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'Erratic and impulsive behaviour': What is the drug known in the UK as 'monkey dust'?

Monkey dust, also referred to as zombie dust, is a slang term used in England for the stimulant drug.
Monkey dust, also referred to as zombie dust, is a slang term used in England for the stimulant drug. Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Estelle Nilsson-Julien
Published on Updated
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The UK government is looking into making monkey dust, a drug that reportedly can cause hallucinations and psychosis, a class A substance.

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The city of Stoke-on-Trent, located in Central England, has become known as a hotspot for a drug called "monkey dust", with residents growing increasingly frustrated about the situation. 

As local authorities pump money into research to tackle the issue, there have been talks this year in the UK about reviewing the drug's impact on people's health as its effects make headlines.

Experts say the drug has also been seized in large quantities elsewhere in Europe.

What is monkey dust?

Monkey dust, also referred to as "zombie dust", is a slang term used in the UK for the stimulant drug.

It is made of different synthetic cathinones (similar to amphetamines), which speed up messages between the brain and the body.

Monkey dust is a cheap drug, reportedly sold for around £20 (€23) per gram and provokes effects similar to cocaine and MDMA.

It has risen in popularity as it is cheaper and triggers longer highs than other drugs. 

Sold in the form of a white powder, users snort, smoke or inject the drug.

Each batch of the drug is different, making it difficult to know what it actually contains. 

One local media outlet in the UK reported that the drug is believed to be imported from China.

How does 'monkey dust' impact users?

"It is a myth that monkey dust makes people into zombies, however, it can cause them to become impulsive and erratic,” Nuno Albuquerque, an addictions counsellor at the UK Addictions Treatment Centre, told Euronews Next. 

“Users can feel like they have superpowers and experience a surge in adrenaline,” he added. 

Monkey dust users are also reported to experience side effects of paranoia and increased agitation, which can lead to violent behaviour. 

The drug has been used by individuals suffering from cross-addictions.

"I have seen patients who are taking monkey dust alongside other amphetamines, some also have sex addictions," Albuquerque said.

Is there really a monkey dust ‘epidemic’ in the UK?

“The drug began to surge in popularity from 2017 to 2018 as a cheaper alternative to cocaine,” says Albuquerque.

He identified two factors which influenced the drug’s prevalence in the city of Stoke-on-Trent.

“The city is situated in a transit region, which makes it an easy target for drug dealers. It is also located in a deprived area, which has created a market for cheap drugs like monkey dust," he said.

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The city is in one of the top 20 per cent of the most deprived areas in the UK, according to Public Health England.

“We are aware of the problem within our city and as a local authority we are committed to confronting these challenges head-on," Stoke-on-Trent cabinet member and councillor Desiree Elliott, said in a statement shared with Euronews Next.

"Our efforts include a wide-ranging approach with our key partners that involves".

What is being done to address the issue?

Residents in Stoke-on-Trent have grown increasingly tired of the situation, with a report by Staffordshire University highlighting the "vastly negative impact [of the drug] on residents and the area".

This research was funded by the government's new drug strategy which granted Stoke-on-Trent's city council over five million pounds to improve drug and alcohol treatment.

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The UK government also launched an independent review into monkey dust in May.

Under current laws, monkey dust is a class B drug and supply is punishable by 14 years in prison. However, local Conservative MP Jack Brereton has been campaigning to move the drug into the class A band.

“Monkey dust is a horrific drug that has a devastating life-changing impact on those who take it and is destroying lives in Stoke-on-Trent," he said.

Local police forces are open to the prospect of reclassifying the drug.

"We are supportive of exploring the reclassification of synthetic cathinones, which includes monkey dust, from Class B to A, which will protect people from the harm of these drugs," said Rob Hessel, Chief Inspector at the local Staffordshire Police.

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Does monkey dust exist elsewhere in Europe?

Monkey dust does not only exist in the UK, with the same kinds of stimulants beginning to crop up across Europe from 2013 onwards.

“Last year, EU member states reported they had seized 30.5 tons of new psychoactive substances. 87% of these were new synthetic cathinones," Michael Evans-Brown, project manager at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction, told Euronews Next.

However, regulating these drugs is a complex mission, given that “the drug’s components are changed frequently, which producers will do in order to bypass bans on specific substances," said Evans-Brown.

Although monkey dust and similar drugs are frequently believed to be imported from China, a new market is emerging as a “number are being imported from India now," he added.

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