Last year, nearly four million Britons used illicit drugs: ten drug users tell their stories

Here, 10 people reveal why cocaine, skunk and ketamine do it for them

Lucy, 27, punk singer, London
Drugs: speed, ecstasy, ketamine
Spends: £30-40 a week

There was a time when I was more than dabbling in heroin, when I went totally into myself and detached myself from society, and I sat down and wrote some really good songs, like 'Barbed Wire Boy', which was about someone on gear. I liked heroin because it made me feel warm, made me feel I didn't need anyone else. But now I'm not just a songwriter but singing in a band, and my focus is performing and not wanting to let the band down. We all want to make a success of it and the unity has given me a focus - a bit like heroin, actually.

So I don't perform under the influence. Any drugs I choose to take will only be after I've performed. I don't think I want, or can afford, to be unprofessional and experiment with speed and ketamine on stage, even if I think it might make me interact with the audience better.

I like speed socially. I last took some three or four days ago, at someone else's gig. I was dancing around having funny conversations. You have so much energy on good speed and the next day you've lost about a stone - that's what I like about it. I was asked last week if I wanted to chip £10 in for a £60 bag of coke, but it turned out to be ketamine. All the young people are getting into ketamine now, but it makes you quite aggressive. I took ecstasy a couple of weeks ago with my boyfriend. Ecstasy in the old days was always good vibey, but the pills today, like the techno, have become more erratic.

I certainly won't dabble with crack any more, like I used to - it takes your soul away, you look a mess and you become an unpleasant person. I think if I didn't have the band to focus on, if I didn't see opportunities in life, I might be more inclined. The fact is there are young people all over the country who see that even if they had a job, it's so low paid they'll never be able to afford a home and a family. So they're taking drugs to deal with it, or selling drugs as a way to have something.

The other thing about Britain is it currently has the worst drugs in the world, in terms of quality, cleanliness and the user's ability to measure them and be able to judge their tolerance to them. Because we're an island, and because of terrorism and security, people here are becoming acclimatised to bad-quality drugs. If you believe that people go through behavioural phases, moving through periods of taking drugs and growing out of them, then the real concern should be the decreasing quality of what those people - and the poor, especially - are taking.

Jude, 40, illustrator and designer, London
Drugs: prescription benzodiazepines and other - non-prescription - drugs
Spends: £10 a week

I take clonazepam and diazepam because they help me draw and design, but I also take them to help with anxiety, nerves, twitching, bodily aches. Any job where you have to have a very steady hand and stay calm is helped by Valium or any of the benzodiazepines. I read that snipers take them to steady their grip and I've met a surgeon who uses them for the same reason. To draw well, especially to cope with a client or someone visiting to be sketched, benzodiazepines can be essential. But generally to work alone and really concentrate, with confidence, without shaking, they help.

I've broken the back of two portraits this week and that probably wouldn't have happened without the 'pams. But it's not quite as simple as that. I have to get the doses and timing right. I prefer to take clonazepam because it's milder, takes longer to kick in and is less addictive. But I took diazepam on Wednesday because I'd arranged to see friends but couldn't quite cope with socialising. Also, I was afraid about bumping into someone I recently came out of a relationship with.

Some people might take them for fun, but I'm not doing that. I'm not out looking for 10 for a fiver on street corners... not really. Maybe eggs - temazepam capsules - which are great for sleeping. But I usually rely on the goodness of doctors. I'm stocked up at the moment, but in a month, six weeks - and this feeds into the anxiety - I'm looking at an appointment with a consultant who's going to be asking me how many I've been putting aside for rainy days and what I'm drinking and... 20 questions. She might be wanting my liver or my blood to be tested.

Because benzodiazepines store up in your body fat, I've been doing a lot of exercise recently. I've not had muscles like this before. The exercise is about cleaning the system, making what I take more effective, and also fighting some of the anxiety in a physical way. Cycling helps. Recently I cycled home from the studio too late, having taken two or three 10mg tablets at the studio, and I went into a skip. That wasn't good. I was in the relationship then. She wasn't sure what she wanted. Since it ended I've not had the anxiety of performing for her, but I've also been anxious about the relationship ending.

At their best, benzodiazepines basically make me feel really relaxed and really productive and then really able to wind down. They're good for insomnia, temazies [temazepams] especially, and they can knock me out, sometimes with whisky, so I'm not too sleepless to be unable to work the next day. I like playing poker on the internet in the evening, and low 'pams can help that, unless I take too much too early. Last night I timed it pretty well and I was a winner.

Ellie, 28, works in TV, Manchester
Drugs: ecstasy, cocaine, skunk
Spends: 'probably' £50 a week

On Tuesday night I did a shoot for an alternative magazine, a bit kinky, and coke sort of went with the job, it's the least you expect. But my day job is in TV production, where there's lots of cocaine, generally, although my boss really frowns on drugs. When you boil it down, drugs are a social thing, for weekends. And almost always with my best friend, usually at clubs or at her flat. That's what drugs mean to me - friendship, laughter, dancing. On Thursday we got into two clubs under false names. She can get any man to buy us a bottle of champagne, and I could, too. But, at the end of the day, drugs are what we're really looking for. We were on this terrace smoking and we had a little coke from this bloke. We took the piss so much and he still drove us home and gave us what he had left.

The first time I had good cocaine before sex was the first time I really enjoyed sex. My sister said, 'It was just luck,' but it's been like that since. I'm not advocating it for that reason. You hear some men are useless [on cocaine], terrible. Maybe the women saying that are useless, too, or they've been disappointed like me. I do have sex without cocaine, but it's never quite the same.

I'm trying to think of drawbacks. I get sweaty. But I drive better, I park better, I chat better, I feel better and make love better. I don't believe everyone is better looking on coke, but when you're with people who do it, they tend to be better looking anyway.

Every time I've had a really, really good time socially in the past two years, drugs have probably been involved. But the best times, the funniest times, the stupidest, are with my best friend. We can put on this really cheesy fitness video from the Eighties and kill ourselves laughing. Last weekend we got drunk and stoned and she had a bit of coke left - because sometimes we take it from men, pretend to snort it somewhere and then save it for when we're alone. We didn't go out in the end because it was raining and we wanted to prank call, which is mainly lying on cushions. Even if there's no one else, it's still a bit like a festival, being with her and taking stuff. We act out scenes in films - like Meet Joe Black - or impersonate Sarah Silverman sitting in a chair. We run up and down the stairs with hats on singing 'Shitdisco' by Shitdisco. We've probably never done ecstasy on a Sunday, or mushies [mushrooms]. We'd say Friday for that - because she's younger than me, but does a straighter job.

George, 67, idealist and humorist, London
Drugs: cannabis
Spends: less than £140 a week

I became aware of drugs when I was about 16. I would hang around Soho and a woman told me about the uppers and downers that were going around. They didn't interest me at all. I was fit, an athlete. Pretty much teetotal, and I remain so. But then when I was about 24 and working in the diamond trade in Hatton Garden someone gave me some Thai grass to smoke and I enjoyed the experience. Ever since - 43 years - weed has been my recreational drug of choice.

In the Eighties I had cocaine, but it never did anything for me, and I dabbled with ecstasy and it's OK, but nothing I'd want to keep doing. My abiding memory of LSD is just how dirty and dusty everything seemed.

No, it's always been grass for me. But you can't get the stuff that was around in the past that would always make you see the funny side of life. Once, I even put some expensive Thai sticks in a lit oven to dry out and then completely forgot to take them out. I was sitting there with the windows closed, inhaling the wreckage.

It's the funny and philosophical side I'm after, and it tunes you in to music, of course. It's like a perpetual Hamlet advertisement, really. Unfortunately, the only weed you can regularly get today is skunk and it's quite heavy. But there's never been any question in my mind that if all marijuana was legal we would be a far healthier and happier society. Smoking weed tunes me in to a part of myself I like being tuned in to.

There should be proper drug education in schools and kids could be allowed to dabble, maybe. Ultimately, I look to a future where weed isn't classed as a drug. The only thing that'll stop me smoking it is death.

William, 15, schoolboy, Swansea
Drugs: skunk or hash
Spends: up to £30 a week

It was mental my parents suggesting I should have some one-to-one drugs counselling, because all they knew about was a few pills missing and my spliff - and my dad's been spliffing since before I was born. My mother drinks white wine and a night for her costs as much as I've spent for a week. It makes me sarcastic with them. I'll say things like, 'I'll see you in the queue.'

Mum and Dad are saying no to me going to two festivals now. The other thing that didn't help was a party I was at was raided. They had sniffer dogs and everyone was lined up and they made some girls cry and found an ounce thrown about the place. One thing my father said is, 'Don't get a record, or when you get a car they'll pull you over every Friday until you're a dying man.' It's good advice.

I don't think my parents have ever cared if I've had three Stellas. If I was out of it they'd be happy to think it was lager.

My mother thinks I'll be seen smoking by the neighbours. I saw a burglar when I was having a smoke at the window once. I saved next door a fortune, probably. It's much easier in summer, moving about, because using the gazebo - the gazeblow, we call it - at the park on this side of town is a bit of a joke. The council and the community police walk in a circle at 15-minute intervals, so we're in, out. No one really bothers us at the skate park in the evening. The adrenaline of skateboarding takes the edge off spliff. But summer's way better because there's loads of places to go.

It's never been a problem getting skunk in town. Or hash. It's not a problem when I can't get it. The time I was always wanting it was back at the beginning, really. I was being bullied. It sort of helped me. I'd changed schools and there were two major serious psychos there. When I started taking some of the pills my parents had - I don't even know what they were - they were OK, like anti-depressing.

A bit trippy with drink. I don't do that now.

The thing is, I'm paying more for skunk from friends than I would from some dealers, because dealers will start offering you anything else they want to unload. You're saying, 'No, no, no. I only want some hash really.'

What I'd seriously like is to be online on MySpace, be on PlayStation 2, and have a smoke halfway through homework, with a dressing gown across the bottom of the door and really knowing no one's going to be in the house for two hours. That and being on the ramps where there's someone with smokes and jokes. And girls. My picture of paradise is a girl on the ramps - no lamer, she's always busting it out - who sort of gets she's sexy but doesn't. She has Air Insurgents [trainers] and has the moves and has her own little stash of hash. Everyone I hang around with wants the girl like that.

Diana, 27, legal clerk, Essex
Drugs: heroin
Spends: £350 a week

Obviously I have to take my little packets to work prepared, so I don't have drama in the toilet getting a razor blade out and measuring each time for a snort. I'll have had one at home, so there's two packets for work. One's ready for lunch and another later. It's usually two, or three. I need three if it's cut [adulterated]; ideally four - in case I'm working late, or I'm not coming home after work.

I'll usually know in advance if it's heavily cut. If it's no good then I'll want to smoke it. I prefer smoking sometimes, but I can't be setting an alarm off. So I need to know the day's schedule. If a case comes forward or I'm at the office and there's bullshit about someone's dental appointment, or a personal injury case suddenly reappears that someone's messed up, that's when I might get a bit angry. On Tuesday I thought I'd have to smoke on the office balcony because I couldn't wait.

But it's really no big deal going to work with a habit, unless others are making it difficult. It's others causing the problems. I'd never have concerns at work if it was good stuff.

Sometimes if it's really weak, or my husband's found mine and taken a bit from each packet while I'm asleep, that's when I think about the needle, but I can't be carrying a kit. I can cook up in the toilet some time, if I must, but I'm not doing the needle now - ever, really. Just sometimes in the evenings, when I have to, because of all the hassle.

This week I've had good stuff. Not really good, but not really dodgy. When it's really good, the forehead pours, you know straightaway. Once, the paper towels and toilet paper ran out, because the cleaner wasn't there the night before, and I brushed my hand against the photocopier and it was dripping, and a clown said, 'It must be very hot in the Ladies.' I didn't reply.

I take care of everything that's put in front of me. I'd probably have given up working in law if it wasn't for smack. When work's boring it numbs the boredom. Everything's better on smack, everything. But I couldn't do more than a gram a day on what I earn, and I'm eating at Subway. Whereas my bosses could afford two grams without noticing. They don't, I'm just saying. There's no one else on skag there, although there's loads in law.

There was a problem recently when my husband kept phoning the office. Two dealers disappeared last month and my husband thought I was hiding stuff at work. He hasn't phoned since. If he loses me a job he knows I'll kill him. I work perfectly on smack. I'm not drinking at lunch, like others in my office. When you've got heroin you don't need alcohol. The only difference is you can't get it 24 hours in Tesco. I know one lawyer who's been on smack for 18 years. One clerk I knew died last year, but that's because the stuff that came through was great after he'd been having stuff for weeks that was 15 per cent, you understand? He was a good worker, good with papers like me.

After work yesterday I went somewhere to get some, because I was thinking ahead to the weekend. But I didn't get any. I was just sat waiting in a room with these guys, watching The One Show. We were just watching television for hours. One of them was a guy I knew from university who started getting angry because he said one of us ate his KitKat. The dealer said he'd sort us by seven, then two hours... We were just waiting and waiting. I had a report with me and I read some of that.

Kevin, 48, grave digger, Hertfordshire
Drugs: cannabis, ecstasy, LSD
£20-30 a week

Grave digging is one of those jobs where it's easy to smoke on the job, and common. It's a bit ironic because, when I got into drugs, a late-starter [at 21], I spent my first night coming down from sulphate in a graveyard. I found blue bombers [sulphate] exhilarating and sociable. I'm introverted, but the sulphate made me extroverted, confident. I was snorting it at art college, for art's sake and for the enjoyment of music and company and friends, and the high philosophy of it and the liberation. Sometimes I was up for nights on end and had psychotic comedowns. Two weeks solid was the most I ever did. I'll take a bit now, but only at parties which I really don't want to leave.

Acid's a touchy subject. My first time was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. Everything was so clear, so bright and so real. Although I've had LSD since - seven in a week at music festivals - and it's never been quite the same for me, I decided that first experience was how the world is, for real, and I've always kept the memory with me. I tell myself, 'When the world's not looking and feeling like that, it's me not seeing it.'

I was cost-conscious about ecstasy in its early days - you could get eight tabs of acid for the price of an E where I was, but I ended up on the rave scene in the late Eighties and taking E regularly, dancing all night. The reason I don't take it much now is because at my age it would be crippling to dance around in cycling shorts and a hat with dog's ears going absolutely berserk too much.

I think it was all the drinking that caused me to get a really chronic nosebleed two months ago. I was taken off in an ambulance. A week in hospital. They told me to cut out everything - the drinking, the blow, the puff, everything. And I've gloried in it all my life. After a month, I thought because it makes me sleep so well - I like 10 hours - that I'll have spliffs, but with toy tobacco. And I thought that I'll drink but I won't cane it, then a couple of lines of cocaine, up the best nostril. The funny thing is that they've been talking at work about drug testing everyone. The last time they said that, it never happened. But it's looming, looming.

So before the weekend I was feeling healthier, from not caning it, yet thinking the world was turning against me. But on Saturday I went up a friend's house and we were going to have a little drink in the garden and someone else came round and he had some MDMA and I ended up going next door and sleeping with my friend's neighbour. I haven't even taken a girl out in nine years and so it was quite an outrageous thing for me to do, a total transformation of confidence.

Carl, 37, shop owner, Bristol
Drugs: GHB, viagra, ecstasy, amyl nitrate, etc
Spends: less than £50 a week

The Virgin Atlantic ad on TV - it's very spacey and John Hannah's in it - is like a commercial for the hallucinogenic side of ketamine, to me. There's drug imagery everywhere. You flick through the channels on TV and see lots of people who are obviously on drugs - middle-aged presenters, politicians, the lot - who sniff when the camera's not on them. I've been told as a fact that drugs are allowed and encouraged on one of the reality shows. It's edited out.

I'm a gay man. And I have friends who think anti-drug is anti-gay, full stop. I feel it's certainly no business of anybody else who someone sleeps with or what they put in to their body. Obviously I like to think they're going to be sensible - hah - about it, avoid people spiking their drinks and going bareback [not using a condom], and looking after themselves and not necking anything and everything. I want to remember what I've done. And obviously if a business depends on you functioning day in, day out - and you need to earn to be able to party, anyway - you're going to want to stay healthy. Of course, sex keeps you fit and sex drugs contribute. But I've got a form of cystitis and I've had sex once in the last week. If you were hoping for a story of cocktailing drugs night after night and six-hour sex sessions, I can't oblige right now.

One thing I've usually done is give myself Monday off work. If I'm out on Friday, working Saturday, and then out again, this is the age when it starts to become a bit torturous. I haven't had meth [crystal meth] for weeks, and when I do it's only at weekends. I wouldn't do Special K [ketamine] from Monday to Friday either and I'm usually only having Dorothys [small amounts]. I find some people in a k-hole insufferable. I love the way sounds and lights become indistinguishable, blended, warped. But I don't go right to the edge with it. I had cocaine, Viagra and poppers at the weekend. I had GHB, I think, the weekend before. I still like Adam [ecstasy] sometimes, although it's getting less popular here.

I'm more detached during the week. I'm not saying I won't go to special events and any opening if they're during the week, but I'm usually not seeing people and being offered drugs during the week. My boyfriend is connected with a university, is away there, and anything he brings is at the weekend.

I've been gardening and decorating for several weeks and every time I've taken something I've had the house in the back of my mind. I was given some amphetamines that I thought I could use, but I haven't. No hash. There's a satisfaction in grafting from 10am to 6 and then eight in the evening to 11 or 12, and the exhaustion. So Saturday night - if we've not clubbed on Friday - is the time I need something to take me out of that, to have the energy, the sex and the obliteration.

On Sunday and Monday I'm really only interested in cookery - I'm fabulous.

Mars, 22, unemployed, London
Drugs: crack cocaine
Spends: £100 a day

I don't sell bones - that's crack - or skunk or coke or speed. What I do is sell cooking herbs [passed off as drugs] to get money to go and buy bones for myself. I feel no guilt, none. If I don't rip them off someone else will.

I've been in Camden this week. The CCTV helps me rip people off. I say, 'Don't open it [the wrap], move... the camera is turning, go...' Or, 'Take my number,' because I can take them into a shop, get a pen and write numbers and then they're not looking in the wrap.

I'll also do Tesco Express, sit like a beggar man, but I can't do the 12 pence, eight pence all day, or the 'How do I know you won't spend this on drugs?' Everyone thinks you're on crack. But my girlfriend - she does girl scams, like 'You can look at my arms, I'm clean. I need £20 for a room tonight.' I try that, but she's got the looks. Not looks for lapping - lap dancing - but men help her.

The best time was when we got some money - she stole someone's coat - and we got tickets for a train to the coast and we were superstars, that's how we were feeling.

I've smoked in all places this week. In the phone box, when I was rattling [desperate]. We have 20 places a mile from here. You can do McDonald's' toilets. And there's apartments. There's a roof near here and I get buzzed in. We both keep a glass flower tube there, hidden - she sawed it in half, one for her, one for me. Valentine's Day!

On Wednesday I visited my mother and she gave me £30. I said I'd go clean, but I went to a den near there. Now she's not answering again. She doesn't get it. It's the best feel ever, a rock [of crack]. I'm hot, I'm clever, I'm gliding. People can buy a car, go in that restaurant any time they want, but we can't buy crack without hassle. If you won the Lottery you could get crack five, six times every day and no one would be sorry. No one's bag would get lifted. I wouldn't have my cousin saying I shat up the wedding. I'd be kinder, no depression, if I had crack and the housing association hadn't screwed my girlfriend over.

I feel shit. I want £40.

Mark, party organiser, London
Drugs: 'everything short of injecting'
Spends: £50 a week on opium, £30 a week on cannabis

As a party organiser, I recognise that people like to go out at night and have a good time and that they often take drugs to help them have a good time - and there's nothing more or less to it than that. And obviously I want to enjoy myself, but I can't get out of control while I'm organising a party for a perfume company or a caviar restaurant. When I'm DJing it works better, I play better when I've had ecstasy or I'm drunk and stoned, but I don't go so far that I can't physically operate the controls. It's when I have little parties to celebrate the success of big parties that I tend to let loose, perhaps taking three or four people away to Paris (women, preferably) and having a splendid old time.

I've recently become attracted to opium. I find it wonderful, fantastic, lovely, yet one feels instantly that it's incredibly addictive for some people - the sirens ring, it's so seductive. If it was possible to get in London I'd smoke more. Last week I got a text saying some would be available at the weekend, but sadly it wasn't.

I really don't want to give the impression that drugs are a huge part of my life, as I've never been on anything for more than a few days in a row. But since I was 18, I've tried pretty much everything, short of injecting.

The only thing I've had so far today is weed. Not skunk, which my friend [dealer] doesn't sell, and I think is debilitating. I'm talking about good old-fashioned weed. I particularly like a joint - a small one - first thing in the morning with a strong coffee. A shower, when you're a little stoned, can be the most wonderful thing in the world. And then, walking outside, everything is more lovely and beautiful and it can almost brand a smile on to my face for the rest of the day. Smoking good weed and drinking double espressos, that's a really lovely thing for me; they work together wonderfully, whether I'm sitting watching pretty girls outside a cafe or working on projects into the night, when they give me the energy to work but without the jitters that would then stop me sleeping. They cancel out the bad points of each other and accentuate the good points, calming me down enough so I can concentrate on work and yet setting off the mind so it's free, fancy, flighty.

But the thing I'm really looking forward to is mushroom picking. Mushrooms are my favourite drug because they bring the rush, the open and clear mind, the laughter and the energy. And they're chemical-free. Whereas acid takes the world out and puts it in a tumble dryer, mushrooms are more like a natural progression - taking the world and stretching it.

· Some of the interviewees' names have been changed

UK adult drug taking in 2007

3.7 million adults used illicit drugs last year - 1.8m aged under 24 years old

2.8 million used cannabis - 1.5m under 24

1.2 million took a class A drug last year - 560,000 under 24

900,000 used cocaine powder - 425,000 under 24

625,000 used ecstasy - 310,000 under 24

500,000 used amyl nitrate (poppers)

476,000 used amphetamines

154,000 used tranquillisers

87,000 used LSD

69,000 used glues

65,000 used crack cocaine

46,000 used heroin

41,000 used methadone

· Sources: British Crime Survey (Home Office), Scottish Crime and Victimisation Survey (The Scottish Government), Northern Ireland Drug Prevalence Survey (National Advisory Committee on Drugs)


John Hind

The GuardianTramp

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