Pick your Poison: Drug Trends in Dunedin

Pick your Poison: Drug Trends in Dunedin

“Snorting culture” is a thing, and “K” is our favourite letter of the alphabet

The relationship between drugs and Dunedin party culture is probably stronger than your parent’s marriage. But much like fashion and music, taste in drugs has changed over the past few decades. Critic Te Ārohi decided to take a deep dive into Dunedin drug trends over time and ask why some substances are more popular than others.



Weed is still the most commonly used illicit substance, with heaps of people using it on the daily. Even students from the ’80s said weed was the most prominent: “In our day, it was probably a choice between a jug of Speights and some dak.”

A video we found on the Critic YouTube channel (cringe) saw a local stoner giving an interview on the eve of the Castle Street riots. He talks about how weed is everywhere and isn’t nearly as dangerous as alcohol. Later that night, the same video reporter was covering the riot scene when he bumped into ol’ mate again. “See what I mean? If these guys were all smoking weed instead of drinking, this would never have happened.”



It’s no secret that we, as students, love our gear. The party culture of street parties and DnB raves lends itself to the popularity of a drug like MDMA, which has a “euphoric and stimulating effect”. As a result, Dunedin has been given media monikers like the “MDMA Capital of New Zealand”. And it’s not wrong: we have the highest rates of MDMA use in the country. However, MDMA is a bit of a newcomer.

Carly, a PhD student, said that back in the day of $2 doubles and student pubs, MDMA wasn’t nearly as prevalent. “It was still here in, like, 2003, but we were all out drinking.” She said that the cheap drinks meant you didn’t need to worry about spending too much on a night out, and that today “MDMA is the cheapest way to get fucked up. It really is.” She also reckoned that the DCC’s crackdown on student pubs and the Uni’s allegedly “predatory attitude” towards “buying pubs and turning them into nothing useful” has contributed to gear’s rise in Dunedin.

One student who started at Otago in 2015 agreed that there has been an increase in MDMA consumption over the past seven years. “People are definitely more open to it now. It’s more available, and way cheaper.” People also prefer their MDMA in crystal rather than pill form. “People like getting it in crystal form for the fact that it has less impurities, binders, fillers and cuts”, said Lachlan from KnowYourStuff Otago. “Crystal form over pressed-pill form gives the illusion of a higher quality product.”

The rise of MDMA amongst Dunedin party culture has also become synonymous with the rise of ‘snorting culture.’ According to Jai, a PhD student researching MDMA use, snorting MDMA is “more common in the south”, perhaps because it’s “more feasible” when going to flat parties rather than having to be in bars or in clubs. “It’s kinda fun to snort rather than swallow your MD,” said one student. “It kinda feels like a little occasion, or a ritual.” The initiation into Dunedin breatha life: vacuum a rock up your nasal canal then chew the inside of your cheeks off for six hours. Sophistication at its finest. “Gear is becoming increasingly normalised in Dunedin, with plenty of students doing it every weekend.” But Lachlan was quick to point out that snorting was a bit riskier: “Snorting is more likely to damage your nasal passage [and it] leads to people doing more than they realistically need to have a good time”. 

Dunedin is also considered to be the “poly-drug use capital”, meaning we like to use multiple drugs at once. Whether candyflipping (using LSD with MDMA), or ketamine with MDMA, or MDMA/ketamine with alcohol. Some students are moving away from gear, turning to ketamine for a less intense buzz and to escape the notorious come-downs which follow a night out on the gear. “Ketamine wasn’t on the scene like it is now”, said another student. “I still use gear, but honestly not as much. I feel like it’s better for big things, I’d probably say if ket was more available I’d do that more than gear.”



Psychedelics such as LSD and mushrooms are also on the rise in Dunedin. “There is a huge trend of microdosing”, said Jai. Another student said LSD helped their depression: “I think a lot of people feel their treatments for depression don’t work, so they try that instead. It worked for me.” Psychedelics have also had increasing media coverage, and “hippie” festivals such as Twisted Frequency and Winter Solstice are gaining popularity among younger populations. “I think it's fair to assume that the use of psychedelics has increased,” said Jai. “People love the natural aspect of it.” One student said it’s “hectic to have at a rave” as its effects are “difficult to describe in human terms.” Shrooms can be found growing right here in Dunedin, but we’re not about to give away all the good spots. Now’s the time to hunt, though, if you know what you’re looking for.



Ritalin, or “baby cocaine”, is also extremely popular with Dunedin students. People use the ADHD medicine to party, or even just to study. “People are using it in place of MDMA sometimes,” said Jai. “It’s more accessible and cheaper.” One student said they take it for “study purposes”. Jai said that the study drug boom is “an interesting trend…I know a handful of people who do use it who don’t have ADHD who use it for study purposes during exams.” Critic has covered this extensively in past issues.



Methamphetamine and cocaine are hardly prevalent among the Dunedin student population. “Cocaine and meth are very expensive, which is a deterrent to the student population”, said Lachlan. However, one student noted that “cocaine is becoming a bit more popular, it’s just so expensive.” Cocaine: the only reason we’re not huffing it is because we’re poor. Too broke for coke, aye?


In General

Drug use, specifically the diversity and mixtures of drugs, is becoming more prevalent in Dunedin. Just look at the wastewater testing, we are literally pissing away drugs. And students’ attitudes toward drugs are changing. A student who attended Otago 30 years ago says drugs are way more available than they used to be: “The availability of designer and party drugs just wasn’t there.” She also noted that Gen Z carries a lot more anxieties than young people used to. “The availability of what’s on the scene has changed dramatically, and anxiety has expanded exponentially.” It’s also way more acceptable to use drugs than it used to be. Dunedin students are becoming more educated about harm reduction practices and drug testing but, according to Lachlan, that doesn’t mean we’re using them as safely as we should be. “Dunedin has got some of the worst alcohol and drug abuse culture, and also some of the best alcohol and drug use culture… There’s still people ignoring harm reduction practices by drinking a dozen box and taking two caps of MDMA all at once”. Students also don’t test their drugs that much, partly because they feel a bit suss about it, or they’re just unaware. One told us that they’ve “always felt a bit suss about going and getting my stuff tested, because I think they’re gonna take it from me or something.” Another student didn’t even know testing was a thing: “I wouldn’t even know where to go.”

Lachlan from KnowYourStuff encouraged students to come get their drugs tested. “It’s the best way to know what you're getting yourself into.” Check out the piece on the previous pages for more details. And no, testing your stuff won’t land you in any trouble. If anything’s changed for the better in the Dunedin drug scene, it’s the availability of free, anonymous, and legal drug testing. 

This article first appeared in Issue 7, 2023.
Posted 11:32am Sunday 16th April 2023 by Anna Robertshawe.