Today the Health Research Board launched the Irish Results of the European Web Survey. The survey aimed to capture the behaviour of particular sub-groups of people who consume drugs, and not a general population study, so it is not representative of the whole community. To date information has only been gathered through general population surveys or from treatment samples. This means certain cohorts of people who consume drugs are missed from this data gathering survey, such as young people who use drugs in nightlife environments, these groups often are hard to reach as they do not present at traditional addiction services.
The data collected provided information on
• The frequency of drug use by drug type, and the amount consumed on a typical day
• Drug use patterns according to sex and age
• The reasons why people use drugs, by drug type
• The main sources used to obtain drugs, and
• The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drug use
With over 27,000 people applying to complete the survey a total of 5796 people were eligible (i.e., they reported that they lived in Ireland and had used illicit drugs in the previous 12 months) and were included in the final dataset for analysis.
It will come as no surprise that Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in Ireland with 96% of respondents reporting cannabis consumption in the last 12 months, followed by cocaine. In contrast to other drugs, for cannabis consumers, there was little difference in consumption levels across different age groups and sex. With males and females of all ages reporting similar usage figures for cannabis.
Types of Cannabis Used
Of those who use cannabis in the last year, 94% stated they used illegal products, 23% stated they have used CBD or Low THC products, and 0.5% use medically prescribed. This shows a dramatic shift in consumer trends toward low-THC /CBD products that would not have existed in Ireland only a few short years ago. This can be due to several reasons, first the reliability of CBD providers in Ireland, we are lucky to have several shops retailing CBD products that are fully traceable and lab tested to ensure the consumer has peace of mind in their purchase. Another reason is people are becoming more educated about cannabis, people are much more aware of the benefits of cannabis as a medicine through their own research. This informs their purchasing, for some a low THC or CBD product can work better than full THC products.
A shift in consumption trends is also noted in this latest report. The younger age groups are more likely to report using cannabis edible with 55% of 18-24-year-olds reporting using them in comparison to 8% of people aged 45 and older. This shows the staggering rise of edible use in Ireland and the stark contrast in the age of consumers, showing that the cannabis market of tomorrow should have a greater focus on edibles.
The reason for consumption is a lively discussion with everyone I have spoken to, all with different reasons and attitudes on consumption. Most respondents to this survey reported using cannabis to treat their ailments. Relaxation, stress relief, improved sleep and depression are the most common answers.
A frightening statistic in this report is that 41% of respondents did not know where their cannabis came from. No traceability, no reliability, no comfort in their use. Although the consumer may get some comfort having regular contact with cannabis and a friendly face, the vast majority do not know where their cannabis come from, the strength of the product, or what is contained in the product. As cannabis remains illegal consumers are left with little to no choice.
Attitudes towards Cannabis Legalisation
All respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with cannabis legalisation. 93% agreed with legalisation, in comparison to the last survey of the general population where 26% supported permitting recreational use.
Although limited in scope, this survey gives us an insight into the behaviour of cannabis consumers in Ireland and gives us a glimpse into the future of cannabis consumption in Ireland. The upside to the survey is the inclusion of attitudes towards legalising cannabis. We have seen a dramatic shift in opinion in recent years, from one dominated by limited cannabis to medical use, to one that is now more open. The general perception of cannabis has changed in Ireland, let’s hope it continues.