A third of students say they have taken illegal drugs at least once during their time at university, according to an online survey conducted by The Saint.

The survey of 383 self-selecting respondents also found that:

  • The most frequently used drug was cannabis, with 117 students admitting to using it 93 per cent of those who said they had taken drugs;
  • 22 per cent of students surveyed said they would consider using ‘study drugs’ such as Adderall;
  • 11 respondents said they had sold drugs during their time in St Andrews.

The survey, which was run through The Saint’s website, asked students questions about their drug use including: whether they had ever taken drugs while at the University; which drugs they had taken, if any, of cannabis, cocaine, MDMA, LSD, Ketamine, mephedrone, or mushrooms; whether they would consider taking drugs if they had not; whether they had ever taken a ‘study drug’ such as Adderall or Ritalin; whether they would consider taking study drugs if they had not; and whether they had ever sold study drugs during their time in St Andrews. It also asked them to describe any experiences they may have had with drugs.

In total 126 people said they had taken illegal drugs, 32.9 per cent of the total survey respondents. Of these, 81 said they had taken drugs multiple times and 45 said they had taken drugs only once.

Of the drugs listed cannabis was the most frequently used, with 117 students saying they had taken it. The next most popular drug was MDMA, which 39 people admitted to using – 31 per cent of those who said they used drugs.

Of everyone polled, 43 students had taken two or more of the drugs listed. Thirteen had taken five or more, and only eight said they had taken all of them.

Those taking the survey reported both positive and negative effects of taking drugs. Some described how drugs were “enjoyable” and made them feel “relaxed”. One student explained that they enjoyed taking cannabis but not other drugs: “I feel that cannabis is actually safer than alcohol and nicer. I’ve never been tempted to take ‘harder’ drugs because of it and it’s a much nicer feeling than any other drug I’ve ever had.”

Others reported more negative experiences, however. One experience was described as “generally disappointing”. The respondent explained: “I did not get a high. The people I was with were high, however, and conversation dropped to a boring level. I would not consider doing any drug again, alcohol notwithstanding.” Another respondent called it “a horrible experience” and said they “felt miserable”.

Some students said they had taken drugs before they came to St Andrews but their experiences had put them off. One said: “I have used cannabis on more than one occasion before coming to St Andrews, but after bad experiences, that is, thinking too quickly and feeling anxious, I no longer wish to take it or any other illegal drugs.”

The survey also asked about the use of study drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall and Modafinil. These drugs are supposed to increase wakefulness and improve concentration, making them tempting for students with heavy workloads. They can be given out on a prescription for conditions such as ADHD but non-prescription use is illegal.

Thirty-eight respondents said they had tried these drugs, although 82 said they would consider using them in the future – around 22 per cent of those surveyed. Eleven people admitted that they had sold these “study” drugs to other people.

When asked to describe their experiences of taking study drugs many people reported that they did feel more focused, though one warned: “Never attempt to write an essay on Ritalin. You will focus too hard on one sentence for four hours.” Another agreed: “Concentrated, but only upon the current action e.g. smoking or chopping an onion perfectly. Still possible to procrastinate.”

There were also complaints of negative side effects. One respondent said they had experienced “heart palpitations, panicking, flushed skin, rash, dry mouth, headaches, high blood pressure, dry eyes, crusting eyes, skin problems, nausea and fainting.” Another said they suffered from “sweatiness, increased heart rate [and] inability to sleep once the alertness had worn off.” Several others reported headaches or that they felt anxious or restless.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request by The Saint last year show that the police recorded 135 charges in St Andrews over the past five years related to the possession of drugs. A further 31 charges were made for the possession of drugs with intention to supply, and eight charges were made over the five years related to the production or manufacture of drugs. But Police Scotland told the Scottish Sunday Express last week that drug use in St Andrews is “no cause for concern”.

Asked about the results of the survey, a spokesperson for the University said: “To our knowledge, and in particular the knowledge of Student Support Services staff and the Students’ Association who work very closely with the student community, there is no greater incidence of drug use among students in St Andrews than would be found in any other similarly sized community of young people in the UK.

“Figures for the numbers of St Andrews students who seek or require help for a drug problem are extremely low. Approximately five per year from a community of 7,700, less than a tenth of one per cent.

“In keeping with the University’s aim of facilitating and promoting optimum academic attainment and a well-balanced quality of life the University, Student Support Services work very closely with Police Scotland and relevant drug agencies and can provide trained professional drug counseling to students on the rare occasions this may be required.”

The University’s policy on drug use is that it has an obligation to report all illegal activity, but it also offers help and support for students who want to overcome problems relating to substance abuse or addiction.

The University website states: “We will provide help and support to those adversely affected by the illicit drug or substance misuse of others and will also provide help and support to those who wish to address personal problems or issues arising from their own use of illicit drugs or other substances.”

The University also promises to connect students in need with the appropriate health services or counselling, and says that students should contact the Advice and Support Centre (ASC), where confidentiality is promised, if they need help.

Chloe Hill, the president of the Students’ Association, said she was unable to comment on the data because she considers it “completely unusable” and the survey to have been “badly written”.

If a student is having problems with drug use or addiction, or knows someone who is, they can speak to the University’s confidential ASC service by emailing theasc@st-andrews.ac.uk or by calling 01334 462020.

Editorial: Drugs – beginning the discussion

Drug culture at UK universities

8 COMMENTS

  1. Would it really have been that hard to ask for some advice from a statistics student? You could then have avoided accusations of poorly written questions and bias in your data due to “self-selection”.

  2. Guys- BASIC STATISTICS!! A sample size of 383 does not provide a suitable sample size to extrapolate to a student population of 7000- nor taking into account several biases with the way the information was collected. Plus the way the survey was set up meant that it was more likely for people who have taken drugs to complete it rather than those who havent

    • Not to mention it can be answered by anyone – student or not – multiple times. Anonymous online surveys are worthless. This isn’t just not scientific. Any person with an hour or two to kill could skew results drastically, regardless of the sample size.

      The Saint: stop doing these. If you are looking for an excuse to make up a sensationalist headline re: drugs, sexism, etc, just make up the results. That would be just as likely to accurately reflect the opinions of the student body.

    • Precisely! They also should have asked a social sciences student, who have to learn about different research techniques, including survey design. I emailed Chloe Hill soon after the initial fracas with my concerns about the methodology. Happy she agreed with me!
      I also wrote a stiffly-worded letter to the editor with criticism regarding both the research ethics and methodology (with links to similar projects on drug use that actually take care in sampling). Haven’t gotten a response though…

      • I’m not surprised that the Saint hasn’t got back to you. They only care about cheap headlines and selling ads. They seem to spend an inordinate amount of time boozing up on thursdays with the profits from their ad revenue. They couldn’t care less about designing scientific studies or actually making coherent points about university life. They’d rather exploit the moral space afforded by being the ‘student voice’ for profit.

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