This morning, we got a little update on how the world takes drugs. Another year, another set of results from the Global Drug Survey – which, with 130,000 people taking part across 44 countries, is the world's biggest survey of recreational drug users. Aiming to spread awareness of drug-related harms while providing people with the tools to avoid them, it's a non-judgmental resource for anyone who wants to get off their head but not (involuntarily) lose their mind.
I called up Global Drug Survey (GDS) founder Dr Adam Winstock to discuss some key take-homes from this year's results.
Yep, England still absolutely loves MDMA and gak
28.5 percent of global GDS respondents used MDMA in the last 12 months, compared to a huge 45.7 percent of English respondents. This disparity, however, is aped by the numbers taking cocaine: 17 percent globally versus 42.6 percent in England during the last 12 months, and 25 percent compared to 52.4 percent over their lifetimes. So why does England's love for these old drugs endure?
"These drugs are embedded in our culture. But we're also a good market and relatively affluent," says Winstock. "There's also been a huge shift in quality and the purity has gone up. Coke is a good example of this; the price has stayed relatively the same, but the purity's increased hugely compared to ten years ago. And it's easy to buy because dealers are targeting people here."
But Scotland is Sesh Central
Scotland wins the award for most On It country after topping a flurry of polls: highest proportion of drinkers needing emergency care (4.5 percent); most amount of coke used in an average session (1.2 grams against a global average of 0.5 grams); highest average amount of MDMA used in one sesh (0.6 grams, which is, let's be honest, too much). So, all those rumours about Scottish festivals being objectively the maddest are probably true?
"We found that 30 percent of the people that had reported taking an average of over three grams [of cocaine] in a session was from Scotland," says Winstock. "So I think they’re skewed by a group of much heavier users. But every culture has a heavier group. It's likely theirs is just heavier than anyone else's."
Alcohol labelling would be a Good Thing, but it’s complicated
98.7 percent of global participants had drunk alcohol, so it's the most popular drug by a considerable distance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's also the most damaging, with a frankly awful 4 percent of the world's global disease burden attributed to booze. Yet, this turns out to be new information for many: 65 percent of females under 25 polled didn’t know that drinking less reduces the risk of seven types of cancer, while just over one in three British drinkers reckoned that alcohol labelling related to cancer, calories, the heart, health and violence was personally relevant to them. (Guys, a primer: it's pretty relevant.)
The survey – which presented seven potential messages – also found that labelling would get nearly half of us thinking about drinking less; you just had to rotate the message being presented. "Different messages work for different groups. For instance, the group most sensitive to calories messaging was young women. There isn’t a single message that will change the world, but we do know that to make change you have to raise awareness and get people out of their comfort zone," says Winstock.
Basically everywhere can get coke delivered quicker than Papa John's
36.7 percent of respondents from Glasgow and 26.7 percent from London said they could get cocaine delivered quicker than a takeaway pizza. The numbers globally are 30.3 percent, while the Danish region of Midtjylland is apparently a cokehead's Eden, with 49.3 percent of respondents saying they could get a gram delivered in under 30 minutes.
All this might be good news for your Friday after-work drinks, but also it's very bad for its propensity for increasing dependance: "My big worry is that moment between desire and satiation of that desire; it compounds the addictive potential of a drug like coke," says Winstock. "Good quality drugs delivered to a place of your convenience in record time is a bad combination if you're looking to control drug use."
Quitting cannabis is no joke, but no one's getting any help doing it
55.6 percent of respondents to a section regarding quitting cannabis said they’d tried to stop in the last 12 months, with the biggest motivation being motivation, memory and relationships.
Despite this, only 6 percent of people sought professional help to stop: "That’s a huge gap," says Winstock.
Way, way, way too many people in the UK are getting hospitalised after doing MDMA
The report found horrific numbers of Brits needing emergency medical treatment after taking MDMA (1.8 percent of UK users, up from 0.7 percent last year, and over double the global rate of 0.9). To put that 1.8 percent into context, that's nearly two in every 100 people, with 100 people being an eighth the capacity of a venue like XOYO. It's a crucial issue affecting our nation's partiers, and makes the work of drug testing organisations like The Loop evermore urgent.
Try to remember your first time
A shocking 0.5 percent of first-time MDMA users also reported needing medical care, while 50 percent reported their first crack at MDMA as a spontaneous decision. (Unsurprisingly, 80.9 percent of coke-taking was a spontaneous decision the first time, with just 34 percent of LSD cherries being popped on the hoof.)
Winstock thinks we all need to have a serious conversation about taking responsibility for our friends' wellbeing when it comes to their first times:
"If you’re with someone taking drugs for the first time you should have a responsibility to look after them," he says. "Obviously on an ongoing basis throughout the night, but beforehand: where's their head at on the day? Have they got stuff going on at home? There's always another week, another month, when they can do it."
Mushrooms great, GHB bad
For the second year running, mushrooms were found to be the drug least likely to land someone in hospital. New Psychoactive Substances (Spice, for instance) were the worst, followed by GHB. For the latter, one in four female users and one in six male users reported passing out on GHB in the last 12 months. Actually being unconscious. Grim.
UPDATE 09/05/18: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Danish region of Midtjylland was in Norway. This has now been corrected.