You often hear of Gen Z supposedly drinking less and turning their noses up at the sesh. But according to new research, they have been using more illegal drugs since 2016.
The National Institute for Health Research has recently wound up an 18-month study looking, in part, at increases in under 25-year-olds using party drugs over a seven-year timeline. “We looked at all existing data relevant to young people’s drug use within the UK but with a primary focus on England,” Prof Harry Sumnall, a Professor in Substance Use at the Public Health Institute, recently explained in a seminar discussing the research.
He added: “We looked at things like treatment data, survey data and school exclusion data to provide an understanding of how things have changed over the last decade or last five years.” They also did extensive interviews with 135 young people, adding primary data to their secondary, which gave them a pretty good picture of who was using what drugs.
“We’ve seen an increase in young people’s drug use, particularly cannabis, nos [nitrous oxide] and powder cocaine,” Prof Sumnall says. “It is set against a background of a long-term decline in alcohol, tobacco and, more recently, ecstasy [MDMA crystals or pills].”
On top of that, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) released some data on amphetamine use, from production and trafficking, to distribution and use, this week. In it, the data says that the most common synthetic stimulant available in Europe is not coke or MDMA, but speed.
These are longitudinal studies, looking at trends over a long time. But the current drug landscape is wild – there are new substances popping up all the time. In 2023, what’s a drug trend today will inevitably morph into something different tomorrow, and it will have its day soon after that. Over the past year, for example, we have reported on a number of weird drugs – xylazine, 3,4‑methylenedioxy-α-pyrrolidinohexanophenone, 3‑MMC, difluoroethane, 6‑MAM, n‑pyrrolidino etonitazene – that I’d never heard of before, let alone known how to say out loud.
So, I asked some anonymous readers of THE FACE to share what was in their baggie when they headed out last weekend. Of course, we can’t generalise their responses further than the people we spoke to. But I got a sense that people in their early-20s now seem a lot more clued up about drugs than their pill-munching predecessors.
Student, 20 (she/her)
In the first year of uni, me and my friends would all smoke weed. We’d come home from school or work, have a zoot or a couple of pulls on a bong and watch a film. On a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, we’ll go to the bar and have a drink and someone will be like, “There’s a party going on, let’s all get a bag of coke or a bag of speed.”
For us, coke or speed is more casual, having it while we’re drinking. But MD [MDMA] is reserved for when we are going on a big night out at a rave. I have friends who have gone on MD benders and it has completely run them down. I like to be safer, I only do it every month or once every three months because I know how easily it can become a problem. And I feel like coke is too expensive to get addicted to; you can’t get addicted to coke in this economic environment unless you’re minted.
Student, 21 (he/him)
My relationship with the sesh is that I have no relationship with the sesh. Obviously uni is seen as a big party time, but my first year of uni was Covid, so the year that I did think I’d maybe be out partying never happened anyway. And it just carried on. When I actually got back to uni, I was conscious of how much I’d missed workwise and I’m quite a workaholic, stressed person anyway so I just carried on [being sober]. I’m in my final year now and to this day I have never been to a university party.
Education sector, 23 (she/her)
I feel like recently MCAT [mephedrone] has become a big thing. I’ve recently moved back down to London, so I don’t know if it’s more of a trend here, but everyone seems to have it. That’s what I’ve been doing more recently. It doesn’t have as big of a heavy hit the next day as a [MDMA] pill would. It kind of feels like speed but a bit more euphoric. I think it seems to be more of a thing in the queer scene, that and G [GHB and its precursor GBL that converts to GHB when it enters the human body] but I don’t do that because I’m scared of it.
Legal sector, 23 (he/him)
I go out at least once a week, and drink about five or six doubles and a couple of pints, something like that. I do ecstasy occasionally but that’s more of a festival or a big event type of thing. I think with the science and the mental health stuff, it feels to me a bit like a no brainer in terms of actually leaving it a few months apart between doing ecstasy. Also, if you do it loads you don’t get the same effect. There’s that aspect of it, it stops working after a while. Then of course there’s the really bad comedowns if you take too much. I don’t do any [illegal] drugs regularly apart from smoking weed. That’s like a three times a week type of thing.
Student, 21 (she/her)
My friends do mostly ket, but everyone has things they like. Most of us can’t afford coke very often. We do pingers [MDMA pills] every now and again and I also see people do MCAT now and again. But I feel like ket is the norm, like everyone always gets ket and often pingers. I see speed here and there. Personally, if I’m going out until 6am or something and I do a pinger but it wears off at 4am I’ll sometimes do some speed to keep me going for the rest of the night. Because otherwise I just feel horrible and I want to go home once it’s worn off.
I don’t do MCAT. I got spiked with it once and I didn’t like it at all. But I have had a lot of my friends starting to do MCAT in the past year. I go to queer events, I feel like maybe that’s part of the reason I see that because a lot of people do it there. It’s hard to make big judgments or sweeping generalisations, but I feel like I’ve seen a lot more people do MCAT in the last year.