Cannabis most commonly used drug among Irish drug users

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Among a survey sample of Irish people who used drugs in the last year, cannabis was the most commonly used drug, followed in order, by cocaine, ecstasy, and ketamine, according to a new European survey

In the last year, 36% of respondents had used one drug, 20% used two different drugs, and 44% used three or more, it was revealed by The  Health Research Board which published the Irish results from the European Web Survey on Drugs (EWSD).

The survey was not a general population study and so cannot be taken as representative of the broader public as a whole; rather the aim was to investigate the behaviour of a particular sub-group of the population who identified themselves as drug users.  In addition, results may have been impacted by the fact that when this survey was undertaken, COVID-19 restrictions were in place in Ireland, including the closure of nightlife settings.

Among 18–24-year-old respondents, 55% of males and 50% of females had used three or more drugs in the past year.

The survey findings revealed the following insights on the use of specific drugs:

  • Cannabis: Among cannabis users, 96% used cannabis herb, almost half used cannabis edibles, one in four used cannabis oil/extract, and one in five used cannabis resin. Cannabis edibles were used by 55% of 18-24-year-olds, and males aged 18-24 were most likely to use greater amounts of cannabis herb. One in four cannabis herb users surveyed used it daily or almost daily, with a further 35% using it at least once a week.
  • Cocaine: 8% of respondents who used cocaine reported frequent or weekly use of cocaine. On the occasions when they used cocaine, weekly users used twice as much cocaine as those who used it less than monthly.
  • Ecstasy: Among the survey respondents who used ecstasy, one in five usually used tablets/pills, one in four usually used powder/crystals, and just over 40% use both. 18–24-year-olds were most likely to use powder/crystals and those aged 35 and over were most likely to use tablets/pills. Just 1% reported using ecstasy weekly, while 90% used it less than once a month.*
  • Ketamine: Last year, use of ketamine was reported by almost one quarter of overall respondents, and more than one third of 18–24-year-old males.

Commenting on these findings, Dr. Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead, Addiction Services at the HSE  said, “The survey has been a useful tool to capture emerging drug trends such as the current popularity of ketamine. These findings support what we are witnessing across festivals this summer, with ketamine appearing as the substance of choice, often used as part of a polysubstance pattern with stimulant drugs MDMA and cocaine.

Respondents cited a range of reasons for using drugs. The main reasons for using cannabis were to reduce stress or to relax (80%), to get high or for fun (76%) and to improve sleep (57%). For cocaine, users were mainly taking the drug to get high or for fun (88%), to socialise (70%) and out of curiosity (11%).

Survey respondents were asked about how they purchased the drugs they used. It was found that for cannabis herb, the most common channels were direct contact with source/dealer (86%), through social media (22%), or via the darknet (9%). For cocaine, the breakdown was similar, most commonly users purchased the drug through direct contact with source/dealer (87%), via social media networks (14%) or on the darknet (3%).