Nobody knows for certain just how many people in the UK go out to music and dance events on either a regular or occasional basis. Nor do we know how much cocaine, ecstasy and other drugs are consumed before, during and after these events. What we do know, however, is that the dance music scene that emerged in the late 1980s has continued to grow and evolve over the past thirty five years. We also know that frequent clubbers are many times more likely to take Class A drugs such as cocaine1.
Music and drug trends change all the time and different types of drug use are often associated with difference music scenes. While there has been a big reduction in the overall number of both pubs and clubs over the last decade, nevertheless as recently as 2016, 23% Brits described themselves as clubbers in a Mintel survey1. And while pubs and clubs have been closing, the opposite has been the case with music festivals which have more than tripled in number over the last five years.
Trends in drug use
Fashions in drug use change all the time of course. Overall levels of drug use in England and Wales have remained fairly flat over the last decade and are actually at a lower level than 20 years ago, although they have started to rise again since 2016/17. The latest official data1 found that around one in 11 (9.4%) adults aged 16 to 59 have used an illegal drug in the last year, equivalent to around 3.2 million people. That figure is, unsurprisingly, much higher for young adults aged 16 to 24 where around one in five (20.3%) had taken a drug in the last year. The figures for regular drug use are of course lower: around 1 in 20 (5%) of all adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a drug in the last month, while around 1 in 9 (11.4%) young adults had done so.
Clubbers’ drug use
However, going out regularly, particularly clubbing, is associated with much higher levels of drug use. Frequent clubbers are many times more likely to take Class A drugs than non-clubbers, with 24.5% of frequent clubbers (defined as going to clubs 4 or more times a month) taking Class A drugs in 2018/19 compared with 2.3% of adults who had not attended a club in the last month1.
Latest drug figures
As we have said, drugs go in and out of fashion but at the time of publication, Autumn 2019, we know that:
- Cannabis remains the most commonly used drug with 7.6% of adults and 17.3% of young adults using the drug in 2018/19,
- The second most commonly used drug is powder cocaine (2.9% of adults and 6.2% of young adults using it last year). Cocaine use has been on the increase in recent years; particularly since 2015. While prices have remained the same or even dropped, the purity of cocaine powder has almost doubled1. Cheaper, stronger cocaine has resulted in a number of specific health risks which we cover here,
- MDMA/Ecstasy use has also been on the increase again over recent years with 545,000 people and 300,000 young adults estimated to have used the drug last year. The concentration of MDMA in Ecstasy tablets is also much higher than it was a decade ago1 and is linked to an increasing number of drug-related deaths every year1.
- Ketamine use has also become much popular with the proportion of young adults taking it in the last year at 2.9%.
- The use of LSD and magic mushrooms are both on the rise (about 0.4% of adults use both drugs last year) and are associated with the growing popularity of music festivals.
- GHB and GBL, a very strong drug which needs to be taken very carefully in small doses, once thought to be only used on the gay scene, has now crossed over into mainstream use in some clubs.
- The use of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) has fallen markedly since they were made illegal in May 2016. However, official figures found that people who went to pubs or clubs are more likely to use NPS. The use of nitrous oxide/laughing gas remains popular with clubbers and festival goers.
- The use of prescription medication for recreational purposes appears to be an increasingly common phenomenon.
The links between drugs and music
Different patterns of drug use are associated with different genres of music and different settings. These associations change too rapidly and vary too much between regions for us to provide reliable information in this guide. However, those putting on music events and festivals will have a good idea of which particular drugs are most popular amongst the target audience and need to plan security, health and welfare provision accordingly.