A manifesto by people who choose to take drugs

Why do people choose to take drugs?

For too long, drug users have been portrayed as either criminals(1) or victims(2) of the potential ill effects of the substances that they choose to take. Although all drugs are harmful, and can be dangerous and even life-threatening(3), in most cases, the consequences of recreational drug taking are not negative.

In fact, the majority of people who take drugs in social situations describe an overall positive experience(4), punctuated by feelings of elation, joy and connection to others(5). These positive feelings and experiences are exactly the reason(6) why people continue to take drugs, despite any risks associated with their consumption(7). For many, drug consumption is tied to positive mental health outcomes.

The perceived social and psychological benefits of drug taking can no longer be ignored. Drug taking involves coming together with others, dancing, and participating in cultural events which shape the social fabric of our lives(8). This stands directly in opposition to portrayals of drug use as alienating, harmful, desperate and deadly(9).

The strong sense of belonging provided by clubbing, dancing and drug-taking is an undeniable reality(10). It is well documented that the ill effects that result from drug taking at clubs and festivals are mostly down to widespread ignorance sustained by stigma, criminalisation and discrimination(11).

The dominance of an unregulated and predatory sellers’ market breeds a toxic and potentially deadly environment(12). For the most part, it is the criminalisation of supply and possession of drugs that creates such a risky environment(13).

The hypocritical nature of the current system, which on the one hand promotes the growth of consumption-based, night-time economies(14) and, on the other, prohibits drug use (but not alcohol) has resulted in widespread but unregulated, dangerous, risky and stigmatised drug consumption (15).

We are people (17). We are students, teachers, artists, producers, care workers, academics, non-workers, designers, entrepreneurs, builders, shop assistants, business owners, doctors, promoters… We are not victims. We are equals who make conscious choices. (18)

Taking drugs does not define us, but it is a part of our lives. It is our choice. It makes us happy. It gives us many unforgettable experiences. It allows us to forge long-lasting connections. Our right to be happy and to make choices for ourselves needs to be recognised. Our right to protect ourselves and be protected from avoidable harm needs to be recognised. Our right to take drugs in pursuit of positive experiences needs to be recognised.

We come together to demand the safe, legal regulation of all drugs. We want our elected political representatives to work in our interests because we are the primary affected community. Our knowledge of how drug policy operates on the ground is key to understanding current failures and future trajectories. We have much to offer in this regard. In return, our right to take drugs freely and safely must be acknowledged.

We want a responsible drug policy that reflects our experiences, our rights as citizens, our choices, our culture and identity.


[1] Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/38/section/5

[2] Fisher H. and Measham F. (2018) Night Lives: Reducing drug-related harm in the night time economy, available at http://volteface.me/publications/night-lives/3-current-landscape/

[3]Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales: 2017 registrations, available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsrelatedtodrugpoisoninginenglandandwales/2017registrations

[4] Nutt, D. (2012), Drugs are taken for pleasure – realise this and we can start to reduce harm, available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/03/drugs-pleasure-reduce-harm

[5] Anon, (2014), ‘I like the way MDMA gives you a deep sense of connection to your friends’ , available at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/05/ecstasy-mdma-anonymous-drug-user

[6] Winstock A. and Nutt D. (2013), The real driver behind most drug use is pleasure, not dependence, available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/18/driver-drug-pleasure-dependence

[7] Power J. (2018), Drug use can have social benefits, and acknowledging this could improve rehabilitation, available at http://theconversation.com/drug-use-can-have-social-benefits-and-acknowledging-this-could-improve-rehabilitation-93978

[8] Beate P. (2018), The Psychology of Raving, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt2Yjr-GgR8

[9] Home Office, Drug misuse and Dependency, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/drug-misuse-and-dependency

[10] Moore K. (2004), A Commitment to Clubbing, available at https://www.csub.edu/~mault/subcultures9.pdf

[11] Drugwise, Why do people die after taking ecstasy?, available at http://www.drugwise.org.uk/why-do-people-die-after-taking-ecstasy/

[12] Rolles S. (2011), After the War on Drugs: How Legal Regulation of Production and Trade Would Better Protect Children, available at https://www.tdpf.org.uk/sites/default/files/Children-of-the-drug-war-chapter.pdf

[13] Osborne S. (2017), Recreational drugs market should be managed by ‘governments not gangsters’, says expert, available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/recreational-drugs-government-gangsters-war-decriminalise-legalise-transform-reform-experts-a7763546.html

[14] Furedi F. (2015) Forward into the Night: the changing landscape of Britain’s cultural and economic life, available at http://www.ntia.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Forward-into-the-Night-Report.pdf?567959&567959

[15] Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2016/2/schedule/1/enacted

[16] Osborne S. (2018), MDMA powder and ecstasy tablets now stronger than ever before, drug experts warn in wake of festival deaths, available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/mdma-ecstasy-stronger-pills-ever-greater-manchester-drug-alert-panel-warning-a8388036.html Daly M. (2018), Cocaine Deaths in the UK Keep On Rising, available at https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/zmkwb3/cocaine-deaths-in-the-uk-keep-on-rising

[17] Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control, http://anyoneschild.org/

[18] Drug Positive Podcast, The Drug User Manifesto, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnOqbQoJ07I