Students and Drugs: recreational fun or time for a tough crackdown?


The debate surrounding drugs never fails to rear its head- whether in politics or the media.
Last week the mayor of Amsterdam decided that foreigners would not be banned from using the city’s cannabis cafes after months of discussion surrounding new drug laws (a move that was heavily influenced by the effect that a ban would have on Amsterdam’s economy). Drug policy in the USA has also recently seen a shift as Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalise recreational marijuana use following a majority vote.

With drugs such a hot topic at the moment, we need to look at the issue closer to home and ask ourselves the question: are drugs seen as “part and parcel” of the University lifestyle?

Whether you have never taken an illegal substance before, or use drugs for recreational purposes, it is safe to say that most of you will be thinking that many of your peers use drugs on a regular basis – particularly in social situations.

But this may not be true. According to a recent survey by, drug-use at University is not as widespread as students perceive it to be. The research shows that 90% of students think that a large portion of their peers have tried illegal substances at University, whilst the reality shows that just under half of the sample have never taken any form of illegal drug.

The research also suggests that students are less likely to start experimenting with drugs whilst at University, with 79 % of the respondents claiming to have tried an illegal substance before their Uni experience.

Unsurprisingly, of those who admit to have taken drugs whilst at University, 77% have taken cannabis- the perceived ‘soft drug’ that is currently classified as a Class B. This is followed by ecstasy (39%) and cocaine (24%). Perhaps the most worrying statistic to emerge from the report is that of the 66% of respondents who had been offered drugs at University, 27% had been approached on campus.

Responding to the results, Oliver Brann, editor of said:

“The worry here is the perception rather than reality. Young people are very peer-led and if they think that all their friends are experimenting with drugs, they may be more likely to try it for themselves. In reality the number of students who are taking drugs is much lower than they think.’

So is it time to re-think our blasé attitude towards drugs in favour of a tougher crackdown or are students given a bad name?

Although the survey purports to show that drug taking at Uni is not as prevalent as students think, 55% is a large portion of the student community to have dabbled in drugs. What the survey failed to ask was whether students are fully aware of the effects of drug taking on their health and ability to study.

Taking ketamine as an example, a study in 2010 undertaken by the University of Cambridge found that the horse tranquiliser reproduces symptoms of schizophrenia, leading to a perturbed sense of body ownership. Prolonged use of the drug can exacerbate underlying mental health issues as well as inducing panic attacks and hallucinations. I may sound like I am stuck in the dark ages, but I cannot see the appeal of the loss of all bodily functions, resulting in heavily impaired perception and control.

77% have taken cannabis Survey
Many of you may argue that recreational drug use and the occasional ‘high’ is nothing to be worried about in the long term. But have you thought about those around you? Taking drugs does not only impact on your own well being, but can seriously influence your friends and peers.

But research has suggested that illegal drugs are not the only substances that are being abused. A recent report- Human Enhancement and the Future of Work- undertaken by four academies, has suggested that it may be time to start testing University students for evidence of performance-enhancing drugs. The use of ‘cognitive enhancing’ drugs has become worryingly widespread, with many students misusing prescription medicine such as Ritalin to enhance short term memory, boosting alertness around exam or essay writing periods.

Although these performance enhancing drugs are legal, the suggestion that students have started to rely on potentially harmful substances to keep up with the workload needs to be addressed.

If you are surrounded by people who often take drugs, do not feel intimidated or obliged to conform to the “group behaviour”. I am now in my final year, but I still remember one of my first conversations in Fresher’s Week. It transpired that I was the only person present at that particular time who had not taken drugs. I stood my ground and told them what I thought about the big drugs debate. Far from feeling compelled to follow suit, I earned respect for being so open and honest with my opinions.

It is up to each individual to make sure that they are aware of the effects of taking drugs. Many people will argue that Uni brings freedom, which in turn allows individuality to flourish as a result of the relaxed lifestyle away from home. But freedom also comes hand in hand with responsibility.

If you are concerned about your own- or a friend’s drug use- you can talk to FRANK for free and in confidence at anytime of the day or night by calling 0800 77 66 00, or visit You can also text a question to 82111.


Discussion3 Comments

  1. avatar

    What about alcohol? I see this as a much bigger problem for universities. It gives the universities a bad name in the local area as wasted students run amok, vomit, cry, fight, etc. And you talk about being peer led – well the drinking culture in university is a lot more intimidating in this regard. Whilst people make relatively free choices about whether they take drugs, Freshers’ Week is a time when drinking games are seen as the protocol for bonding with your new flatmates, hall mates and course mates. People are led to believe that the only way to gain the respect of others is to induce dangerous amounts of alcohol in one go. Being around people on drugs, on the other hand, tends to be a much friendlier atmosphere due to the behaviours that most drugs tend to induce. In fact I would go as far as to say that a high proportion of students turn to drugs because of a distaste for the drinking atmosphere. It’s repetitive and gets you nowhere.


    You are completely right, alcohol is also something that needs to be addressed. I was going to add a section about alcohol in the article but the main focus was meant to be on drugs- as a response to the research by student beans that has been undertaken- and alcohol opens up a much more lengthy debate. Recently, the effects of alcohol have been considered- with David Nutt claiming that alcohol is more harmful than many illegal drugs. Whilst such claims have been muted by the goverment, it does highlight a big issue- is the label of “illegal” given to many drugs outdated? Of course, alcohol is seen as a big part of the uni lifestyle, and one that can intimidate and influence people in social situations. But I disagree that drugs tend to induce ”friendlier’ atmospheres. If you are part of the group that is taking drugs, then this is what you will perceive it to be. But to an outsider looking in, even cannabis can effect people in a multitude of ways, and is not always the ‘relaxant’ that many believe. Having seen the effects it has on people over a long period of time, it can lead to an atmosphere that is both hostile and anxious- certainly not an ‘escape’ from Uni’s drinking culture.

  2. avatar

    If you haven’t ever got to a lecture on acid or on a seriously savage comedown, then I can honestly say that you’ve wasted your time at university. Somebody get the author of this article some drugs!

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