General Article Illegal drug use in the UK

Topic Selected: Drugs
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What are drugs?

Drugs include a broad range of substances, ranging from prescription medicines, to illegal street drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, to readily available products such as tobacco and alcohol.

In public health and political terms, ‘drugs’ usually refers to recreational drugs, specifically those which are illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Although technically a mind-altering substance, alcohol is not commonly included in the drugs debate, with binge drinking treated as a separate issue. Similarly, tobacco warrants its own debate.


The UK Government has adopted a prohibitive stance towards recreational drugs, which is enforced through the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Prior to this Act, drugs policy in the UK was relatively liberal but was reformed under pressure from the US, who pushed for the global criminalisation of drugs.

This makes it an offence to possess drugs for personal use or with intent to supply, or to allow premises you occupy or manage to...

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