Festivals are the place to let your hair down and enjoy yourself but let’s make sure it stays a good time. Overdoing it with alcohol and other drugs is the ultimate #FestivalFail.
Understanding The Law
UK law prohibits you from being in possession of illegal drugs and therefore bringing them to festivals. All festivals will have strict security measures in place which may include full searches on arrival and drug detection or ‘sniffer’ dogs. For larger events, police sometimes search people before they arrive on site at train stations or other stop off points. If you are found in possession of drugs you may be arrested and are liable to prosecution and/or may not be allowed to go into the festival. If you are found with drugs once on site, you may be ejected and/or arrested.
If you are prosecuted for a drugs offence, you will get a criminal record. This can have long lasting consequences; say goodbye to that trip to America as you will not get a visa. You may also have to share this information with potential employers which could affect your future job prospects. Depending on the terms of your contract, you may have to tell your current employer as well.
If you are the one to buy drugs for your friends, technically you are classed as being a supplier or drug dealer. If prosecuted, the risk of prison is very real.
Security measures are there to help keep festival goers safe, but it is acknowledged that some people will still try and bring drugs to events. If you choose to take drugs at a festival, it is important to understand what you are taking and the effects that these drugs could have on your body so that you can make your own informed decision and try to reduce potential harm. Even if you don’t take drugs but think your friends might, read our harm reduction guide so you are clued up on how you can look after each other.
General Harm Reduction Guide
- Pace yourself - start low and go slow with alcohol and other drugs
- Try to avoid getting too intoxicated in unfamiliar situations. You can lose control, make risky decisions and become less aware of danger.
- Alcohol and other drugs can impair your judgement; don’t feel pressured into doing anything you aren’t comfortable with
- If you are having a bad time or struggling but don’t feel you need medical attention, visit the welfare team. Find out where they are located when you arrive and feel confident about accessing this service, you won’t get into trouble.
- If someone becomes unconscious or unresponsive, put them in the recovery position (on their side) and seek immediate medical attention by alerting a steward or member of event staff
- Always be honest with medics and welfare teams about what you have consumed so that they know how best to help you.
Alcohol Harm Reduction Guide
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks. Tipsy is more fun than blind drunk and vomiting!
- If you are drinking from early in the day, try to stick to drinks with a lower ABV for example lager rather than spirits
- Alcohol is the most common substance used to spike drinks. Never leave drinks unattended and don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know.
- Alcohol can take a long time to leave your system. If you are the designated driver you will need to be fit to drive before hitting the road.
Drugs Harm Reduction Guide
All drugs are potentially dangerous; there are no harmless drugs. The only way to avoid risks is not to take drugs at all. This goes for new psychoactive substances (formerly known as 'legal highs’) as well. If you choose to take drugs, you can take the steps below, as advised by harm reduction charity The Loop, to help reduce potential harm.
- Remember that illegal drugs can vary in strength and purity. Unless drugs have been tested, you can never know exactly what is in them or how strong they are.
- Before taking drugs, consider your environment and how you might feel when intoxicated there
- Be open with your friends if you are taking drugs and look after each other. If anyone feels unwell encourage them to seek medical attention or visit the welfare team.
- Remember that tolerance levels can vary. You may not have the same tolerance level as your friends so always start low and go slow
- Beware of mixing different substances and/or alcohol. For example alcohol and ketamine can be a potentially lethal combination.
- If someone is taking ecstasy/MDMA and is dancing, they should drink about a pint of water per hour to avoid dehydration, but be careful not to drink too much. Some people have suffered problems from drinking too much water when taking ecstasy.
- If someone is taking MDMA in crystal form, they should #CrushDabWait. Crush up crystals into a fine powder, lick a finger tip and dab the powder to consume a small amount. Then wait 1-2 hours for the effects of that dose before considering taking another
- In recent years, there have been a number of deaths related to very high strength ecstasy pills. As with all drugs, if taking ecstasy you should start low and go slow. Take a quarter and wait for this to take effect before having any more.
For realistic and practical harm reduction advice on all of the UK's most prevalent recreational drugs, watch The Loop, Vice and Royal Society for Public Health's 'safe sesh' videos.
The illegal drug market is unregulated meaning that substances can vary greatly in purity and strength. In 2017 The Loop tested over 2,500 drug samples at UK festivals to check for identity, purity and strength. They found that over one in ten samples had been mis-sold. Substances mis-sold as ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine included paracetamol, antimalarial tablets, plaster of Paris, household cleaner and pentylone analogues – a strong stimulant lasting up to 36 hours that causes anxiety, paranoia and insomnia and often requiring medical treatment.
Some festivals now have on site drug safety testing facilities. Check your event website to see if they will have this service available.
Home drug testing kits can also be bought online and can be useful when there is no access to a full lab test. Although they cannot eliminate risk entirely, if used carefully and with awareness of the limitations, they can be a valuable harm reduction tool and may help people make a more informed decision.