How meow meow got its name

New stimulant street drug mephedrone has been nicknamed ‘meow meow’ to the point where the name is appearing in scientific articles on the compound. What is less known, is that the ‘street name’ was largely an invention of journalists.

The drug was originally legal in the UK before it was quickly outlawed after it hit the headlines. Although first known by its chemical name 4-methylmethcathinone, it seems the media needed something more catchy.

The British satirical investigative magazine Private Eye tracked how the M-CAT got its name back in April 2010.

WAY BACK in January 2009 , not long after mephedrone first began to be sold online, members of the web forum attached to the now-defunct “headshop” Champagne Legals discussed what brand name they might attach to the new product, which has the chemical identity dimethylmethcathinone, or MM-CAT.

“What shall we call this drug? It’s called MM-CAT, so why not Miaow?” suggested one. The name did not catch on – unimaginative users tended to call it Meph, or Drone, instead. But on 1st November 2009, someone did add the name “meow” to the wikipedia entry for mephedrone at the head of a list of “street names.”

Three weeks later a 14-year-old girl died after taking the drug (although the cause of her death was later determined to be broncho-pneumonia following a bacterial infection), and The Sun declared the arrival of “a new party favourite called ‘meow meow'” and the world went cat-call crazy.

Among a host of recent headlines the Sunday Times has reported on “the rise of Meow” The Times has heralded “Meow Meow Arrests”, The Sun shrieked about a “Harman Snub for Meow Meow Ban” and The Telegraph took a long hard look at the “Meow Meow Menace in Europe”.

“No one ever called it Meow seriously till the papers picked up on the Wikipedia entry,” one drugs expert tells the Eye. Had hacks checked the site on 17 November, when the entry claimed for the drug claimed it was commonly referred to as as “Mugabe”, or 31 October, when a user claimed “on the street is sometimes referred to as ‘The Chinese'”, we could be seeing some very different headlines indeed.

Putting Psychology To Work

And Lo! Unto the always excellent BPS Research Digest, a child is born! The BPS Occupational Digest. is new blog which will cover news, reviews and reports on how psychology matters in the workplace. It will be curated by friend of (and contributor to the Mind Hacks book) Alex Fradera.

Blogging hasn’t started yet at the BPS Occupational Digest, but we’re looking forward to what Alex serves up. Watch this space!

Link to BPS Occupational Digest.

Clouding over the moon

The mythical connection between phases of the moon, madness and epilepsy are discussed in an engrossing but sadly locked article from the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences.

However, it does have this wonderful section where some of the more whimsical portrayals of ‘lunacy’ are discussed:

In the epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto, “Orlando Furioso” (1532/1992), when the paladin Orlando learns that his lover Angelica is married, he becomes mad and goes through Europe and Africa destroying everything in his path. The English knight Astolfo flies up to moon where all human intellects lost on Earth are collected and finds Orlando’s in a bottle, thus restoring him to sanity (Ariosto, 1532/1992).

In the seventeenth century, the term “lunatic,” especially in its more specific acceptation of “insane” as a result of some mental obsession, began to be substituted by the term “moonstruck.” Reflecting the popular association between the moon and the irrational, primitive, and dark side of the human mind, the adjective “moonstruck” makes its first appearance in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.


Link to summary and DOI entry for ‘lunacy’ article.

2011-01-21 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

Music, expectancy and pleasure in the brain. The Frontal Cortex has an excellent piece on the neuroscience of error prediction and the music appreciating brain.

Science News reports on how a substantial minority of third to sixth graders think they’re best friends with a classmate who actually dislikes them.

Straight Outta Compton, a dainty mother hugger named Nice Cube. Prosocial song lyrics make kids less aggressive, according to a study covered by the BPS Research Digest.

Scientific American explains why you’re probably less popular than your friends. Although in my case, it’s largely because the majority of my friends are cooler than me. Even the imaginary ones.

The widely misreported ‘genetics of friends’ study gets an excellent write-up from Genetic Future.

Wired Science looks at at a secret service study on the psychology of assassins in the US.

A leading journal is under pressure to retract a notorious study on children, depression and antidepressant paroxetine. Neuroskeptic weighs the evidence in this heated case and gives its verdict.

New Scientist covers an intriguing concert for three harmonium players and a synaesthete that recently hit the stage in London.

There’s a fantastic piece on Addiction Inbox on the challenges of personalising addiction medicine when gene variants make anti-craving drugs a hit-or-miss affair.

The Guardian has a piece on the continuing stigmatisation of mental illness in the media.

A psychiatrist and addiction specialist is interviewed about why she finds Twitter useful over at Frontier Psychiatrist.

The Economist charts the rise of the cognitive elite. Sadly, not about a neurally implanted version of the 80’s space trading computer game, as I had first hoped.

Another one of Eric Schwitzgebel and colleagues’ wonderful studies on testing the practical implication of philosophy hits the wires over at The Splintered Mind: do ethics professors respond as well as other philosophers to student email requests?

Medscape covers a new study finding that older surgeons have 1.5 – 3 times the rate of suicidal thinking than the average man in the street.

The over-interpretation of dreams. PsyBlog covers an interesting study on biases that makes us think certain types of dreams are more meaningful than others.

BBC News covers a case of alien hand syndrome and has a video of a patient being attacked by her out of control hand.

Are extraverts better leaders? asks Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Yahoo! News reports how burglars broke into a home, found white powder, thought it was cocaine, and ended up snorting a deceased man’s ashes. A mistake I think we can all relate to.

A culture shock in brain ethics

Dana has an eye-opening article on the challenges of doing brain research in cultures that don’t share the same assumptions about science and human nature.

There are several sections of the article which turn our research assumptions on their head, owing to the fact that some common principles of ethical research turn out to be based on quite a narrow view of human values.

The idea that donating tissue is simply a matter of individual choice is not a belief held by many communities who believe that all people are interconnected – making individual donations a group decision.

The article touches on an example from the Havasupai people and a similar situation was discussed in an All in the Mind interview with a Maori neuroscientist.

However, I was particularly struck by this part on confidentiality which is often assumed to be the bedrock of human research.

Confidentiality poses another ethical challenge to researchers working with indigenous peoples. Participants in academic studies are invariably anonymous, but in many Native cultures, not identifying oneself, one’s family, and one’s homeland is unacceptable. Anonymity, they believe, undermines the cultural fabric of the community, and is akin to stripping its members of their traditions and beliefs.


Link to ‘Cross-Cultural Neuroethics: Look Both Ways’.

Painful relief for a guilty act

The idea that physical pain can alleviate guilt has a long heritage but a new study just published in Psychological Science has produced evidence that helps confirm this long-held belief.

The experiment, led by psychologist Brock Bastian, asked people to recall a time when they had behaved unacceptably and then rate their current level of guilt as they thought back.

The participants were then asked to do a dexterity task with one hand while either keeping their other hand either in a painful bucket of cold water or in a bucket of lukewarm water.

Participants who wrote about an unethical behavior not only held their hands in ice water longer but also rated the experience as more painful than did participants who wrote about an everyday interaction. Critically, experiencing pain reduced people’s feelings of guilt, and the effect of the painful task on ratings of guilt was greater than the effect of a similar but nonpainful task.

Pain has traditionally been understood as purely physical in nature, but it is more accurate to describe it as the intersection of body, mind, and culture. People give meaning to pain, and we argue that people interpret pain within a judicial model of pain as punishment. Our results suggest that the experience of pain has psychological currency in rebalancing the scales of justice—an interpretation of pain that is analogous to notions of retributive justice. Interpreted in this way, pain has the capacity to resolve guilt.


Link to DOI entry for study.

A wave of neuroscience

The Royal Society has just released a fantastic collection of articles aimed to introduce both the cutting edge of neuroscience and the sometimes fierce debates sparked by its implications.

The collection covers everything from neural interfaces to neuroethics and the articles are written by some of the leading lights in brain research.

This publication is a collection of essays that together provide a primer of current developments in neuroscience and highlight interesting issues and questions for society and policy. The essays, authored by leading experts in neuroscience, bioethics, and science and technology policy, review the state of development of neuroscience and neurotechnology – such as neuroimaging, neuropsychopharmacology, and neural interfaces – and discuss the translation of this knowledge into useful applications. The authors discuss their own views on how developments might impact on society, examining some of the opportunities and risks, as well as the ethical questions and governance issues.

The collection has been dubbed ‘Brain Waves Module 1: Neuroscience, society and policy’ and apparently three other ‘modules’ are on their way.

You can see previews of the other modules from the links at the bottom of the collection’s web page and if they’re as good as this first one, they should make for a fantastic scientific introduction to our current understanding of the brain.

Link to Royal Society first Brain Waves collection.