CGA has conducted research into festivalgoers’ drug consumption habits and attitudes towards harm reduction initiatives, such as those run by The Loop.
The findings come from two separate surveys undertaken by the business intelligence consultancy in 2018: a bespoke piece for The Loop in May, and the UK Festival Census in October. Both of the online questionnaires were completed by panels of UK Festival Awards voters, with the former receiving 1098 responses and the latter garnering 6673. The majority of those within the samples were middle-aged, white, and in full-time employment, with a nearly equal split between class distinctions and gender.
Broadly speaking, 74% of festivalgoers reacted positively to the notion of onsite drug testing. Of those who admitted to have previously taken illicit drugs at festivals, 86% supported the concept and 3% opposed it. Amongst abstainers, the level of support dropped to 66% and negative sentiment rose to 7%.
The question posed to the sample was this: ‘Recently, festivals have begun to offer free drug testing facilities onsite, whereby festivalgoers can anonymously provide a sample of their drugs to be tested for purity to ensure their consumption is safe. What are your thoughts on this? Please write in below.’ For the sake of brevity, the survey refrained from detailing The Loop’s entire procedure – which takes a more holistic approach than simply testing the contents of submitted substances. It could be that this incomplete synopsis impacted respondents’ perceptions of the service.
When it comes to consumption habits, 39% of festivalgoers admitted to have taken illegal drugs at festivals at some point, which may underrepresent the real figure given that 18% preferred not to disclose whether or not they had. Compared to their typical intake on a night out, 34% of users reported no difference in the quantity of drugs they usually consume at festivals. A notable 35% only take drugs when they’re at festivals, and a further quarter increase their drug intake. Additionally, 16% take a wider range of drugs than usual, and the most popular drugs amongst festivalgoers are cannabis and MDMA / ecstasy. Over 90% of festivalgoers drink alcohol, with the vast majority drinking once a week or more. Wine / Prosecco is the most popular drink.
In tandem with an increased propensity towards drug usage while onsite at festivals, respondents demonstrated a general willingness to indulge in several different intoxicants at once (including alcohol). Given the often-dangerous interactions between different substances, it could be considered alarming that 29% said that they ‘sometimes’ do so, another 25% said ‘occasionally’, 12% said ‘most times’, 8% said ‘nearly every time’, and 21% said never.
Considering that a safe dose of MDMA is 100mg, and that The Loop’s social media drug alerts frequently warn of ecstasy pills containing up to three times that amount, it’s a cause for concern that 43% of ecstasy users within the sample took more than one pill during their last session. Furthermore, 72% of those don’t know what brand or type of pill(s) they took at the time.
A mere 4% of festivalgoers who take drugs have used a drug testing service at a festival, despite 72% being aware of their existence and 79% expressing concern over the purity and true identity of the drugs they purchase. This potentially highlights a need to better communicate their benefits and / or assuage festivalgoers’ fears of recrimination from authorities if they use the service.