By Danny Shaw
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News
Guernsey banned importation of legal highs including mephedrone last year
Authorities in the Channel Island of Guernsey have told BBC News they are considering classifying the synthetic stimulant mephedrone as a class A drug.
Mephedrone, which has a similar effect to amphetamines, ecstasy or cocaine, reportedly has side effects including psychosis, weight loss and insomnia.
It is legal in the UK and the Home Office is awaiting advice on whether to criminalise its possession and supply.
But Guernsey officials say they must be "proactive" in acting before the UK.
Mephedrone, also known as "miaow" or "plant food", is one of a range of "legal highs" that have become popular among students and clubbers across the British Isles in the past two years.
But as well as health problems reported by some users, the white powder - which is snorted or injected - has also been unofficially linked to several deaths.
Prison inmate use
Andrea Nightingale, Guernsey's drug and alcohol co-ordinator, said: "You look at the effects and they're likened to ecstasy and possibly cocaine - these are class A drugs.
"So presumably, if [mephedrone is] causing the same effect, it may be that [it's] put at that level."
The UK government has asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to recommend whether mephedrone should be made illegal in Britain.
The Channel Islands usually follow UK government drug policy, but in December Guernsey's Channel Island neighbour, Jersey, outlawed mephedrone, placing it in the lowest drug category - class C.
Guernsey - which has never had a big drugs problem - banned the importation of mephedrone and other legal highs in 2009.
Ms Nightingale said its authorities were now conducting their own research into the drug's effects.
"We need to be proactive as far as an island is concerned," she said.
"If the support isn't there from the UK at this time and it's going to be a lengthy process then possibly we have to feel we can't wait and that we go it alone."
Customs officials say the importation ban has stopped legal highs being sold openly in shops on the island and prevented some drugs getting through.
But Billy Gilvear, the chaplain at Guernsey Prison, said there had been a rapid increase in mephedrone use among young offenders, with more than a third of inmates addicted to the drug.
He said offenders had suffered serious problems after injecting the drug: "They had lost a lot of weight, very gaunt-looking. Some of them had gouged faces, necks and arms but also mentally there was paranoia, they hadn't slept for some time.
"With lack of sleep, lack of eating, weight loss, they were in bad shape."
One of the prisoners, an 18-year-old former heroin user called Danni, was jailed for theft and fraud offences, crimes she had committed to fund a £500-a-week mephedrone habit.
"I couldn't get myself out of bed, I was very skinny," she said.
"I was having to detox off of all sorts of different drugs. I wasn't really getting the right help to detox off them, I was left to myself basically to do it. I was at death's door really."
Drug agency workers said mephedrone was an "unknown quantity" and that little was known about the most effective forms of treatment.
Tracey Rear, manager of Drug Concern, in Guernsey, said: "There has been no long-term research on it. We don't know what the long-term effects are.
"We're getting clients coming in who can be quite chaotic, their lives have taken quite a dip, so it presents a real risk because we don't know what we're dealing with."