Global Drug Survey looks into improving marijuana experience

In Research Topics, Top Stories by Dr. Tim Sandle, Ph.D.

A major international drug survey seeks to improve the experience of using marijuana for both medicinal and social purposes, as well as look into the use of other drugs.

The Global Drug Survey, first introduced in 2011, will focus this year on marijuana. By the time the survey has been completed, the organizers hope that around 22,000 people will have taken part. Interim results from the survey will be available early next year, while the final results are expected to be unveiled in April 2014.

Survey respondents have until Dec. 20 to participate in the Global Drug Survey.

The collected data is rendered anonymous and, post-analysis, is used for academic publications, health promotion activities and reports.

The London-based organizers serve as an independent international center of expertise in qualitative and quantitative, non-judgmental, informative and confidential drug surveys. The primary aim of the center is to promote “the protection and advancement of public health through education and research.”

The survey was prepared by a research team of psychologists, led by addiction specialist Dr. Adam Winstock. To learn more about the aims of the survey, The Medical Marijuana Review spoke with Dr. Winstock, an Honorary Consultant Addictions Psychiatrist at Causley Hospital and Lewisham Drug and Alcohol Service.

Regarding the current Global Drug Survey, Dr. Winstock explained that the decision to focus on marijuana “has been triggered by the emerging movement for reform in many parts of the world.” This growing trend refers to both recreational use as well as the use of marijuana to alleviate various medical conditions.

Many aspects of the survey echo Dr. Winstock’s current research interests, which include “cannabis withdrawal and dependence, legal highs and mephedrone, dance drugs, consumer knowledge and understanding of drug treatment, health literacy, and opioid medication diversion.” He says the research is not aimed at repeating the “drugs do you harm” line often tossed about by high-minded policy makers and politicians; instead, the organizers of the Global Drug Survey have a genuine motivation for wanting to improve the quality and satisfaction of users. They want to understand the differences between drugs (including pure and impure forms of marijuana as well as marijuana of different strengths); strategies for managing withdrawal; and exploring more effective ways of taking drugs.

With this latter point, one of the goals of the survey is to consider how the experience of taking marijuana can be enhanced. This fits with Dr. Winstock’s most problematic research areas: smoking marijuana. He notes that “most dependent users have concurrent dependence on tobacco, which increases the health risks and worsens outcomes for cannabis treatment.”

His concern relates to a 2012 report he published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), which concluded that “the greatest risk of harm from cannabis use is in young people and those who are pregnant or have serious mental illness.” The organizers of the 2013 Global Drug Survey hope that the results will not only influence medical and academic opinion, but also affect and help to shape government policy.

For his part, Dr. Winstock hopes the survey findings will make more information available within the public domain. He says such information would help to “describe risks, which can then inform how people with drug-related problems are helped” and allow people to make more informed choices about the risks and benefits of different strengths and sources of marijuana. One of the major societal problems that Dr. Winstock sees is a lack of information available to users and their families about “social drugs.”

Although marijuana use is a major part of the survey, Dr. Winstock explained that alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs are also being examined.

After the survey results are revealed, more detailed case reports and medical articles will follow. Many of these reports will focus on aspects of marijuana use including different strains, the way it is administered, and the best way for users to manage how they take and control it.


Dr. Tim Sandle, PhD, is a microbiologist, specializing in healthcare and pharmaceuticals. He is also a writer and journalist who is interested in science, history, politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter @TimSandle