POLITICS
11/13/2014 07:30 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2014

Global Drug Survey Explores The Safest Ways To Get High -- Or Not

OLIVER BERG via Getty Images

This year's Global Drug Survey asks why users quit, why they use a potent form of hash oil made with volatile butane and how they obtain substances that are still mostly sold on black markets.

The online questionnaire, which bills itself as the world's biggest annual survey of drug users, explores unanswered questions about the use of drugs both legal and illegal with the goal of improving the experience. Respondents aren't randomly sampled and don't reflect the views of any population. But last year's survey got 80,000 responses, yielding insight into drug use that can help others have safer experiences, Dr. Adam Winstock, an addiction medicine specialist and founder of the survey, said in a statement.

“Taking drugs is risky. It's like driving a car -- there are things you can do to stay safe,” Winstock said.

This year's survey, which went online this week, also explores why some people quit using drugs.

“Finding out when and why people stop is hugely important, not only to map the life course of users -- and remind the world that most people, even those who develop serious problem with drug or alcohol, stop using-often on their own -- but also to signpost times in your life when change can be expected,” Winstock said.

Marijuana's rapid advance toward legalization in the U.S. and elsewhere is prominent in this year's survey, as well as questions on the rise of butane hash oil -- a potent form of cannabis resin with very high levels of THC. The manufacturing process frequently employs butane, which has caused explosions. The U.S. Fire Administration, a branch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned last year that an increasing number of explosions in homes and hotels were being traced to butane hash oil production.

In the U.S., marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis and more than 20 states allow medical use. Guam became the first U.S. territory to legalize medical marijuana this month. Last year, Uruguay became the first country to legalize recreational marijuana.

Legalization and the Internet, among other trends, are changing how people obtain drugs, and the Global Drug Survey asks drug users about their sources. Winstock said the online black market has seen “huge growth” and now hosts more than 40,000 drug deals annually. The survey asks users about black market websites and whether they lead to the use of a greater variety of substances or a reduction in violence than can accompany black market transactions.

The digital age has spawned Silk Road and other black market websites. Silk Road was shut down in 2013 and Silk Road 2.0, along with more than 400 other websites providing illegal services, was shut down this month.

Americans spent about $1 trillion on illegal drugs during the last decade. Over the same time period, the U.S. government spent $40 billion to $50 billion annually fighting the war on drugs.

Winstock said the survey may produce guidelines that help users of illicit drugs reduce risk. “Drugs can be very dangerous," Winstock said. "I spend my working day with people whose lives have been ruined by drugs. But as social care budgets are slashed, and governments are starting to embrace population-based strategies such as behavioral economics to moderate unhealthy behaviors, having some common-sense guidelines that highlight that taking less drugs, less often was associated with a reduced risk of harm, might be a useful benchmark for people to reflect upon."

The survey also asks about the use of so-called synthetic marijuana substances, which have been criminalized in more than 40 states.

You can participate in the Global Drug Survey here.

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