Which drugs are used most?

Latest reports:

For international perspectives see: The Global Drug Survey results 2016 (PDF) The world’s largest survey into drug and alcohol use | GDS, UK

For England and Wales see:

Drug Misuse: Findings from the 2015/16 Crime Survey for England and Wales (PDF)
Examines the extent and trends in illicit drug use among a sample of 16 to 59 year old residents in households in England and Wales | Home Office, UK

Statistics on Drugs Misuse: England, 2016
This annual statistical report presents information on drug misuse among both adults and children. The topics covered include: Prevalence of drug misuse, including the types of drugs used; Trends in drug misuse over recent years; Patterns of drug misuse among different groups of the population; Health outcomes related to drug misuse including hospital admissions, drug treatment and number of deaths | HSCIC, UK


Our favourite drugs

Caffeine is our favourite drug. It is contained in tea, coffee, many soft drinks and colas, some confectionery, included in many medicines and available in over-the-counter stimulant preparations such as Pro Plus.

Apart from medicines in general the next most commonly used drug is alcohol, followed by the nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco based products.

These and other drugs can be broadly categorised in a way that helps with understanding how a person might be affected when using them:


Such as alcohol, tranquillisers, heroin, methadone and solvents slow down the central nervous system, affecting co-ordination and reaction times. Alcohol, for instance, used to create feelings of relaxation and disinhibition in social settings, can be inappropriate and cause problems in the workplace. Due to slow reactions, depressant use is particularly dangerous whilst driving or operating machinery.


Such as amphetamines (‘speed’), ecstasy, cocaine, mephedrone. tobacco and caffeine increase the heart rate and give the user a sense of increased alertness and energy. People using some stimulants can become aggressive. Illicit stimulants might be used recreationally but the following day at work, a user can feel tired or depressed. Employees may also use stimulants to enable them to work long shifts but repeated and regular use could lead to problems or dependence.


Such as cannabis, ketamine and ‘magic mushrooms’ change the way people think, feel and perceive their surroundings. They can enhance appreciation of surroundings but can also cause anxiety or paranoia. As they can distort the user’s sense of time and perception, these drugs would again be dangerous in ‘safety critical’ jobs. Whilst none of the hallucinogens mentioned cause physical dependence, a user may become psychologically dependent on their effects. Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in the UK.

The most commonly used drugs

When it comes to illegal drugs,the most commonly tried drugs are:

  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • Amyl Nitrites (Poppers)
  • Amphetamines
  • Ketamine

The 2011/12 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 6.9% of 16-59 year olds claimed to have used cannabis in the last year. Cocaine was the next most common drug with 2.2% admitting use.