Study: 87% of Festival-Goers Plan To Use Drugs, Cannabis Most Popular Choice

High Times
Mon, May 20

It’s the start of a new festival season, as music lovers far and wide prepare for a summer full of multi-day events featuring some of their favorite artists and DJs, along with plenty of dancing. For many, the festival experience also involves consuming a variety of drugs to amp up the experience.

This year’s Drug Safety at Music Festivals study, conducted by research firm Innerbody, sheds additional light on the habits and plans of festival goers this year while also addressing some of the best ways for folks to stay safe should they decide to consume substances at these events.

The study uses survey data from 900 people and suggests that about 87% of festival attendees plan to take drugs, a 10% increase from last year’s figure. 

The study focuses on a variety of topics surrounding drug use at music festivals, beginning with the most popular substances that festival goers plan to use during the upcoming season. 

Alcohol is always the top substance consumed at festivals, but the study did not include it and focused solely on drug usage. That said, cannabis takes the top slot by far, with 65.3% of festival goers who plan to use drugs saying they will consume cannabis. Authors note that the widespread legalization of recreational cannabis across the U.S. may make cannabis a less risky option for attendees. 

Cocaine was the second most popular choice (46.5%), followed by psychedelics (26.1%), MDMA (19.4%), ketamine (19.3%), amphetamines (13.7%), opioids (12.1%), benzodiazepines (10.1%), synthetic drugs like bath salts or spice (9.7%), hallucinogens like salvia or peyote (6.1%) and inhalants (6%).

Plans to use cocaine are up from last year’s numbers, though there was a 2% drop in the number of people who plan to use opioids — which authors noted as surprising given the continued opioid overdose epidemic though still “encouraging.”

The study found that rock, hip-hop and EDM are the genres most likely to have audience members under the influence of drugs, with Wisconsin’s Rock Fest claiming the top slot as the festival with the most anticipated drug use, according to survey participants. The weeklong Burning Man festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert took the second slot, while Coachella was third place for most anticipated drug use.

The study also looked at drug concealment, consumption and testing behaviors among those planning to consume for festivals, finding that just 32.6% bring their own drugs with them to the event while the remaining 67.4% buy them at the festival. Last year’s results found that 46% planned to bring their own drugs to the events. Millennials were the most likely generation to buy drugs at the venue rather than purchasing them beforehand.

In regard to drug testing, a majority (80.3%) test their drugs before the event or festival, an increase from last year’s approximately 67% figure. 

“This increase in testing could be due to more awareness surrounding the U.S. opioid crisis and the public education efforts that have taken place,” authors note. “But while the data is encouraging, it still reflects the reality that 20% of festival goers could be taking potentially dangerous drugs at concerts.”

Concealing drugs in backpacks and pockets are the most common choices, and researchers also found that attendees tend to take drugs in one of three places with a fairly balanced distribution: the restroom (29%), within the crowd (31%) or outside the festival gates (33%).

Though authors indicate that the broader prevalence of drug testing is encouraging, the study notes that more than half of survey participants said they had experienced health-related issues that warranted medical attention while under the influence of drugs at festivals. The most common complications attendees experienced were heat stroke, a bad trip and dehydration. 

The survey also found that drug use tended to lead festival goers to engage in riskier behavior at the events, with 66% of both Gen Z and millennial respondents reporting they had done so while attending festivals under the influence. Engaging in sex with a stranger was one of the most prevalent examples, most prominent among millennials, while one in every four millennials also reported “driving dangerously” after a festival ended.

Authors note that abstaining and testing drugs before using them are some of the best harm reduction methods, though surveyed festival goers largely reported self-education about the drugs they were using, the risks and potential side effects as their go-to safety measure. The second-most common strategy was starting with a low dosage, followed by drug testing.

“Being aware of your surroundings, remaining close to your friends, keeping hydrated, and familiarizing yourself with the location of medical tents are also easy and practical ways to help stay safe at music festivals,” authors close.