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Seven Important Truths About How the World Takes Drugs in 2014

The people who put the survey together gathered feedback from nearly 80,000 drug users and clubbers in their twenties and thirties.
Max Daly
London, GB
Collage by Marta Parszeniew

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

There's a pretty thorough list of national stereotypes stashed away in the collective consciousness.

French people love bread, the Swiss are born dull, Americans don't understand humor and so go round telling jokes in which something funny they did is the punchline, etc, etc, etc, until the whole globe is just a sphere of tired cliches spinning around in space.


That list is looking a little tired. Plus, all the stereotypes seem to revolve around personality traits or, weirdly, food.

We need a new way to making sweeping assumptions about entire populations, and what better place to start than drugs? After all, there's so much you can tell about a person from their drug of choice. Wouldn't it be great if we could apply the same logic to entire countries?

Luckily, this year's Global Drug Survey has just been released.

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The people who put it together gathered feedback from nearly 80,000 drug users and clubbers in their twenties and thirties, from over 40 different countries. Yes, the vast majority of those people seem to be middle-class people without crippling dependency problems, but nevertheless it provides a unique insight into international drug habits.

You might have noticed the British press going nuts this week over the revelations that we now take the most legal highs and boast the "most delusional drinkers" and the "most reckless youth" on the planet.

But what with all the hand-wringing and hysterical headlines, you might have been denied the chance to find out some stuff that's more interesting than "learning" that getting smashed is more popular than football here now. So, here are seven things that the survey told us about drug habits across the globe.

Unsurprisingly, given that it's mostly stuffed with inert adulterants and a substance that can give you a chemical form of AIDS, cocaine was voted the least value-for-money (VFM) drug in the world. However, there were a few countries that didn't seem so hung up about wasting money on bags of teething powder, speed and Levamisole — like Belgium, who were most satisfied with their cocaine.


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Already spoiled with some of the best beer, chocolate and waffles in the world, Belgians awarded cocaine a 5.5 out of 10 value-for-money rating. Which seems shit, but the world’s biggest gak grumblers — the Australians — gave the drug an average 2.3 out of 10. To rub their Antipodean noses in it, the cocaine in Belgium is the world’s cheapest, at an average of £43 a gram. In Australia it’s four times the price, at the equivalent of £190 a gram. Which plainly seems fucking ridiculous.

Why the difference? Eight million containers pass through the port of Antwerp every year; it's one of the major cocaine turnstiles into Europe, with the drug regularly smuggled — sometimes in shipments of bananas — from South America. But where there’s a will, there’s a way: despite its quality and price, the survey found that Australians took just as much coke as the Belgians.

Globally, around one in 20 cannabis users said they had been subjected to violent behavior while trying to pick up.

The most likely places to get attacked while buying weed were Germany and France, while the most dangerous places to buy MDMA were France and Switzerland. I guess there must be something about that high altitude Alps air that makes people want to punch ravers in the face.


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Of course, a regulated market is a safer one.

In the Netherlands, where buying a draw is as easy and as legal as buying a cup of coffee, less than 2 percent said they had experienced violent behavior while trying to buy bud. If you're stoned and in Amsterdam, I'd imagine this is around the same level of risk you're at of getting run over by a tram.

In fact, dealers generally appear to be more peaceful across the board in the Netherlands, as it also boasts the lowest rates of violence experienced by people trying to buy MDMA.

We already knew this, of course, but now it's official: Americans are offended, disgusted and confused by spliffs that contain tobacco.

The survey found that only 7 percent of Americans mix cannabis and tobacco in their spliffs.

Throughout the rest of the world, an average of 75 percent view a joint as something that's made out of tobacco and cannabis. In Switzerland, France, Belgium, Portugal and Hungary, more than 90 percent saw tobacco as a necessary part of using cannabis; in the UK it was 80 percent. In Europe, it's joints elongated and mellowed by tobacco, passed around leisurely; in the US, it's all quick-fire hits on a crumply, potent roach.

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America’s closest cannabis cousins are stoners in New Zealand, where only 24 percent of people use tobacco in their joints. This gives us a clue as to why tokers in these two countries smoke the healthier, tobacco-free joints: they both have a historical abundance in domestically grown weed, which doesn't need tobacco to burn — unlike hashish, which, until the mid-2000s, was the most common type of cannabis in Europe.


Nearly a quarter of Spanish drug users have been caught with cannabis on them. That number may be connected to a recent drive by the current Madrid-based government to step up its war on drugs in an effort to head off cannabis regulation plans by the regional parliaments in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

The second most likely country to get caught with cannabis, with one in five users getting rumbled, is Switzerland. Despite its relatively relaxed laws when it comes to punishment, it's thought that new laws that replace prosecution with an on-the-spot fine may have led to a money-led drive to pick up more users.

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Of all the countries where the survey was carried out, America and Hungary have the worst implications were you to be caught with a bag of weed. Around a quarter of people arrested for cannabis possession in these two countries had their ability to travel freely affected, as well as the arrest impacting their job and studies.

A surprisingly low 35 percent of interviewees said they'd been hungover at work during the last year, while only 64 percent said they had ever been hungover at work. These results might be understandable if the survey was carried out among pilots and heart surgeons, but it wasn't — it was mainly answered by drug-using professionals in their twenties and thirties. I'm afraid I don't have an explanation as to why nobody's drinking during the week, but maybe it's because they're too busy taking drugs.


Flying the flag for hungover workers are the drinkers of Ireland, but even there only 50 percent say they'd gone to work hungover in the last year. Among the least likely to be hungover at work were the Spanish. Maybe because no Spanish people actually have jobs?

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In terms of dealing with comedowns at work, the Dutch — probably because they're the biggest users of MDMA and amphetamines — found themselves stuck in the grasp of crippling, drug-induced depression more often than anyone else. It's unlikely to be a coincidence that the Dutch were also the biggest consumers of caffeinated soft drinks.

Those least likely to turn up to work with comedowns (i.e: the biggest squares polled for the survey) were New Zealanders and Americans.

The survey found that 77.5 percent of Mexicans questioned had used cannabis in the last year, compared to a global average of 48.2 percent. America (69.9 percent) and Brazil (69.5 percent) take the runner up spots, with the UK trailing behind at 53.6 percent.

Weed has been used in Mexico since pre-colonial times and has a deep traditional-medicinal use. Thanks to that, the public perception of cannabis there is that it isn't a "hard drug", which could have a direct link to higher use. Of course, another potential reason is that truckloads of the stuff – around 20,000 tons annually, according to the government — is grown there.


The Dutch gave MDMA pills the highest VFM score — eight out of 10 — in the world. Mind you, they do have the cheapest pills in the world, at £4 a pop. MDMA powder in the Netherlands also has a high VFM rating, at 7.5 out of 10 (joint top with Denmark) and is, again, the cheapest in the world, at just £20 a gram.

Unfortunately for MDMA fans living in New Zealand, the country has the lowest global VFM rating for MDMA pills (four out of 10) and powder (five out of 10), the pills costing £23 while a gram of powder comes in at £145 — the most expensive MDMA in the universe.

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It’s the perfect example of how drugs become more expensive and adulterated the further you get from the main distribution networks. It's also the reason New Zealand had the world’s first booming legal high market in the 2000s – in the form of the ecstasy mimicking "party pills", BZP – and explains why DIY drugs, such as crystal meth, took off over there and in places like rural America.

If people are unable to buy decent drugs, they will just make them themselves.

Based on the experience of almost 80,000 people who took part in the Global Drug Survey 2014, the High-way Code is the first guide to safer drug use, voted for by people who take drugs.

Collage by Marta Parszeniew

Follow Max Daly on Twitter: @Narcomania