Global Drug Survey 2017: drug trends that can shape your interventions

The Global Drug Survey 2017 reports on the recreational drug habits of 5,900 people in the UK and 120,000 globally. These are a summary of some of their findings.

5 June 2017 | Evidence

The Global Drug Survey 2017 reports on the recreational drug habits of 5,900 people in the UK and 120,000 globally. In the UK 65% of participants had taken drugs in the last 12 months. Below is a summary of some of their findings.

Those who participate in the GDS offer a unique insight into the habits of more regular recreational drug-takers. The information generated may be very influential in supporting public health providers, the medical community and policy-makers in understanding the best approaches, campaigns and legislative frameworks to prevent and reduce harm.

Cannabis,cocaine and MDMA/ecstasy are the most widely consumed drugs in the UK.


  • 77% of cannabis users in the UK smoked it with tobacco, compared to only 8% of survey respondents from the USA
  • 31% of cannabis smokers said they would like to use the drug less, but only 16% said they would seek help.


  • Cocaine is currently extremely pure and potent, increasing the risk of harm for some people. Higher purity drugs are not necessarily safer.
  • “While most people use cocaine on an infrequent basis (80% use <10x per year) there is a small proportion of people whose use escalates with consumption reaching very high levels”;
  • In the UK, the percentage of people surveyed who acquired their drugs through the darknet markets had almost doubled since 2014, from 12.4% to 25.3%. Darknet markets might lead to more harmful drug use for some people.
  • Since 2015, GDS found there had been a 50% increase in cocaine users being admitted to A&E.


  • The content of MDMA in ecstasy pills in Europe, with up to 300mg MDMA per pill has influenced the consumption habits of users.
  • 60% of people who take ecstasy pills start with ½ or ¼ a pill to reduce adverse effects. The GDS17 found people 25+ years were more likely to take precautions around their dose.
  • Female users were more likely to report adverse health effects following the use of MDMA.
  • MDMA use often coincides with alcohol and/or other drug taking. Therefore, “people who use MDMA usually show overall risky drug use patterns”;
  • Over half of those surveyed globally ignored official advice and were drunk when taking MDMA for the first time, increasing the likelihood of an overdose.

Psychedelic drugs:

  • Since it started in 2014, the Global Drug Survey has found a rise in the number of people surveyed taking psychedelic drugs such as nitrous oxide, ketamine, LSD, magic mushrooms, DMT and 2-CB. Apart from nitrous oxide, these drugs are all regulated under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) making it a criminal offence to supply and possess them.

Nitrous oxide:

  • Nitrous oxide has been the most popular psychedelic drug in the UK for the past 3 years, with 38% of respondents reporting use in the 2017 survey.  Since the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force, making it a criminal offence to supply but not possess nitrous oxide, GDS17 has seen a decrease in the number of people (30%) using ‘nos’.

Further Information

Dr Adam Winstock and the GDS Core Research Team will launch their next survey in October 2017.

For safer drugs use check out the Global Drug Survey’s highway code:

Below: GDS highlights video (25 mins)