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How popular are drugs?

There was a time back in the '90s when it seemed like everyone under 25 was on drugs. Has it all changed? finds out.

Are you sitting down? Good. Because we're about to tell you something so astonishing your brain may fall out of your eyeballs with shock. Illegal drug use, particularly cannabis use, among young people is down. If the statistics are to be believed (rather than media scaremongering), fewer of you are taking drugs than ever before.

Drug use among young people is down? Really?

To be honest, you're right to be sceptical. This trend has been discovered using questionnaires about well-known illegal drugs that fail to address the changing nature of the drugs environment.

There are various theories. Some think it's the increased strength in weed, and the dodgy purity of other drugs that's putting young people off. There's also an opinion that the decrease is due to young people taking their health more seriously.

However, charity Drugscope says it may not be an overall fall, but a shift in the types of drugs people are taking, and the types of drug preferred by different generations. So crack and heroin - both class A drugs - are down among young people, and more linked to older generations, but you lot are still taking drugs, just different ones in a different way. There is no official research into the use of legal highs, but anecdotally it is believed to be eating into illegal drug use.

Martin Barnes, the chief executive of DrugScope, says: "Though overall the signs are encouraging, with more young people moving away from class A drugs, it is important to consider the other implications of the findings.

"Despite declining use, cannabis continues to be a popular with young people. Findings from our street drug trends survey also suggest that alcohol is increasingly a problem, while the sudden emergence of so called 'legal highs', such as mephedrone has been mainly attributed to this particular age group."

How popular are drugs then? Tell me the stats.

Well, it is depends on which survey you are looking at. You also need to bear in mind how the stats were gathered. Frankly, drugs are not the sort of thing people tend to be honest about, especially when asked face-to-face.

Still, the British Crime Survey Drug Misuse Declared bulletin is published by the Home Office once a year. According to its 2010 research, one in five people aged 16-24 has used illicit drugs in the last year. But the BCS gathers all its data by knocking on people's doors, and therefore misses out people without doors. This includes prisoners, homeless people, and students living in halls of residence. Obviously it's a stereotype, but you'd expect people in these groups to take a lot of drugs. So the number may well be much higher.

Mixmag conducts an annual survey of drug use among clubbers and its results wildly differ from BCS's. According to the 2011 survey, over 87% of respondents have taken drugs - with ecstasy being the most popular illegal choice by far. But it's fair to say that Mixmag's readership, given the link between dance music and stimulants, doesn't represent all young people in the UK. Also, this survey isn't just for young people, with 25% of respondents aged between 28 and 63.

Young people are always looking for new and easier ways to get wasted, and maybe the official stat-maker-people just haven't caught up with you yet...

Then, of course, there's the research conducted by, which we think is a pretty robust bit of data, if we do say so ourselves. In 2010 we asked more than 600 young people about their drug-taking habits in our 'High or dry' online survey - and our results were somewhere in between. According to you lot, 63 per cent have taken recreational drugs, and 33 per cent have done so before your 16th birthday.

What drugs are the most popular?

Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug, with BCS figures showing one in six young people smoke weed - although love for the bud has decreased in recent years.

Cocaine comes in second, with BCS figures showing 5.5% of young people have taken it in the last year, and TheSite's research shows one in four has tried it at least once.

Ecstasy is third, although unsurprisingly it came out top in Mixmag's survey.

The dark horse is the once-legal mephedrone. It was banned in 2010, but Mixmag's 2011 survey found 51% of respondents have used it in the last year, compared with 37.3% in the previous year.'s research found 14% of you have tried it.

These figures certainly tie in with the notion that the type of drugs you lot are using is changing. Young people are always looking for new and easier ways to get wasted, and maybe the official stat-maker-people just haven't caught up with you yet.

What makes someone more likely to use drugs?

Your age is the biggie, with 16-24 years being the group most likely to experiment with illicit substances. Next is your gender. That's right. If you're male, you are twice as likely to use class A drugs as the fairer sex.

Income also shapes your drug-taking habits. The cliché of drug users being broke hookers in poverty-stricken crack dens is not true, with drug use highest in areas classified as displaying 'urban prosperity'.

And your relationship status isn't just a Facebook declaration - it can also impact your druggy tendencies. Single adults are much more likely to dabble with drugs compared with all other marital-status groups.

Updated: 06/06/2011

By Holly Thompson

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