Up to half of Irish cannabis users surveyed said they have stopped or reduced their use of the drug during the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report.
A study by the EU drugs agency – based on surveys of users and experts – also highlighted a number of other trends in Ireland during the lockdown:
- increased violence among high-risk users;
- a rise in the severity and intensity of drug-related intimidation;
- greater interest among users in home cultivation of drugs, particularly cannabis;
- reduction in heroin use among high-risk users;
- rise in demand for low-threshold substitution treatment, possibly due to a drop in heroin availability and less income among users to purchase the drug;
- media reports of illegal raves outside of urban areas.
The report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is part of a series examining the impact of Covid-19.
It is based on a survey of users as well as consultation with experts in EU countries.
Authors cautioned that web surveys were not representative of the general population but did provide a detailed picture of drug users difficult to reach by other means.
In relation to cannabis use, it said “relatively high proportions”, between 30% and 50%, of cannabis uses from Ireland, Italy, Poland and Portugal “reported having stopped or reduced the frequency of cannabis use during the confinement period”.
It said the reduction in usage was much lower in many northern and eastern European countries.
Across the union, the report said the picture regarding cannabis was mixed, with data suggesting that “occasional users may have stopped or decreased their use during lockdown, while frequent users may have stocked up and consumed more”.
Generally, it said use of stimulants, mainly cocaine and MDMA, had dropped because of the closure of the night-time economy.
Countering that has been a rise in the use of alcohol and prescription medicines, in some groups, “as a means of conquering anxiety and depression during lockdown”.
The report said that the reduced ability to move around, the disruption of social networks and reduced access to money and drugs was accompanied by “increased violence among high-risk users” in some countries, such as Denmark, Ireland and Cyprus.
“In addition, an increase in the severity and intensity of drug-related intimidation and violence since the start of the lockdown was mentioned by study participants in some areas in Ireland and Cyprus,” said the report.
It said that a reduction in heroin use among high-risk opioid users had been observed in Ireland and five other states.
It said that in a number of countries, including Ireland, there has been an increased demand for low-threshold substitution treatment, possibly as a result of lower heroin availability and a reduced ability to purchase heroin due to loss of income.