Industrial-scale cannabis factories are driving a massive shift in the trade across Europe, including Ireland, the EU drugs agency has said.
Experts are concerned that the typically stronger herbal cannabis, together with a growth in synthetic cannabis, which is even more toxic, are posing greater risks to users.
The European Drug Report 2013 shows that across much of Europe there has been a shift in the last decade from cannabis resin to herb.
Figures for Ireland show that resin accounted for more than 75% of seizures in 2001. But in 2011, between 51-75% of seizures were cannabis herb.
The report, published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, showed there were 1,833 seizures of cannabis herb in Ireland in 2011, compared to 722 seizures of cannabis resin.
This is largely due to the explosion of cannabis factories in Ireland: rising from 46 in 2006, to 224 in 2009 and to 582 in 2011.
Last November, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said figures for 2012 were even higher. He described the trade as a “a conveyor belt of money” for gangs, many of them from China and Vietnam.
Earlier this month a massive cannabis factory — with €500,000 worth of plants — was discovered in Monaghan. Last April, a sophisticated underground factory was uncovered in a remote part of Cork.
The report also raised concern at the growth in synthetic drugs which mimic cannabis, warning they could be “extremely toxic”.
Of the 73 new synthetic drugs reported in 2012, 30 were synthetic cannabis products. The report said use of cannabis was stable or decreasing, but treatment was rising, raising concerns about heavy usage.
The Health Research Board said treatment numbers have almost doubled in Ireland, from 991 people in 2003 to 1,893 in 2010.
According to the Emcdda, Ireland also remains among the biggest users of cocaine in Europe. Almost seven in every 100here, aged between 15 and 64, have tried the drug at some stage, the study shows.
And nearly 3% of those aged between 15 and 34 years tried cocaine over the past year. The European average is just less than 2%.
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