Nearly half of third-level students have recently smoked cannabis and almost a third have recently taken ecstasy, research indicates.
Almost all of the 2,700 students surveyed — across more than 30 institutions — drink alcohol and a third said they engaged in binge drinking every week.
The findings have led to calls for more education and harm reduction messages in colleges, including on the risks posed by combining alcohol and illegal drugs and the higher potency of substances such as ecstasy.
The survey, conducted by drugs researcher Tim Bingham and psychologist Colin O’Driscoll, was carried out between October and December 2014. They were assisted by the students’ unions in various colleges and by Students for Sensible Drug Policy in certain institutions.
It found that 98% of students consumed alcohol at some stage, while 59% said they smoked cigarettes. In addition, 61% said they had taken prescription drugs at some stage, while 57% said they had taken illegal drugs at least once in their life.
When it came to recent usage, defined as taking a substance within the last year, 49% of respondents said they had taken an illegal drug. Recent usage results show:
In addition, 11% had taken LSD (acid), while 11% had taken ketamine (a hallucinogenic anaesthetic).
“I’m quite surprised about the figures for ecstasy and MDMA powder, which are higher than I would have expected,” Mr Bingham said.
“Also, the figure for ketamine is higher than I would have expected.”
However, he said the ecstasy findings reflected indications from other sources which point to greater availability and supply of ecstasy, due in part to increased access to precursor chemicals that make the drug.
Bodies such as the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction have highlighted both increased manufacture and increased potency of ecstasy, which was posing dangers to unsuspecting users.
Last May, drama student Ana Hick, aged 18, died after taking two ecstasy tablets at a Dublin club. One of the tablets is known to gardaí as typically containing a high quantity of MDMA, which is the ecstasy chemical.
Mr Bingham said: “We need to provide education and harm reduction information to students, particularly for MDMA, which we know from other evidence is getting stronger, with up to 80% purity. People may not be used to it and need harm reduction information.”
He said he backs ‘safer dancing’ initiatives, which have been running for decades in many European countries, as well as test centres at festivals and clubs where users can get pills tested to see what is in them.
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