People go to festivals to see their favorite artists perform live, immerse themselves in like-minded communities, and, most importantly, let loose. That said, everyone has a different way of reaching bliss.
For many people, drugs are an easy way to enhance the atmosphere of an event. While people take drugs to elevate their experiences, sometimes they can be a serious detractor. It’s possible to come out of one of these festivals unscathed, but so is experiencing a drug-related crisis during them.
So, how do people ensure they're well-equipped to avoid a substance-related disaster? We've interviewed 1,250 festivalgoers to find out. Read on to learn more about today's drug safety landscape at popular festivals across the U.S.
Music festivals are known to be rife with drug consumption, even if the decision to use substances is not light. In fact, our survey results revealed more than 50% of respondents tried drugs for the first time at a music festival. Below is a closer look at what substances attendees have taken and where they chose to do so.
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While alcohol was the most commonly used substance overall (69% of respondents), we’ve focused exclusively on drug usage throughout this campaign. Overall, marijuana was the most-used drug at festivals by far. It was almost twice as likely to be consumed as the next leading drug, cocaine. Psychedelics and MDMA were the third and fourth most preferred substances. And though it may be unsurprising to see MDMA as a drug of choice at EDM festivals like Ultra, EDC, and Burning Man, we were surprised to see it in the top three for the rap festival Rolling Loud and the classic rock festival Rock Fest — which was the top music festival for drug use at 28.8%. Overall, rock and hip-hop were actually the top two music genres for drug use across all three generations.
While festivalgoers indulge in a myriad of drugs at these events, only 67% of our survey participants had their drugs tested beforehand (with Gen X being the least likely to do so). Drug testing allows you to make sure you’re taking what you think you are rather than an unknown or unwanted substance. And while more and more festival organizers provide booths and areas for drug checking as a common harm reduction strategy, many people remain comfortable skipping this step.1
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Now that festivals are back in the swing of things post-pandemic, attendees are making up for lost time. 77% of respondents plan to use drugs at a music festival this year, including:
Marijuana (66.0%) was the most used substance among past festivalgoers and the drug people most looked forward to using again, according to our survey. People also mentioned plans to use more illicit substances at music festivals in the near future like:
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Drug safety is no joke, despite what you might’ve taken away from DARE. Some venues use preventative measures to help their attendees’ experience go as smoothly as possible, with varying levels of success.
When asked how responsibly they took drugs, 72% of respondents felt they safely consumed drugs. One-third of respondents claimed to buy their drugs from a “trusted source,” but the most common strategy for a safe experience was starting with a low dosage (45.6% of respondents).
The top ten reported safety strategies used by respondents include:
Aside from abstaining, testing drugs is probably the best way to help ensure one's safety, but it was the top safety strategy for only 34.5% of respondents (with Gen Z being the most likely to test before (85.5%) or while at (81.8%) a music festival). Although not used by many, other plans included being aware of your surroundings and identifying medical tent or facility locations before using.
Without a concrete way of ensuring no drugs enter their venue, festival organizers are beginning to take a harm reduction approach.2 These safety strategies aim to reduce the negative consequences of drug use at festivals. Burning Man, Ultra, and Rock Fest seem to be taking drug safety the most seriously of all the festivals represented in this report; these festivals were the top three events where respondents reported the presence of drug testing sites.
Companies like DanceSafe offer personal test kits so people can perform drug tests before using.3 Some companies also provide “safe zone” booths at music events, so people can anonymously have substances tested without legal repercussions. While 44% of our surveyees said they’d feel comfortable using on-site drug testing services, 32% were still scared of getting in trouble for possessing drugs. Despite these companies trying to make festivals safer, over half of our respondents admitted to taking drugs from a stranger in a crowd, which is about as unsafe as it gets when conducting proper substance due diligence.
Even if a drug test concludes that those pills, tabs, or powders are safe to use, there are several ways you can still get into medical trouble. You can’t always predict how your body will respond to an illegal substance. Heatstroke, hospitalization, and passing out are just some of the problems drugs have caused at festivals. Among those who have taken drugs at a festival, 53% experienced a negative consequence stemming from that decision.
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The most common consequence of drug consumption is the onset of dehydration (45.8%), which can manifest for different reasons.4 For example, various drugs can cause a spike in body temperature, sweating, overstimulation, or a lack of body awareness. These symptoms separate you from cues from your body that can lead to a critically low amount of water in your system.
Dehydration is more likely to occur in hot environments, where many of these festivals take place, and can also lead to heatstroke, another serious and common illness. Festivalgoers at EDC in Las Vegas were the most likely to report experiencing dehydration. Overall, the top health-related issues stemming from drug use at music festivals are:
And the top risky behaviors as a result of substance use at festivals include:
While taking drugs might sound like an easy way to let loose at a major venue, it’s not always the magical experience users hope it’ll turn out to be. Whether it’s marijuana, the most commonly used drug in the world, or something a little more intense, you should make sure whatever you’re taking is safe to ingest.5 Unfortunately, this advice tends to go unheeded by many people looking to have a good time without thinking about potential repercussions.
While testing drugs and seeking out medical tents at venues can be ways to increase your safety, they currently aren’t as commonly used as other strategies. Starting with a low dosage, educating yourself about risks and side effects, and drinking lots of water are the top three safety strategies festivalgoers reported practicing. Considering 53% of people have suffered an injury or form of trauma at festivals because they took a substance, taking drug safety more seriously and changing strategies to meet everyone’s needs is necessary to reduce harm.
Festival organizers know that it's impossible to catch all the drugs snuck into their venues, so many do their part to try and curb the chance of an attendee overdose — or worse. While ensuring the health and safety of all festival attendees is a top priority, accidents inevitably still happen. If you choose to consume drugs, you can practice responsible drug use and take precautions to help yourself (and others) stay as safe as possible for a good festival experience.
We surveyed 1,040 music festival attendees about their substance use habits at festivals. The survey was conducted in June 2023. 53% of respondents were men, 46% were women, and 1% were nonbinary. The generational breakdown was as follows:
Survey data has some limitations due to self-reporting.
If you know any festivalgoers who might want to learn from our findings before their next excursion, please feel free to share this article with them. We just ask that you do so for noncommercial use only and provide a link back to this original page so our contributors can earn credit for their work.
Innerbody uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Beal, A. R. (2023, March 8). Why Drug Checking at Music Festivals is a Vital Harm Reduction Measure. Harm Reduction Circle.
Flam-Ross, J., & Dunkel, S. (2021, May 28). An Urgent Call for Harm Reduction in EDM: How to Keep You and the Rave Alive Post-Pandemic. EDM.
DanceSafe. (n.d.). Drug Checking.
Mayo Clinic. (2021, October 14). Dehydration.
Loesche, D. (2017, May 29). Which Drugs are Most Popular? Statista.