What This Year's Global Drug Survey Tells Us About Drug Use in the UK

SPOILER: We're really, really into NOS.
14 June 2016, 9:41am

Photo by Chris Bethell

No surprise to anyone who's been to literally any festival or nightclub in the UK over the past few years and heard the familiar hiss of a cracker filling a balloon with laughing gas: NOS is massive in the UK.

Today, the biggest ever study on the use of NOS was released, revealing a dramatic increase of usage in a number of countries, including the UK. The Global Drug Survey 2016 (GDS16) surveyed over 100,000 drug users and found that 17,000 of them had tried nitrous oxide, and that 8,500 – or 8.5 percent of the total – had used it in the last year. That's up from 6.5 percent in last year's survey.

Interestingly, the drug was more popular in the UK than in any of the other 19 countries surveyed. More than half of the Brits who responded to the survey said they'd used it at some point before, and 38 percent had used it in the last 12 months. Most people – 78 percent – used it at house parties, and 48 percent used it at festivals.

NOS was banned in the UK earlier this year as past of the Psychoactive Substances Act, which targeted legal highs like synthetic cannabis and analogues of drugs like MDMA and cocaine,

GDS16 showed that these legal highs – or "novel psychoactive substances" (NPS) – are most likely to be used by marginalised people, as when they were stocked in high street head shops they were a cheaper, more accessible version of the traditional drugs favoured by wealthier users.

According to the report, many of these legal highs carry some of the greatest risks. "There is nothing like poverty to make a serious drug problem harder to deal with," the study points out. "Poverty hampers access to better quality drugs, healthcare and, when needed, expert legal advice."

The survey's findings combined with what we know about NPS use in British prisons suggests that most legal highs "might find their long-term relationships with those already marginalised in our society".

However, respondents to GDS16 don't have a lot of time for these high street highs. In a section titled "Desert Island Drugs", where those surveyed were asked if they would swap a traditional drug – cocaine, MDMA, weed, magic mushrooms – for a synthetic version with similar effects, only 20.5 percent of global respondents said they would consider it.

As part of GDS16, the organisers produced a video advising people on the least harmful way to use MDMA, which you can watch here. They also launched another mini survey, which only take five minutes to fill out, which you can take part in here.

More on NOS:

The Met Should Be More Worried About London's Meth and Crack Problems

A Generation of Entrepreneurs Are Being Stunted By the Laughing Gas Ban

Will Anyone Actually Bother to Enforce the Laughing Gas Ban?