A Good Time: Drug Use at Music Festivals

If you’re at a music festival, you’re there for a good time – there’s no question about that. But that pursuit of a good time has led music festivals to become something akin to hotspots for all manner of illicit substances.

The truth of the matter is that no amount of policing can lead to an effective crackdown on drug use at music festivals. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen an increase in medical response teams over the traditional security detail that accompanies the festival scene. With the amount of bodies in the crowd, it’s become far more sensible to provide aid to those who need it.

The crowds that attend festivals are as varied as the genres of music – and choice of substances – that find themselves cohabitating the space with. With so many various groups flocking to different parts of the globe, we can’t help but wonder – is there a subset that is more inclined to favor a certain type of drug? And what are the various ways in which festivals treat the issue of illicit drug use?

Social media has done wonders for data collection, and we’re not going to pretend we’re above scouring Facebook and Instagram posts to see if the trail we’ve sniffed out has turned up any leads. Spoiler alert: it certainly has.

Our preliminary findings showed that nearly 8% of all posts on social media regarding Coachella were referencing drug use in one way or another. This was, of course, followed by Marley Fest and Burning Man, which sat at 5.1% and 2.5% respectively.

Perhaps what is the most interesting facet in the above data is that Coachella has arguably the most stringent attitude toward drug use out of the other two festivals – what with one being dedicated to a famous Rastafarian and the other a well-known haven for some of the hardest-hitting psychedelics on the planet. Indeed, it seems that through the sheer act of prohibition, Coachella inspires defiance in its attendees – that’s reverse psychology at work for you.

But let’s take this another level deeper. We know that drug use is going to be found at any given music festival, but just how do the numbers stack up on humanity’s favorite methods to transcend the mortal coil for an all-to-brief moment?

Well, it seems that the most boring drug of all wins out: alcohol. With nearly 70% of all social media posts referencing some sort of consumption of alcohol – and marijuana tailing close behind with about 60% social media reference.

It is helpful to remember that these figures are coming from only those that are explicitly sharing their drug use ambitions and experiences online – who knows just how many choose to abstain from posting potentially incriminating information on their profiles. However, the point has been made: when it comes to feeling the music, the majority of attendees turn to some help from their favorite substances.

While the use of illicit substances can absolutely be done in a safe and controlled manner, there is still the massively problematic issue of the setting and lack of experience that one may find at a festival – and that’s all without accounting for any potential bad agents. There have been numerous instances of documented drug deaths at festivals due to overdoses, and massive problem of sexual harassment at the festivals.

Wherever inhibitions are lowered is a setting that can often bring out the worst in someone. Mix in dense, crowds, anonymity, and heavy drug use and one can easily see while music festivals have had a longstanding issue with rape and sexual harassment. Oftentimes the perpetrator may not be in any sort of altered state, but the tale of drug dealers using their position of power to their advantage is sadly nothing new.

While music festivals are hardly in short supply of issues to remedy, the larger problem still remains the manner in which drugs are talked about and treated by societies around the globe. The endless decades of criminalization, persecution, and demonization have done nothing to prevent those who are interested in experiencing drugs from doing so. In fact, one could argue that the general worldview towards “illegal” drug use has done nothing more than create the type of environment where sovereign adults are persecuted into being criminals for profit. But hey – let’s not ruin the festival vibe, right?

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