10 Alarming Facts About Global Drug Use

The results are in for the biggest drug survey the world has ever seen – and it’s filled with all sorts of fun facts about illegal and legal drug use. Conducted in late 2013, the Global Drug Survey took an in-depth look at drug use in 18 countries around the world, from the USA and Mexico to Switzerland and the UK.

With about 80,000 people participating, it looked at everything from which drugs gave users the most pleasure to which countries had the highest prices for drugs. It found users were snorting “mystery white powders”, turning up to work hung-over, enjoying shisha tobacco more than ever, and popping prescription pills for non-medical reasons. With the results released in April 2014, people around the world have been able to get an insight into where their drug use fits into the global picture and many of the results show shocking trends.

It’s worth noting that the team who put together the survey is an independent research organization. The participants they select nominate themselves, which means they are people who want to talk about their drug use and who are more likely to use drugs on a regular basis. According to the survey, the sample group are “typically in their 20s and 30s, well-educated, and about 50% went clubbing at least four times a year”.


10 Buying Drugs Online is Most Popular in the UK

Users of both illegal and legal drugs are increasingly purchasing online them according to the Global Drug Survey. In the UK, about a quarter of respondents – who are all likely to be drug users – said they’d purchased drugs online. That’s more than any other country. Almost 60% of them knew about “Silk Road” which is a well-known online drug marketplace that was closed in October 2013 and 44% of them had accessed the site. One of the survey’s directors, Dr. Adam Winstock, said that it’s likely to be a growing trend. He said: “It is currently a minority way to get drugs, but it really mimics the growth in e-commerce – we buy things online because it is convenient, cheap, and there is better product range.”

9 The Irish Are Most Likely to Go to Work Hung-over


For many respondents of the Global Drug Survey, drug use and alcohol use overlaps with other parts of their life – such as work. All up, about a third of respondents admitted to going to work hung-over while less than one-sixth admitted to go to work coming down from drugs. Those from Ireland were most likely to have gone to work hung-over in the past year – with 50% of respondent having done just that. They were closely followed by the UK and Hungary, both of which had 46% of respondents turning up to work hung-over in the past year. On the contrary, alcohol drinkers in the USA and Portugal were least likely to go to work hung-over the next day.

8 “Legal Highs” Are Most Popular in the USA

The Global Drug Survey found that one in five of respondents from the USA had used a research chemical or legal high in the past year. This includes products such as synthetic cannabis or substances sold as “bath salts” as well as electronic THC products which contain the mind-altering substance found in cannabis. The Global Drug Survey team notes that the rise of availability of electronic THC products in countries such as Switzerland, Germany and the USA contributes to the higher rate of overall “legal highs” in these countries. If electronic THC products were excluded, the highest users of legal highs and research chemicals would be the UK and New Zealand.

7 New Zealand Has Expensive Drugs


Cocaine is the most expensive drug on the market currently, and it’s more expensive in New Zealand than in any country in the world. For one gram of cocaine in New Zealand, a user can expect to pay about US$345. By comparison, it sells for about a fifth of the price in some places in Europe. New Zealand also had the most expensive MDMA in the world too. The Global Drug Survey found that overall, drugs prices vary widely around the world. For example, cannabis is more than three times as expensive in Ireland as it is in Spain.

6 Safer Drug Use = More Enjoyable Drug Use

Perhaps surprisingly, Global Drug Survey respondents overwhelming said that safer use of drugs was a better option and that it results in a more enjoyable experience. Most people put in place some kind of strategy to minimize the harm that drug use can do to them. The survey actually asked drug users what kind of steps they take to make their drug use safer, and published the results as part of their “high-way code” about safer drug use. It talks about different drugs individually. In its section about MDMA, for example, it tells users that the average dose of MDMA is 80 to 100g, that its effects peak about two to three hours later and that the high lasts up to eight hours. It tells people that 90% of users recommend staying well hydrated when using the drug and to keep an eye on friends.

5 Prescription Drugs Are Popular in the USA & New Zealand


The Global Drug User Survey found that psychoactive medication such as opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines were named among the top 10 drugs used by survey respondents in the past year. The use of such drugs – including non-medical and problematic use – was highest in the USA and New Zealand. Taking New Zealand as an example, about two-thirds of the survey’s respondents had taken prescription anti-pain or anti-anxiety drugs recently. What’s more, “hillbilly heroin” (officially opioid oxycodone) is one of the most prescribed pills for severe pain in New Zealand.

4 Alcohol is the Drug That Causes the Most Problems

Of all the drugs that people take, alcohol was most likely to land someone in the emergency room and it was most like to cause worries among family and friends. It was also a drug that heavy users were least likely to be worried about. For example, of all the survey’s respondents who can be classified as “heavily dependent” on alcohol, fewer than 60% realize that their heavy drinking puts them at risk of health and other related problems. The Portuguese had the least insight into their heavy drinking habits, while Australians and Americans were most likely to be aware of the risks. On top of that, 40% of survey respondents overall weren’t aware of drinking guidelines in their own countries.


3 Synthetic Cannabis Isn’t Likely to Send You to Hospital


Synthetic cannabis was found to be the most widely used “novel psychoactive drugs” in the sample studied by the Global Drug Survey. A relatively new drug on the market compared to the likes of MDMA and Cocaine, synthetic cannabis is unlikely to cause short-term harm to users. In fact, an average of 0.5% of users needed emergency medical care in the past year after using the drug. When broken down by country, the highest rate was in Germany (with 1%) and one of the lowest rates was in the USA (with 0.2%).

2 MDMA Gives Users the Most Pleasure

Aside from this Global Drug Survey, about 22,000 people were asked to rank how much pleasure a drug gave them, and also how much pain they resulted in when coming off the drug. From that, it calculated the “net pleasure rating” of each drug. MDMA was ranked number one – the most pleasurable. It had the highest pleasure rating of all the listed drugs but it also had a higher pain rating than drugs such as LSD, Mushrooms and Cannabis. Alcohol and tobacco had the lowest pleasure rating than any other listed drug.

1 MDMA is the Best “Value For Money” Drug


MDMA is the second most popular illegal drug according to the Global Drug Survey (falling in at fifth place overall after alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and energy drinks). On top of that, survey respondents voted it as the “best value for money drug” overall. On the contrary, cocaine came out at the bottom of the list. Australians rated cocaine just 2.2 out of 10 for value for money.



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