The Office for National Statistics has today revealed that in the year up to March 2020, 1 in 5 (21%) of young adults aged 16-24 in England and Wales reported having used drugs, and more concerningly, that 7% – approximately 467,000 people- used highly illegal and dangerous Class A drugs.

The report shows which types of drugs were most commonly used by this particular age group, as analysed and revealed in order by drug addiction experts UKAT (;

  1. Cannabis
  2. Nitrous Oxide (also known as laughing gas)
  3. Powder Cocaine
  4. Ecstasy
  5. Ketamine

Cannabis was today reported to have been used in the last year by a staggering 18.7% – around 1.2 million – of our 16-24 year old population. This is the highest proportional usage in the last 13 years and more recently, there has been a 5% increase in annual Cannabis use since 2013.

Nitrous Oxide, also known as laughing gas, was reported to have been used by 8.7% of 16-24 year olds in the last year, equivalent to around 549,000 people, making it the second most prevalent drug among young adults after Cannabis and three times as prevalent a drug of choice for this age group compared to the wider 16-59 age group.


Among young adults aged 16 to 24 years, powder cocaine was the third most commonly used drug, with 5.3% reporting use, around 331,000 users. Compared with the year ending March 2013, the proportion of young adults who had used power cocaine in the last year increased by a staggering 73%.

Ecstasy has today been reported to have been used by 4% of 16-24 year olds in the last year, this equates to around 254,000 individuals in just 12 months.

Lastly the use of Ketamine has increased compared with a decade ago. For adults aged 16-24 years, prevalence has increased from 1.7% in the year ending March 2010 to 3.2% this year; the highest estimate of reported Ketamine use in the last year on record.

The report reveals that over half (59%) of those aged 16-19 years thought that it would be very or fairly easy for them to personally obtain illegal drugs within 24 hours.

Nuno Albuquerque, Group Treatment Lead for drug addiction experts UKAT comments;

“Today’s report paints a clear picture as to which drugs are being consumed by our younger generation each year, and that they know they can get their hands on these drugs quicker than they can get a takeaway pizza. But what it also explains is that there are twice as many adults aged 16-24 classed as ‘frequent drug users’ compared to those aged 16-59 – around 271,000 people. 

“This means that there are hundreds of thousands of young adults frequently using drugs each year in our country; some being reported as even taking these drugs every day.

“Each of the top five most prevalent drugs are dangerously addictive, and drug misuse at this level in a person so young is of extreme concern. Not only can it cause short and long term health problems for the user, but it can also have a wider impact on society as this age group could miss out on education and they could be unemployed, all because of their drug misuse.

“It’s important to understand that every time a young person uses drugs, they are taking a huge risk; not just for their future, but potentially for their lives.”

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