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The rise in legal highs: prevalence and patterns in the use of illegal drugs and first and second generation ‘legal highs’ on South London gay dance clubs

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2011
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Substance Use
Issue number4
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)263-272
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Aim: To assess the prevalence of use of established illegal psychoactive drugs and emergent psychoactive drugs, the so-called “legal highs”, amongst gay club-goers who are considered to be “early adopters” of drug trends.

Design: Three in situ surveys were conducted in July 2010 with customers at two dance clubs (nightclubs) in an area known for its “gay-friendly” night time economy. The surveys assessed the prevalence of self-reported lifetime, past year, past month, fieldwork day use and planned use of illegal drugs and “legal highs”.

Setting: This is a field study.

Participants: The participants were 308 customers in two “gay-friendly” clubs in South London, United Kingdom.

Measurements: Two-page research instrument was designed for in situ drug surveys.

Findings: Our sample had higher rates of self-reported lifetime and recent use of established illegal drugs than the general population. Mephedrone emerged from near obscurity to become the most popular illegal drug in this survey, with 41% having taken it in the past month and 27% having either taken and/or planning to take it on the fieldwork night. Regarding second-generation “legal highs”, 11% of the sample had taken NRG-1 in the past month and 3% had taken and/or planned to take it on the fieldwork night.

Conclusions: This survey suggests that the popularity of mephedrone surpasses other drugs, both legal and illegal, despite having been banned by the UK government prior to this survey being conducted. “Early adopters” of drug trends appear to be undeterred by the legal classification of emergent psychoactive substances. Given the global nature of the trade in “legal highs”, this study has implications for other countries where mephedrone use is emerging.