Drug Use – How to Stay Safe at Festivals


By Ella Clucas

Drugs. We all know what they are and how to take them. Whether they’re your thing or you prefer to steer clear, it’s time to answer the question on everyone’s mind; how do we approach them as safely as possible? As the festival season continues, drug consumption at events such as Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds remains inevitable and almost impossible to prevent. Boomtown Fair is amongst several UK festivals to enlist the help of organisation The Loop, who provide low-key and non-judgmental front of house testing for any drugs brought on site. This year, however, due to ‘ongoing legal complexities’, The Loop have been unable to carry out the testing element of their services at any of their usual festival destinations. Instead, the organisation offered intervention, welfare and free drug awareness education, as well as utilising their back of house facilities through drug testing providers TICTAC. During my time at Boomtown Fair this summer, I ventured behind the scenes to chat to welfare representatives about how to stay safe. 

It is well known that Boomtown in particular attracts recreational drug users, perhaps due to the nature of its headliners. The genres range from bassline to reggae, jungle, disco and house, encompassing both chilled beats and heavy rave culture. The festival celebrates the music that ecstasy was born into, as well as the sounds loved by Bob Marley himself; it is therefore unsurprising to notice tiny plastic baggies littering the ground and the vague smell of marijuana drifting between tents. At the gates of the festival there are deposit boxes for any attendees who change their minds before entering, warned off smuggling supplies by sniffer dogs ready and waiting by security. Whilst these deposits aren’t convincing to most, the samples collected from the boxes prove to be very useful; they are collected by The Loop, who pass them over to TICTAC for back of house testing. If any samples are found to be dangerous to welfare or potentially life-threatening The Loop publish festival-wide warnings – these can be seen on posters around site, on screens across the stages and on various social media platforms, including festival apps and through text notifications. So, my first tip for staying safe: be aware. 

For those who risk it and bring drugs through successfully, there’s no way of testing what you have once you’re inside, but there is a way to figure it out beforehand. There is equipment available online that will enable you to screen your drugs before you head to the festival; these are called reagent testing kits, and will help you to figure out if what you’ve got is actually what it claims to be. The kits can be ordered online for between £15-30, come in ultra-discreet packaging and can even be delivered next day. There are plenty of tools to help you interpret results too, with helpful color reaction charts, online forums and instructional videos on YouTube. Whilst this is all great, there are unfortunately downsides to reagent testing. Yes, it can massively reduce your chances of taking a drug that’s far more dangerous than you thought, but it can only tell you what your drug isn’t. There are certain chemicals that can’t be tested for, and it doesn’t disclose the strength of the drug you are screening. It might not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. My second tip for staying safe: test your drugs at home.

But what if you’re buying on site? This is where the majority of festival goers will get a hold of what they want – higher prices, but no smuggling risk. So what can you do if you don’t know your dealer but can’t test your drugs before you take them? The Loop’s #CrushDabWait campaign was introduced to combat the excessive use of MDMA in club and festival settings. The campaign attempts to increase awareness of quantity and purity, asking users to crush large crystals, consume the drug in smaller amounts by dabbing a finger into the powder, then waiting between one to two hours for the effects to hit before consuming more. If you’re bombing your MDMA, weigh your amounts. If you’re taking a pill, start with a quarter and sip water. This advice applies to other drugs too – it’s important to remember that you can always take more, but can never return what you’ve already had. My third and final tip: start low, go slow.

Festivals like Boomtown Fair can seem like the perfect setting to experiment with recreational drugs that promise to enhance your experience. But using illegal drugs can and does kill, and no amount of helpful tips can ever make them totally safe. When it comes to recreational use, knowledge is power. In the words of Boomtown itself: respect yourself, respect each other.