. For some reason, there was sand mixed with the mud and whenever you rubbed your hands together, it felt like pebbledash.
We knew we had to keep it tight, but our pack wasn’t the biggest. Kick-off came. They scored straight off it. And then again and again and again. Before we knew it, it wasn’t even half-time and we were 28-0 behind. Our coach was going crazy, shouting, spitting and jumping up and down on the sidelines. Everyone else was huddled into their coats or watching from the safety of the club-house.
They were targeting our pack, they were much bigger and stronger than us in that aspect so we had to change our game-plan. As scrum-half, you see the game more than any other player. You hear everything and the team listens to you. I remember telling the forwards to just set the ball up after kick-off and for us to go through the phases instead of rushing. To get some rhythm going. They listened. It worked. Before long, we’d scored two tries and went into half-time 28-14 down. Our confidence was high.
The second-half was a stalemate until the last ten minutes. We scored one length-of-the-pitch try from a Ponty mistake and then with five minutes to go we were camped on their twenty-two. They gave away a penalty. I slotted it over. Three minutes left. They kicked to us and the forwards set it up again. They were like exhausted wildebeest, their legs looked like pieces of cotton swaying in the wind. They wouldn’t have lasted another ten minutes. The crowd were going mental, shouting and watching with avid concentration. Even other teams who’d been knocked out of the tournament were watching the game now. The underdogs were giving it to the big-boys. Big time. You could see it on the Ponty players’ faces – we had them scared.
From a ruck, I passed the ball to Damien, our fly-half, who hoofed the ball in the air. James chased after it and I watched as the Ponty full-back waited for the ball to land in his arms. It never did. James leapt in the air just as it was about to be gathered by the Ponty full-back and he caught it superbly. He handed-off the full-back, who crumpled to the floor, holding his face, and James kept running. The Ponty winger was chasing him and was catching, but I knew James would score. The fourteen on his back, the one covered with mud, and the four a fading white, kept getting further and further away, just as much as the rain kept falling. The winger did catch him but all he could do was cling onto his shirt as James flung himself over the line, into the thick mud, and thumped the ball down.
Everyone went mental. Drinks went flying, coaches ran onto the pitch, Ponty sat on the field, desolate. I ran to James, he picked me up.
‘We won!’ he shouted. ‘We won!’
I clung to him tightly and as my nose pushed into his hair, I could smell the deep odour of soil and the reek of vaporub. We lost the final but we didn’t really care.
It is dark now,
The sun has been lulled into sleep –
I look past the sky and see nothing;
The day has gone.
My senses sullen,
A frozen rose in my chest
And a map of a hundred faces
Cloud my emotions and sight.
The sky will fold with light;
The tides will turn,
Sun is the greatest lie –
I want to stay, but I must run.
I’ll see you on Sunday, James. I’ve told everyone you don’t like flowers but no-one listens.
original illustration by Dean Lewis