Dozens of UK politicians have admitted using recreational drugs from opium to cocaine in the past, even as the government poises to ban laughing gas as part of a crackdown on antisocial behaviour.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has outlined a series of hard-hitting measures on Monday, designed to clamp down on low-level crime like graffiti. Among them is a ban on selling laughing gas - or nitrous oxide - to the public.
The gas, commonly sold in small, metal cannisters to be used as whipped cream chargers, can produce a brief high when inhaled. But Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said the “scourge” of nitrous oxide is turning public spaces into “drug-taking arenas” and is helping fuel antisocial behaviour that ministers are determined to stamp out.
The ban comes despite an assessment by the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) concluding it would be disproportionate to bring in an outright ban given the level of harm associated with nitrous oxide.
Volteface, an independent research and drug-policy advocacy organisation, last year analysed past media reports to reveal which politicians have ever used drugs themselves, amid the antisocial behaviour crackdown.
So which politicians have admitted to taking drugs - especially in their youth - and have any of them ever used laughing gas themselves?
Michael Gove himself has admitted taking cocaine several times more than 20 years ago, but that he "deeply regretted" doing so.
Among the current Tory line-up, a number of MPs have admitted to using drugs over the years. Despite once calling himself a "total coke addict" over his love of the caffeinated soft drink, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has firmly denied ever taking any illegal drugs during the first 2022 leadership election, Volteface reports.
Liz Truss has made the same claim, despite championing the legalisation of cannabis as a student, and reports traces of cocaine were found in Chevening and Downing Street during her brief tenure - an allegation she vehemently denies.
Former PM and Mayor of London Boris Johnson admitted to smoking "quite a few spliffs" at university, but has repeatedly denied actually taking cocaine. On TV show Have I Got News For You in 2005, he said: “I think I was once given cocaine but I sneezed and so it did not go up my nose."
Johnson said he was not certain the powder was cocaine. “In fact, I may have been doing icing sugar.”
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has admitted to drinking a cannabis lassi whilst backpacking in India, while Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has also admitted using cannabis, but insisted he had “never taken cocaine or any class A drugs".
Others who have admitted dabbling in recreational drug use - usually cannabis - included Andrea Leadsom, Matt Hancock, Esther McVey, James Cleverly, Theresa Villiers, Ruth Davidson, Louise Mensch, Tim Yeo, and Norman Lamont.
Volteface reports that current Labour leader Keir Starmer has turned down the opportunity to explicitly deny ever using drugs nearly 20 times across two high-profile interviews.
On the other hand, former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is now an independent MP and will be barred from standing for Labour in the next election, denied ever taking any drugs in 2015, saying that he was "really boring".
London mayor Sadiq Khan, who was a Labour MP until 2016, said that he had smoked cannabis “in Amsterdam a long, long time ago when I was a lot younger", while Manchester mayor and former MP Andy Burnham said he had smoked it “once or twice at university” but never since.
Others in the party who have admitted past recreational drug use include Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall, Lisa Nandy, Jacqui Smith, Tony McNulty, and Alistair Darling.
Outgoing SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted to "probably" trying cannabis while at Glasgow University, saying "it made me awful sick", Volteface reports.
Former Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, who had pledged to legalise cannabis should the Lib Dems win the 2019 election, said during an interview: "I’m not going to be one of those people who says ‘I tried it once and I didn’t really inhale...’ Yes, I enjoyed it. And it wasn’t unusual… lots of people do it and we should enable them to do it more safely.”
Adam Price, who has lead Plaid Cymru since 2018, said: “As a gay man who first went clubbing in the 1990s it would be a bit of a surprise if I hadn’t taken drugs.” He also said he was “not proud” of it, but with 15 million Britons having taken illegal drugs, it was a clear message that prohibition has failed.
Have any taken nitrous oxide?
Despite some more unusual offerings on the list, like 2019 Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart - who admitted smoking opium at a wedding in Iran - Volteface did not have any record of the MPs having used nitrous oxide recreationally.