By Adam Winstock, Rasmus Munksgaard, Emma Davies, Jason Ferris, Ahnjili ZhuParris, Monica Barratt
Full report can be found on The Global Drug Survey website.
People are not defined by the drugs they use. This report is based on our non-probability data collected from 592,000 people completing our online survey, over the last 7 years of GDS (from GDS2015 – GDS2021) chooses to look at people’s drug use within the context of other lifestyle characteristics such as diet and musical preference. The samples vary in how accurately or otherwise they reflect upon the experiences of the wider population from which they are drawn from, but the findings can be used to inform public health policy and better understand how drugs are simply one thing a person does. The findings here related to participants to the Global Drug Survey not the wider population from which they were drawn.
Across the 7 years, most regions saw an increase in recent drug use including psychedelics, MDMA, cocaine, amphetamine, and ketamine. Most drug use fell with the onset of COVID-19 except for nitrous oxide and magic mushrooms. The greatest percentage of recent drug use occurs between the ages of 16-24 for all drugs except cocaine, which peaks in the 25-34 age group. The percentage of last year’s drug use more than halves between the age of 25 and 50 for almost all drugs. The high percentage of tobacco use among the younger drug using populations is a concern.
The highest percentages of recent drug use are seen among those who selected Electronic Dance Music (EDM) as their preferred music genre, with higher percentages of MDMA, other stimulant use, psychedelics and ketamine noted among fans of techno, trance, dubstep, hard dance and drum and bass. The lowest percentage of drug use was reported among fans of jazz and classical. Those people who went clubbing weekly or more often reported the highest percentage of last year drug use, with about 80% having used cannabis or tobacco in the last year, more than 50% having used MDMA and more than 40% having used cocaine. About 1 in 5 reported the use of hallucinogens including LSD and magic mushrooms. Not all people who go clubbing take drugs, but the more often you do, the more likely it is that you have used drugs in the last year.
People identifying as vegan were more likely to report recent use of most drug types, compared with omnivores and vegetarians.
While global drug trends can mask regional variations in market changes, our data support the gradual increase in the use of psychedelics globally. Consistently higher percentages of recent cannabis use are in the USA, perhaps reflecting an increasingly legal market. Increases in recent MDMA and cocaine use are consistent with increased access to precursors, production, and supply (often associated with increased purity). The rise in amphetamine use, especially in the USA may reflect ease of production and increased purity of a product that was historically often of low purity.
Governments can no longer rely on supply reduction as a way of reducing drug related harm. The rise of synthetic drugs and new drug markets (darknet) mean that historical approaches to drug policy and public health need to change with a focus on building resilience in vulnerable populations and explicit support for harm reduction for all groups who use drugs, not just those who inject or who may be at risk of overdose. While drug use peaks in those aged 16-24y, there are a significant number of people who continue to use into older age. The high percentage of tobacco use among younger people is a real concern. While frequency of use may decline, older people are more likely to have accrued chronic mental and physical health conditions placing them at a greater risk at physical harms. The falling percentage of drug use supports our view that the most important thing for governments to do is to support policies that:
1) Delay the onset of use
2) Support people to stay healthy and well, including the avoidance of criminalization.
Our data suggest the best way of addressing drug use is not tougher drug laws but allowing people to stay safe while they grow up so they can get on with life.
Do you conform to these trends or are you an outlier? There is still time to participate (anonymously) in the world’s largest dataset of drug use and join the 50,000+ people who have contributed to this growing evidence-base.