Prevalence and Perceptions of Illicit Substance Use Amongst Medical Students

Kevin McConville, Matthew Palin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Background: The General Medical Council state illicit substance use by medical students is an example of unprofessional behaviour. Previous research has shown the use of illicit substances to exist amongst medical students in the United Kingdom. This research aimed to determine the prevalence of illicit substance use amongst a single cohort of medical students and gather information concerning perceptions of this behaviour. The study sought to quantify the prevalence of illicit substance use within each year of study and gender identity.

Methods: An anonymous online questionnaire was employed to conduct this quantitative research. This included nine questions regarding illicit substance use amongst medical students, with three additional demographic questions. The Statistical Product and Service Solutions was utilised to interrogate the data.

Results: Out of 927 students in the medical school 201 (21.7%) people completed the questionnaire. 50.7% of respondents reported an any lifetime use of illicit substances, with 20.9% of the cohort reflecting recent illicit substance use within the previous 30 days. Drug use included amphetamines, amyl nitrate, cocaine and ecstasy amongst others. Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit substance, with a lifetime use of 45.8%. Statistical significance was determined for use of illicit use of substances within the male gender and older cohort years of the medical school.

Conclusions: The current cohort had a greater prevalence of cannabis use than previously determined amongst medical students. Males and students in older years had higher rates of illicit substance use than their respective demographics. As such, further research may be necessary to investigate the underlying reasons for these findings.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2021


  • Medical students
  • illicit drugs
  • professionalism


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