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18th October 2012

Students over-estimate number of peers taking drugs

90% believe peers are taking drugs, compared with the reality of 54%

Most UK students incorrectly believe that their university peers are taking drugs, according to a survey.

90 per cent of students were found to think that some or most students had tried illegal drugs at university whilst only 54 per cent claimed they had ever taken them, after 1,903 UK students were surveyed by studentbeans.com.

Oliver Brann, editor of studentbeans.com, said: “The worry here is the perception rather than the reality. Young people are very peer-lead and if they think that all their friends are experimenting with drugs, they may be more likely to try it for themselves.”

Studentbeans.com claims to be “the UK’s leading student website”, saying that it “attracts over 6 million visits and over 300,000 new registered users every year.”

Of those students who have taken illegal drugs, three-quarters have tried cannabis. But 97 per cent of all respondents would be willing to try the drug.

University of Manchester students seemed to echo the results of the survey.

Jonathon M., 22, has never taken illegal drugs, but believes that “certainly a majority of students have at some point.”  He added: “I don’t think a majority take them regularly. Maybe weed, but not harder stuff.”

Sarah, 21, hadn’t tried drugs before coming to university. Since joining she has smoked cannabis, as she feels more knowledgeable and comfortable around the drug due to its “frequent use in the student environment.”

The survey coincides with the publication of a report produced by the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) suggesting that “possession of small amounts of controlled drugs, for personal use only, could be changed so that it is no longer a criminal offence.”

The report, A Fresh Approach to Drugs, is the result of six years “of analysing the evidence about what works in drug policy” and suggests introducing small fines or referrals to drug awareness sessions, initially trialling with cannabis given its “relatively low level of harm.”

UKDPC criticised the current Home Office drug policy as “a mix of cautious politics and limited evidence and analysis.” The study argues that “most users do not experience significant problems… but this is rarely acknowledged by policy makers.”

Responding to the report, the Home Office stated: “Our ambitious approach to tackling drugs – outlined in our Drugs Strategy – is the right one,” adding that “drug usage is at its lowest level since records began.”

According to a 2011 YouGov survey, 53 per cent of people believe the “current government’s approach to illegal drugs is ineffective.” Only 11 per cent consider current policy “very or fairly effective.”

Manchester student AH, a regular cannabis smoker who occasionally tries other drugs, believes current government policy is unfair.

He said: “Of course carrying a small amount of cannabis should be decriminalised. It’s for personal use, it’s not harmful to others.”

Sam Holder

Sam Holder

Arabic student at University of Manchester. Lived in Cairo last year, back in homely Manchester this year. (https://twitter.com/samdiman)

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