The Results From A National Students Drug Survey

Tim Bingham, along with Brian, Graham and George of UCC DAR (Now UCC SSDP). Also pictured is criminologist Paul ‘O Mahony (Author of ‘The Irish War On Drugs’) – September 2012

As reported by the Irish Examiner the results of a National Students Drugs Survey are emerging, and they have revealed more about drug use among students.

The anonymous survey was conducted online between October and December last year. The survey received just over 2,700 responses from third level students across the country.

The research was conducted by Tim Bingham, a drugs researcher who runs the Irish Needle Exchange Forum, and by Colin O’Driscoll, a psychologist who runs Change Psychology Services

Special mention to Graham de Barra for his work on analysing the massive amount of data. I also appreciate his assistance with this blog post.

Student Unions and groups including SSDP Ireland also assisted with the distribution of the survey.

The findings relating to recent cannabis use (defined as being within the previous 12 months) were as follows:

  • 49% of respondents had smoked ‘normal-strength’ cannabis weed;
  • 44% had smoked ‘high-potency’ weed;
  • 26% had smoked ‘high- potency’ cannabis resin;
  • 25% had smoked low/medium cannabis resin;
  • 7% had consumed cannabis oil

Looking at the findings there are a number of  revelations. The fact almost half of respondents tried herbal cannabis in some form is probably unsurprising to most, however it maybe a revelation to others.

More respondents (49%) suggested the cannabis they consume is ‘normal’ strength, while just slightly less (44%) suggested they consume ‘high-potency’ cannabis.

However in the absence of THC/CBD testing, and the potential that the strength of cannabis is subjective to an individual, it maybe hard to clarify what is ‘normal’ and ‘high-potency’.

Although perhaps it is an indication that more consumers prefer what they consider ‘normal’ potency strength cannabis, over higher strength cannabis.

The revelation that a quarter of respondents (25%) used some form of cannabis resin I was somewhat surprised by.

Many cannabis consumers in general have moved away from resin given the quality found in Ireland. However the emergence of purchasing online, or making your own, means students are perhaps consuming resin more.

I was a little surprised that 7% of respondents had tried cannabis oil in the previous 12 months.

Oil use appears to be a very niche thing at the moment, however it is unsurprising that students are more likely sampling it, in comparison to older generations of cannabis consumers.

Other findings relating to recent use (previous 12 months) for other substances were:

  • 98% of respondents consumed alcohol;
  • 61% had taken prescription drugs
  • 33% indulged in weekly binge drinking (6 or more drinks in a session)
  • 32% had ingested ecstasy (MDMA) tablets;
  • 25% had taken MDMA in powder form;
  • 20% had ingested cocaine.
  • 13% had purchased legal highs or research chemicals
  • 11% had taken LSD
  • 11% had taken ketamine

It is perhaps unsurprising that alcohol use is so high, with only 2% abstaining in the previous 12 months.

However prescription drug use appears to be quite high, although further analysis of the data is needed, to clarify if this is for recreational or medicinal purposes.

A third of respondents tried MDMA tablets, while a quarter tried it in power form.

Given its popularity, and the tragic cases recently, perhaps there is a need for harm reduction measures to be made available to students. Such as pill identifying or testing kits.

The fact LSD and Ketamine use were on par was a little surprising, the latter’s popularity has risen in this country in recent years it appears.

While not a huge number, there’s still a cohort of individuals (13%) purchasing (previously) legal highs and research chemicals. Unsurprisingly, the ban on them and removal of most head shops hasn’t stopped their usage. Although there has likely been a significant decrease

Other findings:

  • 48% of respondents used illegal drugs before the age of 18
  • 59% of respondents have smoked cigarettes
  • 28% have used e-cigarettes
  • 6% have used image or performance enhancing drugs


The revelation that almost half of respondents tried drugs before 18 perhaps shows prohibition is failing to stop minors using drugs.


The information released to date is just a fraction of the data available. So you can expect to learn about more findings as the data emerges. I will do follow up blogs when relevant.

Such research is necessary and beneficial, and is to be broadly welcomed. My understanding is this survey will become an annual occurrence.

This research also comes in the aftermath of the Global Drugs Survey, which I mentioned here previously, and which incidentally had around the same number of Irish respondents. You can read about the results of the GDS here

I asked activist and researcher Graham de Barra for his views on the survey and he stated “The survey shows a need for harm reduction education and training among students, which was welcomed by the majority of respondents as something they would like to learn.”

He also highlighted some of the health implications as found by the survey. “4% of all alcohol users were admitted to A&E. This is four-times higher than for drugs. Dangerous alcohol use is the major issue concerning drug use among students. Students also need to be educated on the effects of mixing drugs and alcohol.”

As you maybe aware the government is currently accepting submissions regarding drug policy. If you plan on making a submission then this survey maybe of use.

This and other surveys (plus a general acceptance) show drug use is high among students, and thus they are individuals whose education or work prospects could be hampered with due to criminalisation.

It is time for a new drug policy in Ireland and an emphasis on harm reduction. Our new Minister for Drugs Strategy seems open to change, but whether the government (or more precisely the next one) shares this view remains to be seen.

Kudos to all involved with the survey, and if you are a student make sure to participate later this year.

One thought on “The Results From A National Students Drug Survey

  1. Good to see research being done into who is doing these drugs and which ones they are. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so it’s good to have facts like these. Hope they continue this great work!


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