When you gather thousands of people together for an event like a music festival there is bound to be problems and issues, especially with revellers who consume too much alcohol or overdose on illicit substances.

Yet despite the likelihood of problems, a death at a music festival anywhere in the world is a relatively rare occurrence.

But police in the Scotland are now warning punters to take it easy and look out for each other after a teenager collapsed over the weekend at the RockNess Festival in the Scottish Highlands, later dying in hospital after he failed to respond to treatment.

RockNess draws about 35,000 people over the three days it is held, and the headline acts this year included Ed Sheeran, Annie Mac, Deadmau5 and Biffy Clyro.

“Early indications are that the man may have consumed drugs and this is one of the lines of inquiry at this stage,” said a police spokesperson of the boy’s death. “A post mortem will be carried out to determine the cause of death.”

According to the BBC two other people, a 19-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man, were also rushed to hospital from the event, suffering similar symptoms to the teenager that died.

But if you were thinking their condition is attributed to illicit drugs you’d be wrong. In fact, each of these cases allegedly involves something that you can walk into a store and buy – legal highs.

Legal highs aren’t picked up by the sniffer dogs used at music events such as RockNess around the world, but police say that although the substances may be legal for the time being, that shouldn’t be misconstrued as meaning they are safe.

“People may think that ‘legal highs’ are safe, because they are not classed as a controlled drug,” said Supt Stevie Mackay, the police event commander at RockNess. “But they are extremely dangerous.”

“If anyone has the tablets described or any other drug,” he continued, “whether controlled or a ‘legal high’, in their possession, they are advised not to take them and to hand these in.”

“Legal highs does not mean safe, and customers should not go anywhere near these dangerous substances,” added RockNess organiser Jim King. “Festival-goers should heed the advice given to them by the health professionals and the police, and stay safe by avoiding drugs of any kind.”

The ‘legal high’ substance that police are particularly concerned about is known as Benzo Fury, a designer drug similar to some amphetamines that is said to most closely resemble MDMA, or ecstasy, but lasts for twice as long.

Users of Benzo Fury also report psychedelic properties, and some have labelled it the ‘love drug’, reportedly enhancing sex with reducing a mans ability to, shall we say, perform.

But if the hospitalisation and death aren’t enough to make you think twice about getting your hands on some, the Australian Government is already ahead of you.

Unlike their counterparts in the United Kingdom, politicians here in Australia decided a few years back to change legislation to include a “substantially similar” catch-all clause in our drug laws, meaning these designer drugs are illegal immediately due to their similarities to other illegal drugs, without the need to update or change the laws.

But that doesn’t mean Australia is exempt from these kinds of tragedies. In the last months two people have died at music festivals here in Australia.

Firstly a man who reportedly overdosed on drugs at popular rave festival Rainbow Serpent, and a middle-aged woman collapsed and was unable to be revived at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest. The woman’s death was not related to the consumption of substances, illegal or otherwise.

Police across the country have also been stepping up their efforts to catch patrons with illicit substances before they enter festival sites. Over 200 people were arrested a dance festival Creamfields in Melbourne a few months ago, and 75 were arrested at the same event in Sydney.

“These drugs are dangerous, they are manufactured by criminals with no regard for peoples’ safety,” a police spokesperson said after the blitz. But despite criticism their tactis were heavy handed, Victoria police and their interstate counterparts remain unrepentant.

“We will continue to police these types of events in an attempt to limit the impact these drugs have on society,” they said.

And with incidents like those over the weekend in Scotland, it’s likely police will continue their campaign when festival season kicks back into gear later this year.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine