Our key findings and recommendations from the Global Drug Survey

18 Jun 2019

The independent work of the Global Drug Survey gives us a true picture of how drugs are used within our society. From this, important recommendations can be made to improve safety and awareness around drug use specific to locations and ages.

This year’s survey revealed some fascinating key findings and trend predictions certain to impact night time economy managers in the UK. So while the newspapers typically chose to focus on Brits getting drunk most regularly out of all surveyed nations, our director Sylvia Oates explores other important takeaways from the survey, and what they might mean for UK towns and cities.

The findings were revealed at Club Health Amsterdam last month, an international conference on night life, substance use and related health issues which we were privileged to attend. Club Health was the ideal platform to explore the most interesting findings from the survey, and we consider the impact they might have on your night time economy below.  

Rise in use of Nitrous Oxide (N2O)

N2O is a drug used, often alongside other drugs, to enhance intoxication. Concoctions of nitrococktails and nitrocoffee are on the rise, and potentially the next big thing to hit the party scene and impact the UK night time economy.

The current 2019 Global Drugs Survey lists N2O as the 10th most popular drug (excluding alcohol and tobacco), with use by 43% of drug users from the UK and Northern Ireland in the last 12 months. Men under 25 are the majority users, making up 60% of users.

As drug costs go, N2O is very inexpensive, available from as little as 25c and sold for around £5-£10 per balloon, which has no doubt partly contributed to its rise in popularity.

Unpleasant effects

While it is rare to die from Nitrous Oxide use (there have been 7 deaths in the last 30 years including some as suicide), there are several dangerous side effects.

Users reported:

  • Hallucinations – 34%
  • Confusion – 29%
  • Nausea – 10%
  • Fainting – 2%

In addition to this, anecdotal evidence suggests that users are more prone to accidents when using N2O, although there are no published statistics around this.

Dangers and risks

N2O is very dangerous when inhaled straight from its can, as its extreme temperature of around -34 degrees can freeze the back of the throat, which can cause difficulty breathing. Use of N2O inactivates Vitamin B12 production and can cause damage in the nerve-endings, as well as anaemia. There have been several stories in the press recently of people losing mobility completely due to prolonged use of this drug.

Of users surveyed, 9% reported worries about their physical health and 7% about their mental health. With every 100% increase in N2O intake comes a significant 30% increase in risk of harm. Young women and vegetarians are thought to be most at risk of harm following use, as they are usually more likely to be deficient in B12 to begin with.

Our recommendations

N2O is widely used in the food industry, in products such as squirty cream, so it would be nigh on impossible to introduce a blanket ban.

As a popular, cheap and easy to get hold of party drug, education and awareness around N2O is key. If there has been an increase in N2O use within your area, we’d strongly advise messaging to be put in place as quickly as possible.

For awareness, we recommend promoting warning signs to look out for and action to take following use, such as:

“Numbness in fingers and toes or pins and needles sensation after use? Stop using N2O straight away and seek medical attention. Not doing so can result in loss of mobility and paralysis.”

For education, be clear on the longer-term effects of N2O use, for example centering on the advice that B12 supplements can reverse some early harm risk from N2O use, but later harm can be irreversible.

Sexual assault when intoxicated

This year’s research and findings around sexual assault within a state of intoxication offer valuable insight into the true reality experienced by people who have been taken advantage of sexually.

With 88% of people reporting a sexual assault after they had consumed alcohol and/or other substances, and 55% following alcohol alone, it’s clear that sexual assaults when intoxicated remains a serious issue.

Reports of sexual assault by gender

Broken down by gender, 29% of women reported ever being taken advantage of sexually within their lifetime, 8% of women reported being taken advantage of within the last year. Closely following this was 28% non-binary or people identifying as a different gender ever being taken advantage of, and 10% within the last year.

For men the number reported in the survey was 6% over their lifetime, and 2% of assaults taking place in the last 12 months.

Debunking sexual assault myths

The survey found that contrary to myth:

  • Women were not alone in being at risk of sexual assault, with a combined statistic of 34% from those not identifying as women.
  • The majority of sexual assaults (67%) took place in a house, 70% of victims knew the perpetrator and 74% of sexual assault victims were aware of people nearby at the time.

These findings dispel common perceptions that women are the only victims of sexual assault, and that most take place in a deserted place and are committed by a stranger.  

Consent and reports to the police

Regardless of the type or severity of unwanted sexual contact, a staggering 97% did not report the crime to the police. Almost half of this number (43%) cited their reason for this was feeling they were partly to blame.

Consent remains an ever-complicated area, with 26% of victims describing giving consent at the start of a sexual encounter that they later considered themselves as having been taken advantage of. This further supports that consent must be considered an ongoing process throughout sexual engagement, not just at the beginning.

Our recommendations

Our key recommendations around these findings focus on safety and consent, with the aim of lowering levels of sexual assault, and improving reporting rates through reducing feelings of self-blame by victims.

  1. Education around alcohol and other intoxications should encourage individuals to give focus to the impact it has on both them and others. For example, the part alcohol may play in how they interpret a situation and judgments that may be made.
  2. Common risk reduction messaging focuses around the lone female walking home alone at night, however perhaps our thoughts should be around how we encourage people to respect each other’s sexual boundaries in all situations.
  3. Messaging on consent should be clear that rather than a one-off ‘green light’, consent should be ongoing throughout a sexual encounter. This kind of education is crucial in helping to avoid assumptions, and reducing issues of self-blame by victims.

While the key aim is prevention, it’s essential that victims feel more confident than they do currently, in reporting to the police an instance where they feel they’ve been sexually taken advantage of.

Our round-up of other key findings from the Global Drug Survey

  • The UK are the second largest group of respondents to have bought drugs on the darknet, at 28.6%. The largest response by far was Finland, with a whopping 45.2% of respondents having engaged in illegal drug buying online.
  • Females are at higher risk than males of presenting for emergency medical treatment from drug use. Of all respondents who had used synthetic cannabis, a huge 88.9% had sought emergency treatment, making this the drug that was most like to cause users to seek treatment.
  • 83.3% of cocaine consumers surveyed would support fair trade cocaine, and would be willing to pay an average 25% increased price for it.

  • On the subject of regrets following intoxication, the highest number of respondents who reported regretting getting drunk in the last 12 months were from Germany. The nation with the lowest reports of regret about being drunk was New Zealand.

Along with these important findings from the Global Drug Survey, the Club Health conference was packed with other relevant insights. We gathered a lot of useful information during our time there, so keep an eye on the blog for other learnings and recommendations in the coming months.

If you would like to discuss what these findings might mean for your town or city, get in touch with Sylvia or Jo on, who would be delighted to help.

Written by the Night Time Economy Team ©2019 | Share this article link
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