Over the summer, numbers of people will gather to festivals to socialize and enjoy music. Despite all of the warnings, some will take drugs – but what exactly do we know about the illegal substances being used and the dangers they could bring?
In May two young people died at the Mutiny Festival in Portsmouth after organizers issued an alert concerning the availability of dangerous drugs at the site.
The parents of sufferers Tommy Cowan, 20, and Georgia Jones, 18, warned others about drugs use, but such stories aren’t uncommon – each year we hear of people dying at festivals.
Knowing more about what people are consuming- and what the dangers might be – is imperative to protect them from injury.
Who’s Using Drugs?
Updated information about the illegal substances being used at celebrations and the number of people carrying them are limited.
However, since a large proportion of individuals at festivals are under the age of 35, medication use figures for UK 15- to 34-year-olds in the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) may provide some insight.
These indicate that across the population as a whole, prohibited medications are used by a minority of young adults.
The most common, cannabis was taken by 12 percent of people in this age group in 2017, while cocaine was used by 4 percent, ecstasy by 3 percent and ketamine and amphetamines by 1 percent.
It’s thought that rates of use are higher among festival goers and clubbers as than the whole population.
But people from 10 major UK festivals between 2008-11 showed that seizures of illegal substances dropped rapidly over the span.
A later Freedom of Information appeal for drug seizures at The Glastonbury Festival involving 2014-16 revealed a definite drop in the number of arrests but an increase in the quantity of cocaine, ecstasy/MDMA and ketamine impounded by authorities.
Perhaps the most concerning trend is the recent rise in deaths associated with club drugs, notably rapture and cocaine. Deaths in England and Wales connected to ecstasy pills attained their highest level in 2016 at 63 – up from 10 in 2010.
Meanwhile, the amount of cocaine-related deaths increased from 112 in 2011 to 371 in 2016. The number of people using drugs like cocaine and ecstasy has remained mostly stable, which suggests that the increase in deaths and hospital admissions isn’t down to more drugs being used.
Instead, the significant change has been a remarkable rise in purity and power.
For example, while the average content of MDMA – the lively ingredient in ecstasy pills – was between 50mg and 80mg from the 2000s, it’s believed that tablets in Europe now contain an average of approximately 125mg. “Super strength” pills containing over 270mg also have been seen.
Another worrying development is the development of so-called new psychoactive things – synthetic drugs made in labs, meant to mimic the consequences of “traditional” substances. By 2015, the EMCDDA has been actively monitoring over 450 illegal substances, together with the possible dangers varying with each one.
They could have the same appearance as “traditional” drugs – often fine white powders – letting them be willfully mis-sold to unsuspecting customers.
The Problems Caused By Drugs
- Cocaine: Paranoia, overheating, psychosis-like encounters, nasal damage, heart failure, dependence
- Ecstasy/MDMA: Overheating, dehydration, heart attack, panic attacks, stroke, psychosis-like experiences, the low mood in days after use
- Ketamine: Severe bladder problems, accidents, nasal damage, psychosis-like experiences, dependency
- Amphetamines: Anxiety, overheating, heart problems, high blood pressure, dependence, psychosis-like experiences,
- Cannabis: Paranoia, psychosis-like adventures, stress, lung damage, nausea, dependency
- Alcohol: High blood pressure, accidents, liver damage, nausea, strokes, cancer, dependence
Finally, no drug use can be considered truly safe, and the only way to prevent the possibility of harm entirely is to avoid using them. However, the fact is that, for some, festivals and illegal substances go together.
Drugs campaign group The Loop has tested the contents of materials seized by police and safety at events but needs more festivalgoers to be permitted to have samples analyzed themselves.
It provided the service on several occasions last year and stated where this has happened about 20 percent of people opt not to take their medication after hearing the results.
This year, Bestival has stated that although it “actively encourages festivalgoers to avoid taking any prohibited substances,” it will enable testing by The Loop to give people “the chance to make informed decisions.” Local authorities know and say they”are researching all security options.”
The Loop, which has told people who do use illegal substances should take just a small amount to examine how it influences them, also issues alerts via social media about possibly harmful adulterated or high-strength batches they’ve identified.
However, some festival organizers have previously called for authorities to clarify if they support offering to test to festivalgoers and have raised concerns that the results”can mislead.” The home office has stated, “no drug-taking could be assumed to be safe.”
Those who do determine to keep their illegal substances after testing can’t be sure about all the drugs they’ve.
Substances can vary markedly in their content within the same batches. And popular designs of tablets, such as logos, are usually replicated. It’s not possible for a person to know all of the pills they’ve been the same.
Combining different drugs can cause hazardous interactions. It would be a mistake not to consider the most ubiquitous festival drug – alcohol.
Around society, it causes more harm than any other drug and has been associated with 337,000 hospital admittances in England in 2016-2017 and 5,507 deaths in 2016.
Almost six out of 10 UK adults consume alcohol per week, and at festivals, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that lots of people will be drinking more than usual.
Therefore, while some festivalgoers need to think very carefully about banned substances they intend to take, the problem facing a more significant number will be ensuring they do not overdo it while also consuming alcohol.