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 completely let loose. While people take drugs to elevate their experiences, sometimes they can be a serious detractor. Coming out of one of these festivals unscathed is ordinary, but so is experiencing a drug-related crisis during them.
So, how do people ensure that they’re well-equipped to avoid a substance-related disaster? We’ve interviewed 1,006 festivalgoers to find out. Read on to learn more about today’s drug safety landscape at popular festivals across the U.S.
Among other results, our survey found that:
- 84% of attendees plan to use substances at a music festival this year. Alcohol will be the most consumed substance, followed by marijuana.
- More than half (54%) of festivalgoers have taken a substance from a stranger in the crowd.
- Almost one-third of festival attendees would rather risk taking bad drugs than perform on-site testing because they’re scared to get in trouble.
- 80% of attendees have experienced a substance-related injury at a festival.
- Lollapalooza attendees are the most likely to have sex with a stranger, while EDC attendees are the most likely to suffer from dehydration. Burning Man attendees are the most likely to have a bad trip.
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.
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 twice as likely to be consumed as the next leading drug, cocaine. Though it’s unsurprising to see MDMA as the third-highest 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.
While festivalgoers indulged in a myriad of drugs at these events, only 54% had their drugs tested. 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 put on booths and areas for drug checking as a common harm reduction strategy, many people remain comfortable skipping this step.
Now that festivals are back in the swing of things post-pandemic, attendees are making up for lost time. 84% of respondents plan to use drugs at a music festival this year, including:
- 96% of those planning to attend Lollapalooza
- 95% of Rolling Loud attendees
- 94% of Burning Man and EDC-goers
Marijuana 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:
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 to drink lots of water.
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 28% of respondents. Although not used by many, other plans included having Narcan or other overdose medications on hand 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. 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. 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 blackouts are just some of the problems drugs have caused at festivals. Among those who have taken drugs at a festival, 80% experienced a negative consequence stemming from that decision.
The most common consequence of drug consumption is the onset of dehydration, which can manifest for different reasons. 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. Other reasons why people decided to stay away from drugs at their next festival included:
- A bad trip
- Having sex with a stranger
- Getting hospitalized
- Encountering police
- Becoming unconscious
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. Unfortunately, this advice tends to go unheeded by many people looking to have a good time without thinking about potential repercussions.
While testing drugs, having overdose medication on hand, and seeking out medical tents at venues can be ways to increase your safety, they currently aren’t as commonly used as other strategies. Drinking lots of water, buying from a “trusted source,” and microdosing are the top three safety strategies festivalgoers reported practicing. Considering 80% 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 1,006 music festival attendees about their substance use habits at festivals. The survey was conducted in April 2022. 51% of respondents were men, 48% were women, and 1% were nonbinary. The median age was 34 years old, with a generational breakdown of:
- 19% Gen Z
- 49% millennials
- 24% Gen X
- 8% baby boomers
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.