National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol

The NACDA was established in response to the drug problem to assist in our continued need to improve our knowledge and understanding of problem drug use.

The goal of the NACDA is to advise the Government on problem drug use in Ireland in relation to prevalence, prevention consequences and treatment based on our analysis and interpretation of research findings.

New report shows increase in cannabis use in Ireland since 2002/2003. More users percive 'great risk' to using cannabis in 2006/7 than in 2002/3

The number of people who reported ever using any form of cannabis in their lifetime in Ireland has increased from 17.4% of the population in 2002/3 to 21.9% in 2006/7. This is to be expected as the period from onset of drug use lengthens as people get older. There was also a significant increase in last year use among all adults from 4.5% to 6.3%.  However, there was no change to last month use

The information is contained in Bulletin 3 2006/7 Drug Prevalence Survey: Cannabis Results, released today by the Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, John Curran T.D. 

This is the second All Ireland Drugs Prevalence Survey, following that commissioned in 2002/3 by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) in Ireland and the Public Health Information and Research Branch (PHIRB) of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland.

Launching the report, Minister Curran welcomed the new results stating that the survey provided the Government with very valuable information on changes to cannabis consumption throughout the country.

“The results now available give us comparative figures to monitor changes in cannabis use across the population for the first time, while also providing valuable first time information on Irish grown cannabis.   I am heartened to see the changes in attitudes to cannabis use and that people are becoming increasingly aware of risk associated with taking cannabis.  However, only future surveys will confirm if this change is sustained”

Bulletin 3 deals especially with cannabis use in relation to age of first use, regular use of cannabis, reasons for stopping use, method of taking it, where it is obtained, ease of obtaining, attitudinal information, perceptions of risk attached to trying the drug and gives a profile of cannabis users.
Key findings:

  • Prevalence rates were highest among young adults. The lifetime prevalence rate for those aged 15-34 years was 29%. The last year prevalence rate for young adults (10%) was at least three times higher than for older adults aged 35-64 (3%) and last month prevalence rate was four times higher among young adults (4%) than older adults (1%).
  • Male respondents reported higher prevalence rates than females across all age groups. The lifetime prevalence rate for males was 27% compared to 17% for females.
  • The average age the respondents reported that they first used cannabis was 18 years for both males and females.
  • The average age of first regular use was also 18 years.
  • Approximately one-in-four (24%) of current cannabis users used the drug on a daily or almost daily basis.
  • The majority of current users (93%) smoked cannabis “hash” in a “joint”.
  • Cannabis resin (also known as hash) was the most commonly used form of cannabis (60%); however over one third (38%) of current users reported smoking herbal cannabis (i.e. grass, weed, herb and skunk).
  • Only 16% who smoked herbal cannabis “grass” stated it was grown in Ireland.
  • The majority of cannabis users were either given the drug by family/friends (44%) or shared the drug amongst friends (28%).
  • The majority of respondents (62%) considered it ‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’ to obtain cannabis within a 24 hour period a drop from 91% in 2002/3
  • Over a quarter (26%) of respondents who said that they had ever taken cannabis reported taking the drug regularly. Of these the majority (66%) said they had stopped taking cannabis, 10% had tried to stop but failed whilst nearly one-in-four regular users (24%) had never tried to stop.
  • In general, regardless of having used cannabis or not there has been a significant increase in those who perceive “great risk” (from 25% to 30%) in smoking cannabis, since 2002/3.

Some differences of note since the last survey are:

  • Lifetime use of cannabis increased among all adults aged 15-64 from 17.4% in 2002/3 to 21.9% in 2006/7.
  • Increases in lifetime use of cannabis were found among males 22.4% to 27.0%, females 12.3% to 16.6%, young adults aged 15-34 24.0% to 28.6% and older adults aged 35-64 (from 11.4% to 16.1%).
  • Last year use of cannabis increased among all adults aged 15-64 from 4.5% in 2002/3 to 6.3% in 2006/7.
  • Although not significant, a greater proportion of regular users had nonetheless quit cannabis use in 2006/7 (66%) than in 2002/3 (58%).
  • Increase in those who perceive “great risk” in smoking cannabis from 25% to 2002/3 30% in 2006/7.

The Minister added: “The challenges posed by cannabis prevalence are significant but I am confident that we can meet these challenges through a co-ordinated approach utilising the structures of the National Drugs Strategy. Work is currently progressing on finalising proposals for a new strategy for the period 2009 – 2016.”

Commenting on the findings NACD Chairperson, Dr. Des Corrigan, said that the results from this prevalence survey show changing attitudes to taking cannabis.  “More people who have used the drug are attaching greater risk to taking it than in the previous survey which may have some relationship to the increase in herbal cannabis availability and consumption in the last number of years.
The information in this Bulletin contradicts the popular view of the dealer as someone completely unknown to the user with 44% receiving the drug from family/friends and 28% sharing the drug amongst friends. This highlights how important it is for parents to know with whom their children are associating. 

Dr. Corrigan added that the results from this prevalence survey also show some positive elements. The age of first use was one year older than in the previous survey and this delay in onset of first use is to be welcomed. A larger proportion of regular users had stopped taking cannabis than in the previous survey.  However, there is a need to continue to monitor changes in patterns of drug use among the general population.

“The NACD recommends continued investment in drug prevalence surveys. In addition, a Drug Trend Monitoring System which could include some purity and potency testing of cannabis on a selection of samples should be developed in the coming years as well as establishing the extent of cannabis dependence, and whether there are links between cannabis use and mental ill-health and respiratory illnesses, in particular." he concluded.

Please note the full details of the research are available on the NACD website at


Annmarie Brennan, Montague Communications, 01 830 3116 / 086 260 5896
Ronan Cavanagh, Montague Communications, 01 830 3116 / 086 317 9731

Notes to the Editor


Lifetime prevalence = respondent(s) had ever used a drug
Recent use = respondent(s) used drug in the year prior to the survey
Current use = respondent(s) used drug in the month prior to the survey

Survey Methodology

The NACD repeated the National Drug Prevalence Survey last year and produced National Prevalence figures in Bulletin 1 in January 2008. This survey is a joint venture with colleagues in the Public Information and Health Research Branch (PHIRB) formerly the Drug and Alcohol Research Information Unit (DAIRU) within the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. On this occasion, the fieldwork was carried out by Ipsos MORI in Ireland and by the Central Survey Unit of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency in Northern Ireland. 

A total number of 6,969 people aged 15-64 were surveyed on the island of Ireland 4,967 in Ireland and 2,002 in Northern Ireland) between October 2006 and May 2007. A response rate of 65% was achieved in Ireland and 62% in Northern Ireland. Using the most recent census data, the sample was weighted by gender, age and former Health Board area in Ireland because these equate to the current Regional Drugs Task Force areas and to ensure that the results are representative of the general population to the maximum extent possible. The survey was carried out to the exacting standards set by the EU Drugs Agency (the EMCDDA).

The same methodology was used as in the original 2002/3 survey differing only in the use of Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) on this occasion instead of pen and paper interviews. This is more cost effective and provides higher quality control on data. The questionnaire & the methodology used represent best practice as outlined by the EU’s Drugs Agency, the EMCDDA based in Lisbon. Only changes that are statistically significant at the 5% level at least are reported in the comparisons section for each jurisdiction and time period of use (lifetime, last year and last month).

Regional Drugs Task Force Areas

The National Drugs Strategy has established 10 Regional Drugs Task Forces areas since 2000. Their boundaries corresponded with the former Health Board areas. Since January 2005 the Health Boards in Ireland have undergone restructuring and are merged under one authority – the Health Service Executive. However, for the purpose of comparison with 2002/3 data, we have continued to weight the data by the former Health Board areas but named the areas by Regional Drugs Task Force (RDTF). The reference for the 2002/2003 data is: Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2002/2003 Drug Prevalence Survey – Health Board (Ireland) & Health and Social Services Board (Northern Ireland) Results (Revised) June, 2005. Bulletin 2. Results from 2006/7 have been published by RDTF area: Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2006/2007 Drug Prevalence Survey – Regional Drugs Task Force & Health and Social Services Board (Northern Ireland) Results June, 2008.

Heroin and Crack Cocaine Use

The population survey is a drug prevalence survey and is intended to reflect drug use in the general population as a whole. For the purposes of this survey, we take the general population to mean those aged 15-64 and normally residing in households in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It does not include those residing in institutions such as prisons, residential care, nursing homes, hospitals etc. 

Problematic drug users may be underrepresented in this type of survey because of the complicated and problematic nature of their lives. Other methodologies are used to establish information on hidden populations of problematic drug use such as those using heroin and crack cocaine.  Examples include:

The capture recapture study on problem opiate use published by the NACD in 2003 (title: Prevalence of Opiate Use in Ireland 2000-2001 A 3-Source Capture Recapture Study) provided estimates of heroin use in Ireland (this study is also being repeated). 
Treatment demand indicators such as the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (managed by the Health Research Board).


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