The first results of the Global Drug Survey 2020 are in, offering fresh insights into pan-continental drug-taking and drinking trends that existed before coronavirus stopped people from meeting at pubs, clubs, festivals and in loud smoky kitchens.
While there has been a somewhat altered drug landscape since March – with alcohol use in the UK initially spiking, but beer and wine sales decreasing overall; stimulant use decreasing; cannabis use increasing and people using ketamine and magic mushrooms to escape or explore their minds – these new results show us a likely direction of travel when we’re once again allowed to behave like social animals.
(Most) People Are Being Sensible with MDMA and Ecstasy
MDMA and ecstasy-related drug deaths reached new heights in England and Wales in 2018, when a record 92 people died – largely a result of young people taking large doses of a product that has soared in strength over recent years.
That number dropped to 78 in 2019, and the Global Drug Survey’s findings – collected between November of 2019 and February of 2020 from a sample base that is broadly more drug-savvy – suggest ecstasy users are realising that less is more.
Of the 15,000-person sample, 61.4 percent of recipients took one pill or less during one sesh, while 48.3 percent took 0.2 grams or less of MDMA. Of a sample of 10,000 people, 51 percent checked or tested their ecstasy before using, and 69.8 percent had only two beers or less after taking the drug.
“A lot of people are generally doing the right things but missing some of the really simple stuff,” says Adam Winstock, founder of Global Drug Survey.
In “missing simple stuff” camp are the 45.9 percent of ecstasy users and 45.6 percent of MDMA users who never take a test dose – an initial strength-testing amount – from a new batch, and the 23.6 percent who prefer to bomb all their MDMA in one go.
The Darknet Is Going Mainstream
Global Drug Survey has tracked the use of darknet markets since 2014, when 4.7 percent of respondents procured drugs through them. There have been incremental increases – between 0.3 percent and 1.7 percent – every year since, but 2020 saw darknet users jump from 10.7 percent to 15 percent, a rise of 34.4 percent.
A May report by Sixgill, a cyber intelligence platform, suggested that drug supply increased by 495 percent between December of 2019 and April of 2020, so it’s likely that 2020 marks the year when the lights went on inside the darknet.
GHB Is Still Dangerous
Only 3 percent of global survey respondents reported recent use of GHB – a liquid-based central nervous depressant that has stimulant effects in lower amounts – but it wields great potential for harm, with the difference between a safer dose and a dangerous dose often just a millilitre.
This year’s results found that 19 percent of recent male users and 24.4 percent of recent female users lost consciousness while high, with 60 percent of these doing so more than once in 12 months. Perhaps most concerning is that out of the 839 people who reported passing out, just 78 (9.3 percent) called the ambulance services.
Drinking Regret Is a Cultural Issue
A large proportion of the survey focused on drinking-related regret. While 71.18 percent of global respondents experienced this at least once in the last 12 months, it jumped to 96.8 percent of Colombians and 94.3 percent of Argentinians, despite people in these countries getting drunk the least amount of times – 6.5 times and 6.9 times in the last year, respectively.
A large component of boozing-related regret was getting stuck with big drinkers – globally, 36 percent said this caused them angst, spiking to 48 percent of German respondents. Tellingly, notorious pissheads England and Scotland sit far below the average, at just 21 percent and 22 percent, despite their respondents having the highest bingeing frequency (Scotland’s 33.8 times a year to England’s 33.7).
“People from Germanic countries are often quite moderate and controlled. Losing control is not OK, so humiliating yourself is something that’s really frowned upon,” says Adam Winstock. “Colombians and Argentinians don’t get drunk often, so when they lose control it’s embarrassing. But for Brits, there’s something soothing about the pissed-abroad image. We’ve absorbed a cultural identity that thinks getting slaughtered is normal.”
Women Regret Drunkenness More
Globally, 39 percent of women regretted the occasions they got drunk, compared to men’s 29.6 percent. Many more women reported regretting saying something they shouldn’t (46 percent compared to 40 percent of men), significantly greater next-day anxiety (35 percent to 29 percent) and having an unwanted sexual episode (18 percent to 11 percent).
“I worry most about young women who hang around with guys who have the mentality that more booze, more everything, is more fun,” says Winstock. “Women are physically more vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol than men. ‘Lad culture’ drinking should be avoided by lads and gals. Everyone would have more fun and be safer if they drank just a little less. It’s not as boring as it sounds!”