Features | How bad really is drug abuse in Leeds?

Following the recent survey branding University of Leeds students as the most likely to take drugs, LS investigates further the reality of drug use in Leeds.


At uni everyone tells you that if you don’t do or try something now you probably never will but does this really going as far as trying out mind altering chemicals? According to a survey more than eight in 10 students at Leeds University admit to dabbling in illegal recreational drugs at least once, which raises the question, are we a community obsessed by drugs?

Across UK institutions, the survey found 70 per cent of students admit to trying an illicit substance but at Leeds this figure is 15 per cent higher. Cambridge, ranked number one in the league tables, was found to have the lowest amount of students having tried drugs with 57 per cent admitting to having done so. Leeds University is a British redbrick university in the Russell Group, ranking 32 in the league tables so the sampling of illegal drugs by most students hasn’t exactly tarnished the university’s prestige or academic attainment and suprisingly, only 4 per cent of students said they felt that they needed drugs to have a good night out.

The survey also indicates that Philosophy students had the highest percentage of students who had tried illegal substances at 87 per cent, making them the most likely to have experimented with drugs. LS spoke to Becki, studying English and Philosophy, she said: “I would say quite a lot of people doing Philosophy may have taken drugs but they’re not druggies. I mean, maybe it helps to stimulate new ideas’’. Meanwhile, medical students were the least likely to have tried an illegal substance.

Cannabis was found to be the most popular drug used by students with 68 per cent having tried it. According to FRANK, a website providing friendly advice on drugs (www.talktofrank.com), cannabis has a sedating and sometimes a hallucinogenic effect on the user but in the long term it can cause paranoia, anxiety and after an extended amount of abuse can cause mental illnesses like schizophrenia. MDMA was the second most popular substance with 46 per cent of experimental students having tried it out. MDMA is the main ingredient in ecstasy and can make the user feel supremely happy, energised and stay awake for hours. It is commonly used for all night dancing and clubbing.

Investigating the scale of drug use at Leeds, LS spoke to Richard Clarke, Neighbourhood Inspector for Leeds city centre: “Often it is not known whether someone is on drugs or intoxicated and during term time there is a rise in crime of which students are often the victim, particularly theft. But incidents that may be drug related, the persons involved being intoxicated is not really investigated”.

The popular student area of Hyde Park has an infamous reputation for crime. Ian O’Brien, part of the local police for the Hyde Park are, said: “There are a lot of incidents of students abusing drugs, cannabis being most common but students are usually cautioned for this. However instances with class A drugs like cocaine are more serious and would be taken to court.”

There are a lot of incidents of students abusing drugs, cannabis being most common but students are usually cautioned for this.

A Leeds University student who admits to trying illegal substances told LS: “I wouldn’t say that drugs are an issue at Leeds, but off campus people will approach you in the street trying to sell you stuff. I haven’t taken anything on a night out but you know ‘When in Rome’… I would consider it because drinking can get a bit much. If I did I wouldn’t take a legal high though”.

Shockingly, there has been a rise in popularity of legal highs being sold at head shops, such as the recently opened ‘Rudeboy’ in Hyde Park, which sells drugs paraphernalia. These legal chemicals are also being sold online within the UK and the effects of taking them can be worse than taking illegal substances.

Legal highs are psychoactive substances, meaning that they are mind altering drugs, which are branded as research chemicals in order to dodge legal loopholes and manufacturing implications. These legal drugs look just like any other illegal substance, being either in the form of powder, pills or a crystal-like appearance and they imitate the effects of illicit drugs like ecstasy, cocaine and cannabis. The main risk with legal highs is the lack of research that has been done into their short and long term effects upon users, although known side effects include seizures, comas and even death. West Yorkshire Police have a ‘Legal High, Killer Low’ campaign aiming to warn students and young people against the use of dangerous and unpredictable legal highs.

Be that as it may, one off experimentation with illegal substances in your youth hardly constitutes the beginnings of an addiction. People make their own decisions and take responsibility for themselves by putting what they have on the line for a singular surreal sensation; that is, risking your university place, future employability and getting caught.


Stephanie Uwalaka

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