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Drug Use at Music Festivals: Everything You Need to Know

June 7, 2022

Table of Contents

Drug use at music festivals is so common that even fish are at risk: In 2019, researchers tested a river that ran through the center of a multi-day music festival. They found MDMA (also known as ecstasy) at levels toxic to fish![1]  Stats like this highlight just how commonly drugs enter the music festival scene. If you are involved in music festival culture, make sure you are aware of potential risks. 

5 Substances Commonly Used at Music Festivals 

Almost 90% of festivalgoers using more than one substance.[2] 

These are the most popular substances used at music festivals:[3]

  • Alcohol: 75.5% of users
  • Marijuana: 38.8% of users
  • MDMA/ecstasy: 13% of users 
  • Mushrooms: 8.5% of users
  • LSD: 8% of users 

Why Do People Use Drugs at Festivals?

Almost half of all festival goers report using at least one substance while at the events.[4] To them, it's inconceivable to attend without some kind of substance on board. Their reasons vary, but many would cite these influences:

Enhances Light Shows 

Substances like MDMA and LSD can make lights seem brighter and music louder. Ingesting these substances can seem to make the show even more spectacular, which may be why some people use these drugs in this setting [5]. 

Makes Sharing Space Easier

Festivals sell tickets by the thousands, and everyone crowds around the stage for a good look. Being around so many people can be uncomfortable, especially for those who appreciate personal space. Drugs like MDMA and alcohol can help people feel a surge of affection for other humans. Those crowded spaces might feel easier to tolerate when people are high. 

Social Pressure

Many people join the crowd, feeling they need to use drugs to fit in. 

Is It Risky to Use at Festivals?

People may feel like their drug use makes a music festival a lot more fun. But using unknown substances in a strange environment can be dangerous. 

Many festival goers combine  drugs in dangerous ways. They take ecstasy and feel incredibly thirsty, so they buy alcohol. Combining depressants and stimulants like this masks their impact, allowing people to feel they can take more safely.[6] An overdose can occur. 

So-called "club drugs" like ecstasy and LSD have been associated with many health issues, including these:[7]

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia 
  • Amnesia 
  • Death due to dehydration or increased body temperature 

Dissociative drugs like marijuana can also cause confusion, dizziness, and put the user at risk for dehydration, falls and injuries. Using these substances in festival environments can be unpredictable, and you might end up in a dangerous situation as a result. 

Contaminated Drugs at Festivals 

Another risk of drug use at festivals is contaminated drugs. What's inside that pill you just bought? How will you react when the substance hits your body? The problem of contaminated drug use - getting a drug other than what you thought you bought - is a major safety problem at music festivals. Many drugs are purchased at the festival themselves, leaving users with no way to verify the purity or the dose of what they are consuming. 

At one festival, chemists discovered that drugs sold as cocaine contained the deadly painkiller fentanyl instead. Another drug sold as MDMA actually contained n-ethylpentylone, which can cause paranoia, psychosis, and anxiety.[8] 

What are Drug Testing Sites and How Might They Be Useful at Festivals?

One strategy for mitigating these risks would be the provision of drug purity testing at festivals. While testing sites are common in Europe, they are rare in the United States.[9] 

Having drug testing sites at concerts could, at least theoretically, help reduce harm and keep concert goers safe by making sure they know what substances they are taking.  They can also provide education and counseling, particularly for people who may not have a lot of experience with these drugs prior. 

More than 96% of festival goers say they would use drug services like this if they were offered.[2] And if harmful drugs are found in tests, people can spread the word to their friends. One test could save many lives through this form of sharing. Advocates hope that drug testing sites might become more available at music festivals in the coming years. 

4 Tips to Help You Use Safely While At A Festival 

The best way to avoid the risks of festival drug use are to avoid use altogether. However, if you do decide to use substances while at a festival, here are some tips to keep you safe:

1. Bring a Buddy

If you're worried about peer pressure to take drugs while at a festival, pair up with someone who also wants to stay sober. If you do decide to use, make sure your friend(s) knows what you have taken and have a system to keep an eye on each other. 

2. Know your surroundings 

Be aware of where the emergency exits or emergency medical services are located 

3. Stay hydrated 

Many substances commonly used at musical festivals - MDMA, ecstasy, cocaine - can cause dehydration. Make sure you eat and hydrate yourself properly. 

4. Know what you are taking 

If you do use, make sure you use substances from a reliable source, and if possible test your drugs prior to use to ensure that they are not contaminated. 

How to Help Someone at a Music Festival 

When you're in an environment filled with drugs, you may encounter someone who requires emergency medical care. 

When you enter the venue, take note of any testing facilities or medical tents. Ask what you should do in a crisis (call 911, or call a special number just for the festival). Get prepared, and you'll be ready to help.

Alcohol Overdose

Drinking too much leads to slurred words, staggering, slow breathing, and vomiting. Some people pass out and can't be awakened. Do this next:[10]

  • Get help. Call 911 or the festival's emergency line. 
  • Turn the person. If the person is lying down, flip them from their back to their side. This will prevent them from choking or aspiration. 
  • Stay with them. Don't leave the person alone. Wait with them until a medical team arrives. 

Drug Overdose 

Each drug works on a body's core symptoms differently. But in general, people overwhelmed by drugs may seem sweaty, unresponsive, incoherent, or unconscious.

Remember that plenty of drugs at festivals are contaminated, so it's almost impossible to know what the person has taken without a test. Do this next:[11]

  • Get help. Call 911 or the festival's emergency line. 
  • Turn the person. If the person is lying down, flip them from their back to their side. Again, this will prevent them from choking on their own vomit.
  • Administer medication. If you have the anti-opioid-overdose medication naloxone, use it per the instructions on the device. Take this step even if you're not sure opioids were taken. 
  • Stay with them. Don't leave the person alone. Wait until a medical team arrives. 

Bad Drug Reaction

A so-called "bad trip" can take hold during a music festival. The person may seem terrified, disoriented, or anxious. Do this next:[12]

  • Remove the person from the environment. Take the person out of the noise. Preferably, you can go to the medical tent together. 
  • Talk to them. Reassure the person that you'll stay and offer your support. 
  • Breathe. Encourage the person to breathe in and out slowly or think of happy spaces. 

Drug Use at Music Festivals FAQs

What is the most common drug at music festivals?

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug at music festivals. Ecstasy, MDMA, marijuana, cocaine and Psilocybin (“mushrooms”) are also common.

Why do people take drugs at festivals?

Usually for recreational purposes. These drugs serve as anxiolytics and produce euphoria. Lights seem brighter, music sounds better, and crowds are easier to tolerate. These are just a few of the reasons people give when asked why they take drugs at festivals. 

How common are drugs at concerts?

Many people consider drugs a common part of festival life. Remember that you're an individual, and you can chose to use or not use drugs while attending a music festival. If you do chose to use, use safely! Take advantage of the harm reduction strategies noted in this article. 

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Drugs in River at UK's Glastonbury Music Festival Harming Fish. Phys.org. https://phys.org/news/2021-09-drugs-river-uk-glastonbury-music.html. September 2021. Accessed May 2022. 
  2. Drug Use, Harm Reduction Practices, and Attitudes Toward the Utilisation of Testing Services in an Irish Cohort of Festival-Goers. Nature Public Health Emergency Collection. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8452125/. September 2021. Accessed May 2022. 
  3. The Most Used Festival Drugs. TickPick. https://www.tickpick.com/drug-use-at-music-festivals/. Accessed May 2022. 
  4. Festival Goers Spend $786 on Average as Nearly Half Say Drugs an Absolute Necessity. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/tickpick-covid-festival-study-sex-drugs-vaccines-exclusive-1616227. August 2021. Accessed May 2022. 
  5. Festivals and Drugs: What You Need to Know. Music Fest News. https://musicfestnews.com/2019/06/festivals-and-drugs-what-you-need-to-know-part-1/. June 2019. Accessed May 2022. 
  6. Substance Use at Events. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. https://adf.org.au/reducing-risk/staying-safe-events/substance-use-events/. Accessed May 2022. 
  7. Club Drugs Aren't Fun Drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/club-drugs-arent-fun-drugs. Accessed May 2022. 
  8. Testing Drugs at Festivals is a Lifesaver, Study Finds. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/08/testing-drugs-festivals-lifesaver-study. December 2018. Accessed May 2022. 
  9. Music Festival Promoters Join with Drug Safety Experts to Reduce Harmful Drug Use at Events. Drug Policy Alliance. https://drugpolicy.org/news/music-festival-promoters-join-drug-safety-experts-reduce-harmful-drug-use-events. Accessed May 2022. 
  10. Alcohol Poisoning or Overdose. Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/safer-tripping-magic-mushrooms-lsd-and-other-hallucinogens. Accessed May 2022. 
  11. What Do You Do if Someone Is Overdosing? Minutes Matter. https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/safer-tripping-magic-mushrooms-lsd-and-other-hallucinogens. Accessed May 2022. 
  12. Safer Tripping: Magic Mushrooms, LSD, and Hallucinogens. Here to Help. https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/safer-tripping-magic-mushrooms-lsd-and-other-hallucinogens. Accessed May 2022. 

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