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recreational drugs

'People tend to start doing cocaine because it's so much more socially acceptable'

Dominic McGrath reports on Dublin’s midnight scene.


Over the next four days, will take a look at Ireland’s relationship with illegal substances. More people in Ireland are using drugs than ever before. We’ll look at why that is… and the possible consequences. 

Here, Dominic McGrath reports on the scene for young people in the capital…

AT 12.30AM ON a warm Saturday night in the middle of summer, there aren’t many people in one of Dublin’s most popular nightclubs. With many students having forsaken Dublin for faraway cities or jobs back home, the bouncers are settling in for a quiet evening.

Come back in a few weeks time and the club should be busy again. It’s a typical hotspot for students and young professionals who like to shrug off the stress of their day with dancing and drugs.

Cocaine and ecstasy are the most popular drugs among the club’s regular punters, many of whom might be making their way to Stradbally for Electric Picnic in a few days time armed with tents, sleeping bags and secretly stashed drugs. 

Ireland is waking up to the rise in drug use among young people. At Electric Picnic this year, the Ana Liffey Drug Project offered an expanded service that included an outreach service across various campsites. 

Yet drug use is far from rampant. As Tony Duffin, the CEO of the charity, tells “Not all young people are taking drugs.”

While the National Student Drug Survey, published in 2015, found that 82% of students had tried illegal drugs, regularly use of cannabis was just over 20%, with ecstasy use significantly lower.

Similarly, research from the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol found that in 2014/15, 8.5% of 15-34 year-olds had used “illicit drugs” in the past month. 

Ana Liffey Drug Project promotes itself as a “harm reduction” service for people who are taking drugs. Put simply, while Duffin will always tell people that it is safer not to take drugs, his charity aims to ensure that if people choose to take drugs, that they take them safely. 

“You want your young people to be safe. If you can’t be good, be careful. That’s the fundamental of harm reduction,” he says.

People don’t believe you if you say ‘Just say no’ and then their friends take drugs and no one dies that time.

Yet plainly there are numerous risks that come with taking drugs. From a young age, millennials have been bombarded with the dangers of popular drugs like cannabis and ecstasy, as well as the risks of cheaper, synthetic substances. But visit the right nightclub on a busy night and you’ll see plenty of people paying little heed to these warnings. 

For Damien McClean, the vice-president for welfare in the Union of Students in Ireland, some young people take drugs because they don’t fully understand their effects.

The union, alongside groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy, campaigns for harm-reduction policies around drugs.

“There’s no support for students to inform them what they’re doing,” McClean told 

The drugs of choice

Just as people’s tastes for alcohol often evolve as they get older, so too do young people’s approach to drugs. In Dublin, the student trying ecstasy for the first time is unlikely to mix with the young professional using cocaine – different venues will attract different crowds. 

“When we were first year in college, we used to go out three or four times a week and we’d be up until the crack of dawn every single time. As you get a bit older, I think that appeal of getting completely mashed is just not there anymore. I think that’s one of the reasons people tend to start doing cocaine, because it’s so much more socially acceptable,” one recreational user says. 

A person snorting cocaine File photo PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

For young people starting to experiment with drugs, the cost will ultimately be a factor.

“When I started taking drugs, it would have been what was cheap and affordable at the time,” says one 22-year old creative professional from Dublin, speaking to

The risks of cheap and affordable pills – often with no obvious origin – are obvious.

“I knew nothing about it,” they say. “It’s not something I look back on fondly.”

They say most of their drug-taking happens at festivals, to which they might bring a gram of ketamine.

“For me, I’ve reduced my party drug take quite a lot, because I find I don’t need it as much as I used to.” 

Declan Moore, from the Dublin City University branch of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, blames the “stigmatising” approach to drugs for some of the dangers young people might encounter.

“As a result of the current abstinence education that we teach, we end up with a lot of young people who once they’ve tried something like an ecstasy tablet or cocaine, they realise they’re not dead or they’re not on the street. Then they go ‘Wow, how much have I been lied to.’

And oftentimes the abstinence education leads to reckless consumption of these things because people don’t believe what they’ve been raised to learn.

For Moore, there is a growing awareness of the need to test the safety of drugs.

“The lad culture of ‘I’m just going to do it anyway and see what happens’ and that sort of nihilism around it is definitely in decline. It’s becoming cool to partake in these harm reduction methods.” 

One concern that drug campaigners have is polydrug use, where people will mix different types of drugs. In Ireland, where alcohol’s close association with socialising is well documented, many people seem to think little of mixing the two. 

“When you add that into a culture of drug taking, it’s another toxic, psychoactive substance that can do real harm,” Duffin says. 

Many students will take drugs as part of a club night, often in venues known for techno or EDM. Speaking to, one DJ and promoter said: “I love music and I’m really passionate about it, but I think when you’re putting on these kinds of gigs, especially for students, there might be 10% of the people who are there and they’re really interested in music and they’re really interested in what you’re doing. 

“There are loads of people out there who don’t like electronic music and they’ll only listen to it when they’re on drugs. It’s like this association between ‘I’m listening to this type of music now so I need to go out and take this’,” they said. 

One 22-year old student in Belfast told they would have taken MDMA or cocaine to every festival or gig they’d attended in Dublin since first taking hard drugs in their second year of college. 

MDMA is especially popular among young people. The latest figures from the European Drug Report 2018: Trends and Developments revealed that a total of 4.4% of young people used MDMA in the last year – a jump from 2.6% in 2007. 

While the 22-year-old said they would very rarely take drugs on an average night out during college, MDMA especially will “help with the enjoyment of the whole festival, especially if you’re with friends”.

I know myself the dangers of the drugs, so I know I don’t want to be dependent on the drugs. I don’t want to feel I need drugs to have a good night out.


For them, cannabis use was much more regular – at the end of every weekday they said they’d smoke a joint before bed as part of their “nightly relaxation” alongside a TV show or movie. 

Weed, hash and hash oil – all variants of cannabis – are closely associated with a wider drug culture often depicted in TV shows and films. Memes referring to cannabis use, as well as its alleged benefits, aren’t difficult to find on social media. 

Moore references the “sub-culture” around drugs, especially cannabis. And while this idea of a community of drug enthusiasts isn’t necessarily new, in the last few years these groups have moved online. 

The subReddit ‘Crainn’ – the Irish for trees – is a busy online hub for some of the more committed followers of cannabis use. Posts range from someone praising the ‘banks of the Upper Corrib’ in Galway as a good smoking location to a worried individual crowdsourcing advice after being caught by gardaí smoking a spliff. 

Moore also cites the Dark Web as a useful resource for people to source drugs.

“People are able to be more confident with the quality of the substances they’re ordering,” he says. Yet for all the possibilities of modern technology, people are still mostly using friends or acquaintances to hook them up with drug dealers. 

Drugs can also be a “man’s world”.

One 21-year old graduate who has just moved away from Dublin says cannabis dealers will often treat her differently.

“It’s been my experience and that of many women I know who do smoke weed that they aren’t taken seriously as customers or users,” she says. 

The offer of better prices or more efficient service from some dealers comes with “expectations and strings attached” while it frustrates her that some men presume she smokes cannabis as a way to “impress the lads”.

“The potential for harassment is also exponentially higher and more off-putting in these spaces because of the safety concerns in an isolated environment,” she says.

All of the young people spoke to had drug-related regrets. Some mentioned friends who had ended up in hospital, while others wished they’d had more information when they were kids or teenagers.

“Young people have always experimented with drugs or saw it as a rite of passage,” Duffin says.

Whatever you think of drugs, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

Ana Liffey Drugs Project are hosting town hall events entitled ‘Towards a health-led approach to possession of drugs’ in Limerick and Galway this week. 

Dominic McGrath
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