Safer Stronger

First report into drug taking trends in Greater Manchester published

AN innovative and comprehensive new system monitoring people’s drug consumption across Greater Manchester – the first such system in the country – shows an increase in alcohol referrals and a surge in the purchase of cannabis products, often via social media.

GM TRENDS (Greater Manchester: Testing and Research on Emergent and New Drugs)’s first detailed report, published today, will be used to inform future policy across the city-region and the commissioning of support services and interventions.

Commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and delivered by Manchester Metropolitan University, GM TRENDS is the first drug trend monitoring system of its kind in the UK, and its reports highlight trends and areas of concern around current drug consumption.

The report includes a summary of key drug trends, looking at 44 drugs including alcohol and nicotine, as well as focusing on two areas of concern that emerged in the early stages of the research.

Bev Hughes, Greater Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire, said: “Greater Manchester is leading the way with this research being the first of its kind in the UK. The unique approach is a step forward in understanding drug trends across the city-region, helping to inform policymaking. We hope our model is something other areas will be able to replicate.

“The research has the potential to save lives through raising awareness of dangerous drug trends, based on what we have seen with fake prescription drugs and high potencies, as well as the rise in alcohol referrals.

“The findings are vital in raising awareness of harmful drug trends and the potential risks. Understanding the motivations and behaviours associated with these drug trends helps to inform future policy and service provision. Through our Drugs Information and Early Warning Systems we have also been able to issue alerts to people who use drugs and provide briefings to professionals working with them across Greater Manchester.”

The report reveals an increase in alcohol referrals due to people spending more time at home during the pandemic. These referrals were mainly from people aged 40+ who were new to treatment services, and it was found they were using drinking as a coping mechanism for stress related to money, health and employment.

The study found that young people’s use of non-traditional cannabis products such as cannabis sweets and supposedly high potent imported ‘Cali Weed’ was increasing, often being obtained via social media. Drugs sold as cannabis or THC vapes often contained the far more dangerous synthetic cannabinoids (Spice). Synthetic cannabinoids (Spice) also remained a significant problem among prisoners and homeless people.  

The research was compiled through online surveys and in-depth interviews with nearly 1,000 professionals and people who use drugs completing the survey, and in-depth interviews with 63 professionals and 33 people who use drugs. The research also included forensic testing of drugs seized by Greater Manchester Police (GMP). MANDRAKE (Manchester Drugs Research and Knowledge Exchange) drug testing service conducted 91 tests on samples for the study, with further tests ongoing as part of a continuous rolling programme.

In response to the findings an event is due to take place in 2022 which will act as a launch pad to ensure relevant stakeholders engage with the research and act upon the recommendations made.

Dr Rob Ralphs, Reader in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University, who is leading the team of researchers, said: “The research findings demonstrate the importance of the Greater Manchester model in identifying and responding to new trends and drug market developments.  It is clear that local drug markets have changed with the detection of low purity heroin, driving the increased use of cheap, easily accessible, non-pharmacologically manufactured prescription drugs.

“The use of social media platforms to access drugs was frequently reported by young people. While cannabis remains the most common drug that young people are using, the increased use of cannabis edibles, cannabis vapes and designer ‘Cali-weed’ points to the need to raise awareness of new trends and related harms to a range of stakeholder working with young people.”

A summary of the research along with the full research report can be downloaded from

Article Published: 21/12/2021 10:16 AM