Recreational drug use

Recreational drug use is often the term used to describe the use of legal and illegal substances to enhance a mood or feeling, which can be a one off or something you do at the weekends. The classic example of this would be the 90’s raver who would pop pills to enhance the euphoria of the club and dance their socks off until the sun came up.

Phrases like ‘drug user’ usually come with negative connotations of hardcore drug users who are addicted to substances like heroin or crack and live on the streets. Realistically this is only a small proportion of the wider population of people in the UK who have tried or regularly use drugs. Last year 3.2 million people aged 16-59 in the UK reported using at least one drug. This article is going to look at the 3 most commonly used recreational drugs in the UK, who’s using them, why they’re using them and what long-term use can do.

Who’s taking the drugs?

From the statistics from the Home Office Crime Survey for England and Wales around 1 in 11 people in the UK reported taking a drug over the last year, out of those people 1 in 25 (approx 1.3 million) reported that drug was a class A ( Classes of drugs are decided by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, their class depends on the level of harm they can do to a person, with A being the highest level of harm (also come with the highest level of imprisonment and fines) and C being the lowest.

If you’re not sure what drugs are in each class we list them below:

Class A

Drug: Crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth).
Posession: Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

Class B

Drug: Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (e.g. mephedrone, methoxetamine), ketamine.
Posession: Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

Class C

Drug: Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), piperazines (BZP), khat.
Posession: Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

With 1.3 million people reporting use of a class A and almost 2 million using B or C in the last year, it’s clear to see that the people using these drugs are not just those on the streets as is often believed, they are everyday people who uphold jobs, families and homes, they are teenagers dabbling in the unknown, friends down the pub on a Friday & Saturday after stressful weeks at work and people just trying to take the edge off their hectic or difficult lives and relax for a few hours.

In the recent global drugs survey Britain came higher than any other country for reported use of ecstasy and cocaine.  It is thought that these drugs have long been on the UK’s most preferred list from the hippies of the 70’s searching for a psychedelic experience to the ravers and clubbers of the 90’s never wanting the party to end.

But what happens when the party does ends? When all you’re left with is an empty pocket, one hell of a come down and all that stress and worry you were escaping right there waiting for you on Monday morning?

Top 3 drugs used


Often referred to as a “gateway” drug, meaning it can lead you on to using more illicit substances, this Class B drug that is made from a plant comes in different forms (hash, grass or weed and oil).  Each form has a different level of potency and effect on the brain. Skunk is the strongest form of cannabis, it is homegrown in England under grow lights and not in soil which increases it’s levels of THC (the psychoactive part of cannabis). Most people who use cannabis will smoke it or inhale it through a bong, other forms are by cooking and eating it.

Cannabis is taken to relax, with many cannabis users becoming more talkative and easily getting the giggles, how long it takes for these effects to reduce depends on how much Cannabis is used and the experience of the user.

Too much Cannabis can lead to nausea, vomitting and anxiety, known as a ‘whitey’. Long term use of cannabis has been linked to anxiety and paranoia which remains even after the drug has worn off.

Despite competition, Cannabis takes the top spot of the UK’s most used drug with 7.2% of adults aged 16-59 reporting to have used it in the last year.


Cocaine is made from the leaves of coco plants that come from South America, although used within medical care recreational use of cocaine is illegal and is registered as a Class A drug.

Usually cocaine is brought as a crushed powder, which users will snort. It is difficult to know how pure the substance is, many dealers will cut the cocaine with other stimulants that are cheaper and in some cases they will cut it with talcum powder and flour.

During the 1990’s cocaine was seen as the drug of the rich and famous and still today 3.4% of reported cocaine use comes from households that have an income of over £50,000. Although the drug is still veered as a “classy” drug, it has become more affordable over the decades and as a result more people are trying it.

Taken for it’s feel good effect, typically people feel energised, alert and confident whilst taking cocaine. However despite being strong, the effects wear off relatively quickly which can lead to increased consumption of the drug. Over time this can put physical strain on the body, especially the heart, and can leave the person with feelings of depression and anxiety.

Another form of cocaine that is in crystal form, is referred to as Crack Cocaine. Only 0.1% of people surveyed reported using Crack. Usually the crystals are burnt and the fumes are inhaled and this way increases the effect on the brain and usually users will binge use it in a short space of time. Afterwards they will have to keep increasing the amount to get the same effect.


Ecstasy comes mainly in tablet form, when in powdered form it is MDMA (Molly/Mandy/MD). Tablets can be called lots of different things as most come with a logo marked on them and that can be how they are referred (for example as “Mitsubishi’s, supermans or teddy bears”.

Usually swallowed or snorted, ecstasy and MDMA bring on mild hallucinogenic effects, taking away feelings of anger and replacing with empathy and energy whilst still feeling calm and relaxed. People also report increased awareness to surroundings and increased sexual pleasure. It’s worth noting that not all trips are like this, some people have experiences including feeling anxious, panicky, confused and disoriented and these effects can last up to a few days.

Among younger users (16-24 year olds) ecstasy and MDMA is the second most popular drug after Cannabis, but in the wider UK population from the home office survey of 16-59 year olds, it ranks third.

Ecstasy users often experience come downs that can last days, or the ‘mid week hangover’ following the weekend of use, common side effects are; concentration levels dip, general low mood which can lead to depression or anxiety, sleep problems and reduction in appetite, long term use has also been linked to liver damage.

What can continued use do?

Continued drug use can have some harmful and damaging physical and psychological effects. With long term use of each of the drugs listed here come with side effects of depression and anxiety.  If you already have any underlying mental health conditions drug use will only ever make them worse in the long run. Every time a drug is used, it has an impact on our bodies, whether it be short term of long term use sometimes when the damage is done it can be irreparable.

Damage can include:

● Smoking can cause damage to the lungs and heart
● All drugs have an influence on our brains and brain chemicals which can be affected after long term use of substances
● Ingesting drugs can harm lives and kidneys

As well as these effects on the body and mind, long term and excessive drug use can lead to losing employment, relationships ending, breaking up families and even losing your home.

It is worth taking some time to consider if recreational drug use is having an effect on anything listed above, maybe it’s time to reconsider those weekend benders and get some support?

Ways to get support

The first, and most important step in getting some support for your drug use is; to admit it to yourself. To admit you have a problem to yourself is one of the hardest things to do, whether it’s drug, alcohol, gambling or anything that is having a negative effect on your life. We’re not saying that admitting it will make getting support easier, but it will mean that you’re doing it for you, not because someone has told you.

There are a few things you can do to either get some advice or to get some supportive intervention to help you reduce or stop using drugs:

● Confide in someone you know and trust, a friend or loved one, someone who can support you in the initial stages and might be someone who can go to appointments with you. Doing something like this on your own can be so much harder compared to with someone on your side.
● Have a look at other websites; make sure they’re legitimate and from a trusted source, you don’t want to follow advice and guidance unless you know it’s trusted. There are some well known sites at the bottom of this article
● Drop in Clinic; most services aimed at helping recreational drug users will have a confidential drop in clinic where you can get help and support from professionals
● GP; confiding in your GP might be your preferred choice. They can often refer you to more specialised services or give you the support you need to make positive changes.