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It's official: the UK is a nation of hedonists - and more of us are buying drugs online: Users moving from dealers to internet, survey finds Extent of alcohol use also remains 'very worrying'
[April 13, 2014]

It's official: the UK is a nation of hedonists - and more of us are buying drugs online: Users moving from dealers to internet, survey finds Extent of alcohol use also remains 'very worrying'

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) More drug users are buying their drugs online - including so-called legal highs as well as illegal drugs such as cannabis and MDMA - because they say the quality is better, there is more choice and it is more convenient, research has found.

The 2014 Global Drug Survey (GDS) - which questioned almost 80,000 drug users from 43 countries, and is the largest research of its kind - indicates that although the majority still use dealers, a growing number are following 21st-century shopping habits by going online.

Hidden online drug marketplaces such as Silk Road - known as the "Amazon for drugs" before it was shut down in October last year - have sprung up and drug users are using the virtual currency Bitcoin to make transactions. The UK is also at the vanguard of this shift online, with the highest percentage of people who had ever bought drugs over the internet. Almost a quarter of UK respondents to the survey - which is partnered by Mixmag and the Guardian in the UK and is likely to be answered by people who take drugs regularly - said they had bought drugs over the internet. Just under 60% knew about Silk Road, and of these, 44% had accessed the site. The most likely drug to be bought online was cannabis, followed by MDMA, LSD and ketamine. Of the 22% who had bought drugs online, 44% had first done so in 2012 or 2013, suggesting a new trend, according to Dr Adam Winstock, a consultant addictions psychiatrist in London and director of the survey.

Until it was shut down last year, Silk Road was the largest online black market site in the world.

The site was accessed via the anonymous web browser Tor, which bounces traffic through "relays" run by volunteers around the world, making it extremely hard for anyone to identify the source of the information or the location of the user.

Payments were made in Bitcoin, the world's first cryptocurrency, a nearly anonymous way of sending money over the internet.

In October 2013, the FBI arrested Ross Ulbricht, a 29-year-old from San Francisco said to be Silk Road's founder, and the website was shut down. The survey also reveals that the UK, more than any other country, is a nation of hedonists, said Winstock - 73.8% of respondents had taken at least one illegal drug over the last 12 months. Alcohol was the most common drug taken, followed by tobacco and cannabis.

"The UK just does not do things in moderation. We come out as some of the largest drug takers, taking a broader range of drugs that are reasonably cheap," he said. Winstock described the extent of alcohol abuse in the UK as "very worrying". "Many countries are clueless about alcohol, but the UK and Ireland are the most clueless, " he said. According to the survey, 60% of respondents demonstrated a medium, high or dependent level of alcohol problems. Of the 7% who demonstrated dependency levels, only 39% recognised their drinking was dangerous, while 34.5% thought they drank an average or below-average amount.

The survey - which was taken by 78,820 people, 7,326 of them from the UK - also revealed that almost a third of drug users aged between 18 and 24 admitted taking a "mystery white powder". Last year, a fifth of 18- to 25-year-olds admitted doing so.

Alcohol remained the most likely drug to damage respondents' health, but the survey also revealed that people using synthetic cannabis had a much higher likelihood of being admitted to hospital than users of natural cannabis.

Almost one in 100 MDMA users sought emergency medical treatment, with two-thirds of those being admitted to hospital. Winstock said this was "a cause for concern for a drug that so many users consider safe" and called for a more "realistic" drugs debate focused on harm reduction.

The Global Drug Survey has created a Highway Code, which gives advice on how to take each drug safely. "Simply saying drugs are bad does not engage people, you have to tell people who want to take drugs how to reduce their risks - and also have more fun," Winstock said. "You need a dialogue and that needs to include a conversation about pleasure." Captions: Highs and lows Clockwise from above left: cannabis plants, opium poppies (source of heroin), ecstasy tablets, mephedrone, and Colombian magic mushrooms on sale in London Main photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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