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CMU@TGE 2017: A Recent History Of Getting High

By | Published on Thursday 22 June 2017

Duncan Dick

Look out for more reports throughout June on key sessions that took place at the CMU Insights conferences at The Great Escape last month. Today, A Recent History Of Getting High.

While the latter half of the CMU Insights Drugs Conference looked at addiction and recovery, the first part of the day considered drug taking at music events, and drugs as part of clubbing culture. To inform that debate, host Jen Long spoke to Mixmag Editor Duncan Dick about recent trends in drug use amongst clubbers, including stats from the Global Drug Survey – a project originally started as a Mixmag feature two decades ago and now a major independent operation surveying global trends in drug use.

“We started the drugs survey at Mixmag around the late 90s”, Dick explained. “At that time, dance music was a subculture, and a subculture that was built around ecstasy. We were really the only people documenting that culture so it was really important to us to reflect what was going on”.

“We’ve always seen ourselves as telling the truth about drugs”, he added. “Drugs are completely linked to dance music, from the people that make it to the people that dance to it. I’m not saying that everybody involved in dance music is on drugs, but it’s definitely part of the culture. A lot of people would like drugs to go away, but they’re not going to go away. And as journalists, as dance music lovers, we’d like to report on the world as it is rather than the world that someone would like it to be”.

The Global Drug Survey defines clubbers as people who have been clubbing in the last three months. Reviewing the 2016 figures, Dick said: “It will not shock you to know that the most popular drug amongst clubbers is ecstasy. And ecstasy use has been growing year-on-year over the last five years”.

“Ecstasy is more fashionable than it has ever been, in my opinion”, Dick continued. “And cocaine is up as well”. Those trends might surprise people, given all the media attention enjoyed by so called legal highs in recent years, and the subsequent crackdown on such substances in the UK last year.

“Nitrous was massive in 2016”, Dick added, of the substances that fell under the ‘legal high’ banner, “but I don’t know whether the new laws will have an affect on that”.

One of the legal highs that was particularly newsworthy for a time was mephedrone aka Meow Meow. “Mephedrone seems to have died a death and that is mainly because pills got stronger”, Dick revealed. “It’s almost as if the cartels that make MDMA – that’s probably some Dutch guys on a farm in Utrecht – got to together and thought, ‘well, this is killing our market, we’ve got to compete with these labs in China’. The quality of MDMA has gone up massively in the last few years [and] that was a direct response to the popularity of mephedrone”.

Increasing the strength of drugs does tend to increase their popularity, Dick confirmed, adding that: “The stronger the drugs, the more people report having a good time on them, so the more likely people are to take them. I would certainly say that more people are taking MDMA now, in the form of pills or powders, than they were six or seven years ago when pills were £2 a pop but they were 2% pure”.

Drugs getting stronger makes them more dangerous if people continue to consume them at the same quantity – not realising a pill now contains much more of the actual drug. With poor drugs education, and a lack of good information of legal highs let alone illegal drugs, that creates a risky situation that can be fatal.

“There’s a huge void in drug education at the moment”, Dick said. Reckoning that bad drugs education was as much about a lack of funding as it was a nervousness among the powers that be about being seen to condone drug taking, he continued: “That’s combined that with a generation of millennials that started taking mephedrone because they assumed it was safe, because no one knew anything about it, because it was easy to get. And now they’re now moving onto illegal drugs with little information about them. It’s a perfect storm”.

Mixmag has attempted to fill the drugs education void where possible, he said. Last year the magazine ran the ‘Don’t Be Daft, Start With A Half’ campaign, after there was “a rash of people having convulsions, overheating” due to taking “super-strong pills”. This kind of editorial, of course, means adopting an approach some people consider controversial, ie taking drug consumption at clubbing events as read, and talking about how to take drugs safely, rather than insisting that drugs should just be avoided.

Dick is an advocate of other media and the music industry embracing this approach. “I think festivals and clubs really have a moral responsibility to step in here and, instead of chasing people around with aggressive bouncers, to try to educate folk on how to take drugs safely. To support campaigns like ours. And to talk about this work openly”.

“The truth is, you’re not going to change people’s behaviour by simply heightening security”, he went on. “It’s just not going to work. Look at the sad deaths around Fabric recently – one of those kids took their pills outside the club. What’s the club supposed to do about that? The only way you can save lives is by education”.

The government should also be playing a more proactive role here, he added: “It would be nice to see the government spending a little bit of money on education campaigns. Talk To Frank is a website and a couple of flyers in a club”.

He continued: “It’d be nice to see a bit more engagement with the clubbing community and with the people that own venues especially. With the Lib Dem manifesto, there was talk of putting responsibility for drugs under the Department Of Health again. Just that kind of mindset, where we’re talking about protection and education rather than trying to lock people up, I think would make a massive change”.

“Drugs are getting stronger and people need to take responsibility for their own actions, but they also need to have the full information at their fingertips”, he concluded, encouraging clubbers to seek out as much information as they can. “There’s a lot more drug checking and drug purity testing available. I would urge people to take full advantage of them”.

Check out all the reports and resources CMU has published around this year’s CMU Insights @ The Great Escape conferences here. Since The Great Escape, the 2017 Global Drugs Survey has been published, which you can read here.