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The latest global drug trends

The 2016 Global Drug Survey reveals the world's 10 most popular illegal drugs and charts the rise of laughing gas and resurgence of Ecstasy.

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Probably the best way of spotting emerging drug trends

The Global Drug Survey is becoming an increasingly important fixture in the drugs calendar. It serves a very different purpose from, for example, the EMCDDA European Drugs Report, or the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Those two studies look at drug prevalence among the general population whereas the GDS is a self-completion online survey which is mainly taken by active drug users.


This means that the GDS is of little use for looking at national estimates of drug use but excellent for a very up-to-date (the data is less than 6 months old) picture of what sorts of substances active drug users in different countries are using. It’s probably the best data source in the wold to spot emerging drug trends before they enter the general population.

The 2016 survey

This year’s survey was completed by over 100,000 people from over 50 countries including 6,015 individuals from the UK. Respondents came from almost every European country but also from Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA.

Below I set out some of the headline findings but if you want to get the full report, simply Email the GDS and ask for a downloadable copy

Top 10 drugs

Excluding alcohol, tobacco and caffeine products the top 10 drugs used across the world were

  • Cannabis
  • MDMA
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • LSD
  • Magic mushrooms
  • Prescribed / non prescribed opioid medications
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Ketamine
  • Poppers

Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Trends in the UK – most people buy NPS online

  • UK has highest rate of last year NPS purchase of any GDS country (11.6% of UK sample)
  • GDS2016 reports increase in UK last year purchase of NPS after falling rates over last 4 years
  • Decline in high street NPS purchases from 46.3% in GDS2014 to 34.6% in GDS2016.
  • 58% of those reporting buying NPS last year did so on-line.
  • Users are three times more likely end up seeking emergency medical treatment with NPS than traditional drugs

Synthetic Cannabinoids (SCs) and A&E

  • Synthetic cannabinoids are more likely to lead to emergency medical treatment than any other drug
  • 1 in 8 of those using weekly or more often reported seeking emergency medical treatment (3.5% of all users)
  • The overall risk of seeking emergency medical treatment when using SCs is 30 times greater than skunk
  • Over half of those using more than 50 times in last year who tried to stop reported withdrawal symptoms

The dark-net rising

  • Globally almost in 1 in 10 participants (9.3%) reported ever buying drugs off the dark-net with those reporting last year dark-net purchase rising from 4.5% to 6.7%.
  • MDMA, cannabis, new or novel substances (including 2C-B and DMT) and LSD are the drugs most commonly bought
  • 5% of respondents stated that they did not consume drugs prior to accessing them through dark-net markets

The worst time to be using MDMA in a generation

  • Increase in use of both MDMA and cocaine over the last 3 years.
  • Concerns over high dose MDMA pills leading to increased risk of acute harm
  • 4-fold increase in British female clubbers seeking emergency medical treatment in last 3 years. Women 2-3 more likely to seek emergency treatment than men
  • UK users take more MDMA in a night than anyone else (almost half a gram)
  • Most people use less than 10 times per year
  • The best harm reduction advice is “Less is more” (you are more likely to have more fun with less MDMA)

No Laughing Matter

  • Biggest study of nitrous oxide use ever
  • Increasing rates of use in the UK and globally — nitrous oxide is now ranked the 7th most popular drug in the world.
  • 10% of users worried about the impact on their mental / physical health
  • 4% reporting symptoms of nerve damage due to vitamin B12 deficiency


  • One third of drinkers would like to drink less in the coming year yet only 10% on average would like help to do so. and might help people drink less.
  • Spirits are best avoided on a night out


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