A significant aspect of the decision to use drugs revolves around a person’s environment. In many ways, a group setting where the majority of people are participating in substance abuse as a means of recreation makes it more likely the individual will also make the decision to engage. For people who struggle with substance abuse, these environments can pose a challenge to their recovery process. So how much of a concern is attending a festival for people who want to avoid the temptation to use drugs? Find out how common drug use at music festivals is and what measures these venues have put in place to reduce the associated risks.
What Studies Indicate About Drug Use at Festivals
A 2018 survey from the CDC found that 73.4% of music festival attendees had used substances in the past 12 months, suggesting a high prevalence of drug use among festivalgoers. Similarly, a Danish study found that 92.8% of festival attendees reported using cannabis within the past year, while 66.7% said they had used MDMA. More than half (51.2%) said they had used cocaine within the past 12 months.
The results of a survey taken at a major Australian music festival in 2016 indicated that the majority of festival attendees in the 18-30 age range who participated in the study had a history of illicit drug use. However, they also supported free drug checks at music festivals. In fact, 86.5% of them said that drug checking services could help individuals using drugs at festivals reduce harm.
What Are Some of the Most Common Music Festival Drugs?
A survey from the CDC found the most common drugs used at festivals were cannabis (63.9%), ecstasy (59.8%) and cocaine (34.1%). The survey also found that alcohol, LSD and other hallucinogens, opioids, Adderall and mushrooms were commonly used at festivals.
One of the biggest festivals in the United States known for participants engaging in drug use is Burning Man, which takes place in the California desert. In 2017, police arrested 47 people at Burning Man on charges of drug possession or drug trafficking. Drugs seized by the authorities during these arrests and other infractions at the festival included:
- Psilocybin (mushrooms)
- MDMA or ecstasy
- Unspecified pills
Coachella is another major music festival that takes place annually in the United States. In 2022, there were 85 arrests made at the event for drugs, alcohol and intoxication. Ten of the 40 emergency department visits at the 2022 Coachella event were for non-opioid drug use. Authorities said that the majority of these instances were people using psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms.
Why Is Drug Use at Music Festivals So Popular?
The 2018 survey from the CDC also looked at the reasons drugs are popular in a festival setting compared to use in everyday life. One of the top reasons cited for why festival participants might choose to engage in substance abuse at a festival when they typically wouldn’t use these drugs day-to-day is the perception that taking the drug will alter their sensory experience at the music festival. People may believe they’ll have more fun or appreciate the music differently when they’re under the influence of a substance, such as a psychedelic or hallucinogen. Another top reason is the availability of the drugs and the peer pressure of people you’re attending the event with to join in on using drugs if everyone in the group is doing so.
In addition to these top reasons, the survey acknowledges that security at these events isn’t capable of policing such a large crowd to prevent the presence or use of drugs entirely. Alcohol specifically is often sold and promoted at a festival, thus encouraging festivalgoers to actively engage in its consumption. It’s also possible that people using drugs at these festivals aren’t trying to hide the fact that they’re using, normalizing the experience of taking drugs in this setting.
What Are Festivals Doing to Reduce the Risks of Drug Use?
It’s undeniable that drug use at festivals results in further risky behaviors that can have lasting consequences. A survey of 1,193 Irish festivalgoers found that 86.8% of participants used more than one drug at a festival, and 39.98% had sex after drug use. Of the survey respondents who said they had sex after taking drugs at the festival, 66% reported that their sex was unprotected. This is just one example of the harmful behaviors that can result from unchecked drug use at music and dance festivals.
Festivals can take action to mitigate the risks of overdose and other complications from drug use by implementing drug checking services and the use of amnesty bins at their festival grounds. One survey found that respondents believed drug checking services in combination with harm reduction advice (84.9%) were the most effective way to protect festivalgoers who engaged with drugs. However, 68.6% of the participants were concerned that drug sellers might use these methods as a type of quality control.
The 1,193 Irish festivalgoers who responded to the anonymous online survey above overwhelmingly supported the idea of drug checking services at festivals (96.3%). In fact, 75.1% of respondents said they’d use an amnesty bin for drugs as part of an alert system when dangerous drugs are circulating at an event.
Festival organizers should also learn how to test drugs at festivals to protect attendees who are inevitably exposed to these substances. Restrictive alcohol consumption and sales policies can also help to prevent instances of alcohol poisoning at music festivals.
So, Are Festivals Safe?
With the prevalence of drug use, many people may wonder whether festivals are safe to attend, either for themselves or for their teens and young adults entering the world of concerts and events for the first time. Like any event with a large crowd, festivals pose many risks to the public, but they can still be safely enjoyed when attendees practice smart decision-making and use discretion. Festivalgoers should ensure they remain hydrated and consume food if they’re also drinking alcohol. Avoid illicit drug use, practice safe sex and use the buddy system to ensure someone knows where you are at all times.
Seek Professional Help for Addiction
If you’re concerned about drug abuse at festivals because you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or is at risk of relapse, you don’t need to go it alone. Professional inpatient and outpatient programs are available at FHE Health to help you on the road to recovery. Call (833) 596-3502 today to find out how we can support you.