The National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) has recently published Bulletin 31 detailing findings from the fourth drug prevalence survey regarding the use of cannabis in Ireland.2 This survey followed best practice guidelines and used a random sample of households throughout the island of Ireland. Of the household members contacted, 7,005 agreed to take part. The sample was weighted by gender, age and region to ensure that it was representative of the general population. This article highlights major findings from this bulletin.
Age at first use and age at first regular use
The median age of first use of cannabis in the Republic of Ireland was found to be 18 years for those who reported ever having used cannabis in their lifetime. The median age for males, females and young adults was also 18 years, and slightly higher for older adults (19 years) and over 65s (25 years). Among those who said that they had regularly used cannabis at some point in their lives, the median age of first use was 17 years; this was the case for both males and females and is unchanged since 2010/11. The median age of first use was found to be 17 years for young adults (compared to 16 years in 2010/11) and was also 17 years for older adults (compared to 18 years in 2010/11). The median age of first use was found to be 20 years for adults aged over 65 years. The period of time between first using cannabis and regular use was one year for all adults.
Cannabis dependence and cannabis abuse
Among people who used cannabis in the last year, 19.7% fulfilled the criteria for cannabis dependence (Table 1). The rate was higher for males (22.8%) than for females (11.8%) and higher for young adults (22.3%) than for older respondents (10.4%).
In the general population, 1.5% of those aged 15+ were classed as cannabis dependent. This rate was found to be significantly higher in males (2.5%) than females (0.5%), and also significantly higher in young adults (3.6%) than older subjects (0.4%). Over 65s reported no cannabis dependence or abuse.
Type of cannabis most commonly used
Participants were asked to state what type of cannabis they most commonly used. The possible options and their relevant frequencies are shown in Table 2. The results demonstrate that almost 50% of those who used cannabis in the last month reported using ‘weed’; 28.1% used ‘grass’; 2% used ‘herb’; and 2% had used ‘skunk’. Resin was reported by 16.3% of people who used cannabis in the last month and the types mentioned were ‘hash’ (14.9%) and ‘resin’ (1.4%).
Method by which cannabis is used
Survey respondents were asked about the most common method used to take cannabis (Table 3). The most common method reported was smoking a joint (96.2%), while 2% said they used a pipe. Results by gender show that smoking joints was the most common method reported by females (94.8%), while 3.1% of females reported eating cannabis. Smoking joints was also the most common method reported by males (96.7%), followed by a pipe (2.6%) and a bong (0.7%). In terms of age, smoking joints was the method used by a majority of young adults (96.3%) and older adults (95.9%) who used cannabis, while using a pipe was more likely to be reported by older adults than young adults (4.1% vs 1.5%).
Other main findings from the NACDA survey include the following:
- The majority of people who used cannabis in the last year reported that it would be easy or very easy to obtain cannabis in a 24-hour period (87.1%), with 2.6% reporting that it would be difficult or very difficult.
- Respondents who had used cannabis regularly at some point in their lifetime were also asked about attempts to stop. Of this group, 72.1% said they had managed to stop and 7.4% stated they had tried without success.
- Most respondents (74.5%) agreed that people should be permitted to take cannabis for medical reasons. Males were more likely to agree with this statement than females (77% vs 72.1%). Older adults were more likely to agree than young adults (78.4% vs 73.9%) and over 65s (64.2%).
- A majority of survey respondents disagreed with the recreational use of cannabis (66.4%) and 74.3% disapproved of people smoking cannabis occasionally.
- Lifetime rates of cannabis use were highest among people who were in middle management, senior civil servants, managers, and business owners at 28.7%. Last-year and last-month rates were highest among semiskilled and unskilled manual workers, trainees and apprentices, with 8.4% having used cannabis in the last year and 5.9% in the last month.
- Lifetime rates for cannabis use were highest in the group classified as ‘renting from a private landlord’ (38.9%). Last-year and last-month rates were highest for those living with their parents/other family (14.2% and 8.6%, respectively). Cannabis abuse was highest for those living with parents/other family (4.9%), and 4.3% met the criteria for cannabis dependence.
- The results show that levels of cannabis use increase with education. Lifetime rates were highest among those who ceased education at 20 years of age and over and among those with a third-level education. Rates were lowest among those who ceased education at 15 years or under and among those with primary-level education only. Conversely, rates of cannabis abuse and dependence were found to be highest among those who ceased education aged 15 or under (2.2% and 1.5%, respectively).
- Lifetime, last-year and last-month rates were highest among those classified as cohabiting or single.
1 National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) and Department of Health (UK) (2017) 2014/15 Drug prevalence survey: cannabis results. Bulletin 3. Dublin: NACDA.
2 National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) and Department of Health (UK) (2016) Prevalence of drug use and gambling in Ireland and drug use in Northern Ireland. Bulletin 1. Dublin: NACDA. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/26364/