HRB Factsheet November 2016 – Cannabis: the Irish situation

Factsheet- Cannabis: the Irish situation

November 2016

What is cannabis?

Cannabis is a natural product, the main psychoactive constituent of which is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Herbal cannabis and cannabis resin are formally known as marijuana and hashish. Cannabis cigarettes may be called reefers, joints or spliffs.

What does cannabis do?

All forms of cannabis are mind-altering and act by affecting the part of the brain where memories are formed. Small doses have very mild effects, sometimes none in the first time user.

Short-term effects of cannabis may include:

  • Difficulty learning and remembering
  • Distorted sense of vision, hearing or touch
  • Trouble thinking and problem-solving
  • Loss of co-ordination
  • Increased heart rate, anxiety, panic attacks.

How do we know how mnay people use cannabis in Ireland?

Every four years the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA) and the Northern Ireland Public Health Information and Research Branch (PHIRB) commission a survey of the general population to estimate the number of people in Ireland who use drugs and alcohol. Face-to- face interviews take place with respondents aged 15+ normally resident in households in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This type of survey is not designed to include people who do not normally live in private households (such as prisoners or hostel dwellers).

How many people use cannabis in Ireland?

The 2014/15 survey involved 9,505 people (7,005 in Ireland and 2,500 in Northern Ireland). The results for Ireland showed that:

  • Just over one in four people had used cannabis making it the most commonly used illegal drug in Ireland.
  • 27.9% had used it at least once (lifetime use).
  • 7.7% had used it in the last 12 months (recent use).
  • 4.4% had used it in the last month (current use).
  • 35.8% of men had used it, compared to 20% of women (lifetime use).
  • Lifetime usage of cannabis is highest amongst the 25 to 34 age group with 40.4% in this age group having used this drug at some stage during their lives. Those aged 15 to 24 are the most likely to have used cannabis both in the past year (16.2%) and past month (9.2%).

The latest survey estimates show a rise in the percentage of cannabis users in the general population aged 15–64:

Table 1: Lifetime, last year and last month prevalence of cannabis use in the general populationAn estimated 16.6 million (13.3%) young Europeans (aged 15–34) used cannabis in the last year, with 9.6 million (16.4%) of these aged 15–24. Among young people using cannabis in the last year, the ratio of males to females is two to one.

How many Irish 15-16 year old students use cannabis?

The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) has conducted surveys of school-going children every four years since 1995, using a standardised method and a common questionnaire (see ). The sixth survey, conducted in 36 European countries during 2014/15, collected information on alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use. 1,400 Irish students were surveyed in 2015.

  • More male (22.4%) than female respondents (15.5%) have ever tried cannabis (lifetime use).
  • 16.8% of students had used cannabis in the last 12 months (recent use).
  • 9.8% had use cannabis in the last 30 days (current use).
  • Around 70% of students who had used cannabis first did so at age 14 or 15 and the mean age of initiation was 14 years-old.
  • 43.4% perceived that it would be fairly or very easy to get cannabis if they wanted it.
  • A quarter of students (25.8%) said that there was no risk in trying cannabis and most
    students (32.5%) said that there was only a slight risk in trying it once or twice.

How many people receive treatment for cannabis use?

The National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) provides data on treated drug and alcohol misuse in Ireland.

The most recent published data from the NDTRS5 shows that:

The number of cases entering drug treatment who reported cannabis as their main problem drug increased from 1,058 in 2005 to 2,609 in 2014.

Of the 2,609 cases in 2014 who reported cannabis as their main problem drug:

  • 611 (23.4%) were aged under 18 years; 1,738 (66.8%) were aged 18–34; 193 (7.3%) were aged 35–44; and 59 (2.2%) were aged 45–64.
  • 1,638 were new cases.
  • 2,101 (80%) were men.
  • 1,346 (51%) used cannabis with other drugs.
  • 1,330 (51%) used cannabis daily, 597 (22.8%) used it between two and six times per week, 205 (7.8%) used it once per week or less, and 377 (14.4%) had not used it in the last month.

What does the law say about cannabis?

Cannabis is on the list of drugs that are controlled by law. A person found in possession of cannabis or cannabis resin is guilty of an offence. It is also an offence to grow cannabis plants. You can find more information about Irish drug laws, offences and penalties on the Citizens Information Board website.

Seizures of cannabis

Cannabis accounts for the largest number of drug seizures in Ireland, as reported by the Central Statistics Office. Seizures are made by Garda and Revenue Customs officers and include cannabis herb, plants and resin. There were 2,912 cannabis seizures in 2012, 2,991 in 2013 and 2,226 in 2014.

The Garda send drugs seized to the laboratory of Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) for analysis. FSI prepare a quarterly report for the Garda and the data presented here are from the combined report for 2014. This tells us the number of cases involving drugs initiated by the Garda and gives a picture of the relative frequency of the various types of illicit drugs seized. 1,628 cases were associated with seizures of cannabis herb, 340 with cannabis plants and 258 with cannabis resin.

For more information on cannabis please refer to the following sources:

See also
(2016) ESPAD report 2015 results from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

How to cite this factsheet:

HRB National Drugs Library (2016) Cannabis: the Irish situation. HRB National Drugs Library, Dublin


Other Factsheets in this series:

Cocaine: the Irish situation
Opiates: the Irish situation
Sedatives and tranquillisers: the Irish situation
Alcohol – the Irish situation

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