The best way to find out about people's drug use is to ask them about it. That, of course, can be a tricky conversation with people you don't really know – "Say, how much MDMA do you normally take on a night out, absolute stranger in a pub? And tell me: have you ever been hospitalised because of it?" – so it's useful that, every year, the Global Drugs Survey releases a comprehensive report on how exactly the world's been taking drugs, based on the biggest study of its kind. Over the last four years they've had 400,000 people take part.
For GDS2017, the worldwide sample was 119,846 people, with 5,868 respondents from the UK. They sent over the results of the survey this morning; here are some of the most interesting take-aways.
More people in the UK have taken MDMA than cocaine in their lifetimes
Despite cocaine practically being as normal as having a vodka-coke in London and other major UK cities, MDMA use is still as popular as it's ever been. In their lifetimes, 60.8 percent of respondents said they had taken MDMA, compared to only 52.4 percent who had taken cocaine. Within the past year, though, 43.3 had taken cocaine and 42.3 had taken MDMA.
More people are using ketamine this year than the previous year in the UK
We've known for a little while that ketamine has been having something of a renaissance. Some have suggested it's because we see it as kind of like LSD, which is harder to get hold of, but not quite as good. Other explanations may be that people just love getting wobbly. Whatever the reason, Brits love it. The use of ketamine in the UK rose from 23.6 percent of respondents in GDS2016 to 26 percent in GDS2017.
Fewer people did NOS in the UK
The crackdown on and new illegal status of recreational nitrous oxide has clearly had an effect on people's ability to access or use it. Thirty-eight percent of respondents in GDS2016 had used the popular festival and teen "drug", while only 30.9 percent of respondents said they had taken it in the past year.
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Everyone loves weed still
Of the total worldwide sample of 119,846 people, 60 percent had used cannabis in the past 12 months.
Brits are doing LSD at home
Instead of getting on it during a Croatian festival break, 92.2 percent of Brits who took LSD for the first time in the last year said that they did it in their home country of the UK. Nearly half (47 percent) of people taking LSD for the first time did it at home with mates around them. The next most popular option was doing it surrounded by natural beauty (20.3 percent).
Way more people sought emergency treatment for LSD than magic mushrooms
Worldwide, the rate of people who got emergency treatment after taking LSD is five times greater than those who went in for medical attention after using magic mushrooms. The report guessed this was because of the greater difficulties in dosing accurately with LSD tabs, whose content may vary from 25 micrograms to over 300 micrograms, and because of the longer lasting effects of LSD.
Magic mushrooms were actually the safest drug
Magic mushrooms were marked as the safest drugs to take in terms of needing to seek emergency medical treatment following use. Out of almost 10,000 people who used them in the last year, only 0.2 percent reported seeking emergency medical treatment.
"The greatest risk is picking the wrong type," says Adam Winstock, founder of GDS, explaining this result. "Death from toxicity is almost unheard of, with poisoning from more dangerous fungi being a much greater risk in terms of serious harms. Fortunately, most mushrooms are not dangerous. There is greater understanding of how many mushrooms may constitute a typical dose for a desired effect in your region. People who use psychedelics are generally very sensible and show some of the best preparation and adoption of harm reduction practices of any drug. Most people plan mushrooms in advance, unlike getting pissed. Though the latter might be a mission, it's rarely thought out."
Winstock also notes that psychedelics were associated with the lowest rates of negative or challenging experiences of drugs generally.
A final word of advice from Global Drug Survey's Adam Winstock
"People should apply the same level of care and attention when they use other drugs as most people do when using psychedelics," says Winstock. And he makes perfect sense: there's clearly something to be said for the pre-planning, dosing and careful consumption of magic mushrooms and the low rate of associated problems being reported.
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