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The Guardian’s huge drug survey is extraordinary

The Guardian and Mixmag have done something quite incredible: a survey about drug use, conducted on an absolutely enormous scale, that gives phenomenal insight into the reasons people take drugs, and those people’s thoughts about their substance intake.

The spectacular range of results have been recorded in a smart, measured and balanced fashion all over The Guardian’s website, and will presumably be featured heavily in the paper tomorrow.

It’s quite an astonishing set of articles to read. There are some frightening findings, and some comforting ones. Quite predictably, it turns out there are some people who take drugs in moderation and with knowledge, and are fine, and there are others who don’t, and aren’t. The crucial thing is that this isn’t just hearsay any more.

Of course, it isn’t all-encompassing. The survey invited only drug users to give their thoughts, not the majority of the population who abstain. The Guardian’s also keen to note the demographic who signed up to the survey: generally white, middle-class and educated. There are a lot of drug users who do not fit this bill, and it’s important not to ignore those people – the homeless heroin addicts, or those who’ve turned to a life of crime to fund their cocaine habits.

But the range of results here is hugely important, and the insight it provides should – if taken seriously – help those in power begin to combat the world’s devastating drug-related problems.

The take-home findings:

– Not all people who take drugs end up in trouble with them. Some do, and that’s a problem. But most of those surveyed (and it’s important to remember that the survey isn’t all-encompassing) were found to live healthy, happy lives, during which they spend the majority of their existence doing things like working or studying, instead of taking drugs.

– Users of multiple drugs strongly tend to worry more about their alcohol or tobacco habits than their use of illegal substances.

– Drug users do not want to put themselves or others in danger. They want honest, reliable advice about the risks involved in their drug use, and if they discovered that they really were putting themselves in danger, most would stop. Generally, drug users do not trust government-funded resources such as FRANK, because they are demonstrably unreliable in their information. People want more evidence, and they want those providing it to show their working.

– The more drugs the government criminalises, the more people turn to unknown ‘mystery powders’ – substances that could be anything, of any toxicity, of any level of danger – to get their kicks.

– An increasing number of people are turning to prescription medications, obtained by shady means, to help them through the negative side-effects of illegal drugs. This is a hugely serious, and terrifyingly unreported, problem.

There’s more. Far more. The extent of this research, while purely anecdotal, is quite remarkable. And it has hugely important connotations for those with the power to take action, because it is quite clear: people don’t want to get messed up on drugs. They just don’t trust the people who tell them this will happen.

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