Patterns of drug use in the last month

35% of respondents had used at least one illicit drug in the last month (excluding alcohol).

Table 9 shows the numbers of different drugs that respondents reported using in the last month. 21% of respondents reported using one substance in the last month, while 15% reported using two or more.

Table 9: Number of different drugs used in the last month (2009-11)

Number of drugs used %
None 2705 (65%)
1 only 867 (21%)
2 282 (7%)
3 125 (3%)
4 79 (2%)
5 or more 107 (3%)
Total 4165 (100%)19

The most commonly used drugs

The most commonly used drugs were cannabis and poppers20, followed by cocaine powder, ecstasy, ketamine and amphetamine (table 10). This is consistent with earlier research exploring drug use by LGB populations; cannabis and poppers are usually reported as the two most commonly used drugs with prevalence varying between 15-30%21.

Cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, amphetamine and crystal meth (crystal methamphetamine) are also substances commonly reported in other studies into substance use amongst LGB populations.22

A range of drugs were named in the ‘other’ category, including mephedrone for the first time in 2010 when 12 people had used it in the last month and 11 people in 2011.

Table 10: Drugs used in the last month (2009/11)

Number of drugs used %
Cannabis 798 (20%)23
Poppers 686 (18%)24
Cocaine powder 300 (8%)25
Ecstasy 268 (7%)26
Ketamine 158 (4%)27
Amphetamine 152 (4%)28
Benzodiazepines (non-prescribed) 101 (4%)29
GHB 62 (2%)30
LSD 38 (1%)31
Crystal meth 34 (1%)32
Crack cocaine 30 (1%)33
Steroids 27 (1%)34
Heroin 27 (1%)35
Other 181 (5%)36

The standard source of information about drug use among the general population is the British Crime Survey (BCS)37. The BCS is a general household population survey using a representative sample of 16-59 year olds. Making comparisons between the drug use reported by the POTP respondents and that reported by the general population is not straightforward because the POTP sample is younger by comparison.

Table 11 compares last month reported drug use by POTP respondents of the seven most used drugs (cannabis, poppers, cocaine powder, ecstasy, ketamine and amphetamine), with those of the general population in the last month as reported by the BCS for 2010/11.

Table 11: Last month illicit drug use: POTP and BCS samples

  BCS (2010/11) POTP (2009-2011) % greater incidence of drug use in the last month in the POTP sample compared to the BCS
Cannabis 3.80% 20% 526%
Poppers 0.40% 18% 4500%
Cocaine Powder 0.80% 8% 1000%
Ecstasy 0.40% 7% 1750%
Ketamine 0.30% 4% 1333%
Amphetamine 0.40% 4% 1000%
Benzodiazepines (non-prescribed) 0.20% 3% 1500%
Any illicit drug 4.8% 35% 729%

Across all illicit drugs, LGB people were seven times as likely to have used an illicit drug in the last month compared to the wider population. Cannabis use is still much higher for LGB people (five times higher) than the wider population, but has the lowest multiplier of any of the commonly used drugs. From these data, the LGB population is ten times as likely to have used cocaine powder in the last month compared to the wider population, and more than 13 times as likely to have used ketamine in the last month.

This demonstrates the scale of substance use in LGB communities.

Cocaine and ketamine each have significant levels of harm associated with their use, and their use is much more common in LGB communities.

Reported heroin, crack cocaine, steroid, LSD and crystal meth use was relatively low across the sample compared with other drugs, with 27 people reporting heroin or steroid use, 30 reporting crack cocaine or crystal meth use and 38 reporting LSD use. In addition 62 people reported using GHB.

The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) estimates that heroin use in the general population is 7.7 people per thousand people38 which is similar to the POTP figure of 7.1 heroin users per thousand people. This shows LGB people are just as likely to be heroin users compared to the wider population.

The NTA also estimates 5.4 crack users per thousand people which is significantly lower than the POTP figure of 7.9 crack users per thousand people, demonstrating that LGB people are significantly more likely to be crack cocaine users, compared to the wider population. 

19 Data is missing for 41 respondents

20 ‘Poppers’ is the most widely recognised term for a group of nitrites including alkyl, amyl, butyl and isobutyl nitrites

21 Beddoes D, Sheikh S, Pralat R and Sloman J (2010) ibid

22 Beddoes D, Sheikh S, Pralat R and Sloman J (2010) ibid

23 Data is missing for 216 respondents

24 Data is missing for 335 respondents

25 Data is missing for 363 respondents

26 Data is missing for 365 respondents

27 Data is missing for 402 respondents

28 Data is missing for 391 respondents

29 Data is missing for 419 respondents

30 Data is missing for 414 respondents

31 Data is missing for 420 respondents

32 Data is missing for 427 respondents

33 Data is missing for 424 respondents

34 Data is missing for 418 respondents

35 Data is missing for 417 respondents

36 Data is missing for 457 respondents

37 Smith K and Flatley J (ed) (2011) Drug misuse Declared: Findings from the 2010/11 British Crime Survey. Home Office Statistical Bulletin 12/11. London, Home Office

38 http://www.drugscope.org.uk/Resources/Drugscope/Documents/PDF/virtuallibrary/OpiateCocaineprevalencestats2009-10.pdf last accessed 10 July 2012