Global Drug Survey 2018 results provide insight into Scottish drug trends

The results of the world’s largest annual survey on recreational drug use have been published.

Now in its fifth year, the Global Drugs Survey looks internationally at how recreational drugs are used and identifies emergent trends that authorities and policy-makers should be aware of.

The survey is conducted in partnership with global media and harm reduction partners, including Scottish Drugs Forum.

The 2018 report spoke to 130,000 people across 44 countries and spoke to 1300 people in Scotland, up from 700 the year before.

Key findings in Scotland


61.9% of respondents reported ever using cocaine, 51.7% having used in the last year. This compares to 25% and 17% globally.

People in Scotland consume roughly double the global average of cocaine in a single session – 1.2 grams compared with 0.5 grams.

Scottish Drugs Forum Comment

It should be noted that purity may well be significant here. Purity in Scotland, especially in more rural areas, may be lower than in other parts of the UK, particularly in London. So people may be using larger quantities to get the same effect. Also, the actual weight sold as a ‘gram’ can vary dramatically. So, in some circumstances, people may be using ‘underweight grams’, making their overall consumption sound higher than it actually is. 

Poly substance use with alcohol is another key factor as this tends to drive up consumption overall. While use with alcohol is not unique to Scotland, it is certainly a feature of cocaine use here. Scotland’s relationship with alcohol is well documented and some people use cocaine to facilitate longer periods of drinking. This can be harmful – not only because consuming more alcohol is harmful but also because the perception that some people who are using alcohol have of cocaine ‘sobering them up’ is actually them experiencing further intoxication.

Accessibility to drugs

Around one third of cocaine users in Scotland say they can get the drug delivered faster than a pizza (in under 30 minutes) – in Glasgow the figure is 36.7 per cent.

Scottish Drugs Forum Comment

It is possible people are using more often in home settings – certainly there seems to be fewer people in pubs and involved in nightclubbing. Concerningly, people are more likely to overdose in a home setting. 

The darknet continues to become an increasingly common source of illicit drugs. Results from people in Scotland show that 4.3% bought drugs through the darknet. However, ‘traditional’ sources are still the most common. 49.3% of people in Scotland bought from dealers, 25.5% from friends and 17.6% through friends of friends.

Scottish Drugs Forum Comment

Anecdotally, we are aware of more drug purchases taking place via the darkweb, but the survey found that the majority of people still buy from people they know. This has been corroborated by other drug studies in Scotland, including SDF’s 2016 study ‘Understanding the harms of NPS use among vulnerable groups in Scotland’.

The age of first time use of illicit drugs in Scotland was most commonly 19 years of age, unlike the findings globally, which are more evenly spread across ages.

Scottish Drugs Forum Comment

Accessibility to cocaine – compared to other drugs – is generally affected by price, therefore seeing higher rates of cocaine at further education or employment age is likely due to people have greater disposable income, without as many financial responsibilities, around the age of 19.

Seeking help

People in Scotland are over twice more likely to seek emergency treatment for substance use-related emergencies than the global and English average.

Scottish Drugs Forum Comment

This may be due to higher consumption rates reported in the survey sample. Equally, it may suggest treatment gaps In Scotland where traditional drug treatment is often focused on opioids, benzodiazepines and alcohol.  This can result in negative experiences in presenting for treatment for stimulants, such as cocaine, and therefore mean people only present at crisis point when they need emergency treatment. It may also be the case that, waiting times at Scottish A&E is generally lower than in England, therefore some people choose to be seen at A&E rather than go to their GP.

Click here to view the survey results for 2018

Click here for more information about the Global Drugs Survey