Which drugs are used most?

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.

When it comes to illegal drugs,the most commonly tried drug by far is cannabis. This is followed by cocaine and ecstasy.

The latest statistics from the Home Office Crime Survey for England and Wales 2017/18 suggest that among people aged 16-59, use of most drugs has been decreasing for several years, and is around the lowest since measurements began in 1996.

The key findings were:

  • Around 1 in 11 (9.0%) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a drug in the last year. This equated to around 3.0 million people, and was similar to 2016/17 (8.5%).
  • Around one-third (34.6%) of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken drugs at some point during their lifetime.
  • As in previous years, cannabis was the most commonly used drug in the 2017/18 CSEW, with 7.2 per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 having used it in the last year (around 2.4 million people).
  • As in recent years, the second most commonly used drug in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 was powder cocaine (2.6% in the 2017/18 survey, equating to around 875,000 people). Powder
    cocaine was also the second most commonly used drug among young adults aged 16 to 24 (6.0% or around 361,000 young adults) after cannabis.
  • Generally, the proportion of 16 to 59 year olds using ecstasy in the last year has been relatively flat throughout the lifetime of the survey, fluctuating between one and two per cent
  • LSD use increased among adults aged 16 to 59. Use increased from 0.3 to 0.4 per cent,equating to around 47,000 more people using the drug than in the previous year.
  • Use of magic mushrooms increased among adults aged 16 to 59. Use increased from 0.3 to 0.4 per cent, equating to around 57,000 more people using the drug in the last year.
  • Ketamine use increased among adults aged 16 to 59. Ketamine use doubled from 0.4 per cent to 0.8 per cent, equating to 141,000 more people using the drug than in the previous year. This was driven by an increase in ketamine use among 16 to 24 year olds from 1.2 per
    cent to 3.1 per cent. This is the highest estimate of ketamine use since measurement of this drug began in the 2006/07 survey.
  • Use of tranquillisers (not prescribed by a doctor or other healthcare professional) increased among adults aged 16 to 59. Tranquilliser use among this age group increased from 0.4 per cent to 0.6 per cent.

Latest reports on drug prevalence

For international perspectives see:

Global Drug Survey 2019 (PDF)
Key findings from this year’s report into global drug trends | GDS, UK

European Drug Report 2018
What are the latest drug market trends and what are the factors driving them? What drugs are causing the most concern today? What are the most recent developments in drug prevention, treatment and policy? These, and other, questions are explored by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) in its annual overview of the European drug situation | EMCDDA, Portugal

Drugs in syringes from six European cities: results from the ESCAPE project 2017, 2019
This report presents the results of an innovative method for gathering information on the substances used by people who inject drugs. In this pilot study, chemical analysis of the contents of used syringes collected from exchange sites reveals the drugs and drug combinations injected in the six participating European cities. This approach can provide local and timely information that can be used for city-level monitoring and interventions | EMCDDA, Portugal

For the UK see:

Drug misuse: findings from the 2017 to 2018 CSEW, 2018
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 Drug Misuse: England, 2018
This statistical report presents a range of information on drug use by adults and children drawn together from a variety of sources. It focuses on England only where possible although some statistics are only readily available at GB or UK level or for England and Wales combined. Some of this is new information whilst some has been published previously | NHS Digital, UK

United Kingdom drug situation: Focal Point annual report, 2018
Annual report and data tables from the UK Focal Point on Drugs on the national prevalence, impact, prevention and treatment of drug use | PHE, UK