Which drugs would British people take if they were legal?

Author: Ian Hamilton, Associate Professor in addiction at the University of York

Who cares that cocaine and ecstasy are illegal?

Many people use these substances without getting into trouble. But the attraction for some is that drugs are illegal and the risks are minimal.

The evidence supporting the current drug laws is fragile at best and in some cases non-existent.

So what would you do if this all changed and drugs like heroin, cocaine and ecstasy were made legal

Recent polling by YouGov for Yahoo News UK exposes some intriguing insights into how the British public would behave.


When asked if making class A drugs like heroin, cocaine and ecstasy legal would encourage people to try them, 79% said they wouldn’t.

Responses depended on the age of the respondent. Perhaps unsurprisingly the number fell to 57% of 18-24 year olds compared with 94% of over 65s.

Remainers and leavers were united on this issue with an almost equal proportion, with 77% and 85% respectively saying they were unwilling to try a class A drug even if doing so was not against the law.

Disinterest was the main reason given by those who said they wouldn’t use a class A drug even if it were legal.

Listen to a discussion of these statistics on Yahoo and YouGov’s podcast, Britain is a Nation of…

However if drugs did become a legal commodity some of these people would likely succumb to the marketing and behaviour psychology tactics that the alcohol and tobacco industry have used in successfully promoting their products.

We know that class A drugs are becoming more popular, and the Government’s own polling shows a marked rise in recent years in those saying they have tried one of the substances.

This new poll shows more than 1 in 10 respondents would be willing to try a class A drug but adds important detail to that overall figure.

For example the drug most people would be willing to try is LSD, closely followed by ecstasy.

Again age matters with nearly 1 in 2 18-24 year olds saying they would try LSD compared to only 1 in ten of those aged over 65.

Cocaine use has risen significantly over recent years and this poll reveals some fascinating responses to what people would do if the drug became legal.

Scots were four times more likely to consider giving coke a go compared to those in London.

Remainers were twice as likely as Leavers to think about trying the drug, although both groups were united in their willingness to try ecstasy.

But the fact remains that the UK government fully supports the failing ‘war on drugs’, so it might seem like fantasy to think about these drugs becoming legal.

If we embraced an evidence based approach to drug policy we could see a change in the ranking of substances.

Based on an assessment of the harms to society and population health tobacco and alcohol would be outlawed and ecstasy and cannabis would become legal.

Drug use is not a niche activity as millions of us use drugs, so we can either pretend they don’t or acknowledge that just banning drug use is ineffective.

Moving from denial to acceptance opens up the possibility of a drug policy that matches the population’s needs, that’s a fantasy that should be turned into a reality.

This survey was made possible by YouGov’s panel of 6 million respondents. Join the trend and share your opinions with the world today.”