Rather a joint than a pill during lockdown

More than 20% of TU students say that they have used more cannabis since the corona crisis started. And they do so more often alone. These are the findings of a Delta survey.

TU Delft students have used more cannabis since the crisis started. Out of boredom or curiosity, but often because of stress. (Photo: GRAS GRÜN / Unsplash)

What does this article discuss?

  • More than one quarter of TU Delft students say that they have consumed more alcohol since the corona crisis started in March 2020. However, almost the same percentage consumes less alcohol.
  • On average, EEZ students from abroad have drunk three glasses of alcohol more every week since the first lockdown than before the crisis. Dutch students consumed less than before.
  • More than 20% of the students use more cannabis.
  • Rates of XTC, hallucinogenics and inhalation drug use, such as laughing gas, dropped during the corona crisis. Designer drugs such as 3-MMC increased.
  • Fifty-three percent of the students do not have their drugs tested beforehand.
  • Are students who use more alcohol and drugs during the corona crisis more prone to addiction? Ruben van Beek, scientific staff member at the Trimbos Institute answers.
  • What are the risks of ‘party desperation’ – the intense need to party?

What is the situation of the drugs and alcohol use among TU Delft students before and during the corona crisis? Delta asked students in detailed survey. About 360 students answered. These are the results.

One quarter of TU Delft students say that they have consumed more alcohol and more than 20% more cannabis since the corona crisis started in March 2020. Rates of XTC, hallucinogenics and inhalation drug use such as laughing gas dropped during the corona crisis. Designer drug use such as 3-MMC increased.

Of the 361 respondents, 27.2% say they drink alcohol more frequently since the corona crisis. They gave stress, boredom and loneliness as reasons for this increase. But other factors such as living alone for the first time, reaching the legal drinking age and meeting friends at home more often also account for the rise in consumption.

Still, almost the same percentage of students (26.4%) consumes less alcohol. Their reasons included health considerations, the lack of social interaction and the closure of cafés and restaurants. One respondent wrote ‘not feeling social pressure anymore’ and another wrote that ‘it is miserable drinking alone’.

Ruben van Beek, scientific staff member at the Trimbos Institute, says that the percentage of students that drink more (27.2%) matches a trend in the country. Institute research (in Dutch) shows that 28% of the 3,765 teenagers and young adults asked during the first lockdown drank more.

Dutch students drink more  
While the alcohol consumption among Dutch students dropped and that of non-EEZ students stayed more or less the same, the consumption among international EEZ students rose significantly. During the crisis they drank an average of 10 glasses of alcohol a week, while before the crisis this figure was seven.

Students living in student houses also drink more alcohol every week than students living alone. However, students living alone did drink more during the crisis.

‘Ecstasy and laughing gas are typical party drugs’

Apart from alcohol, students also took more cannabis. Out of boredom or curiosity, but often because of stress. ‘I use it to fall asleep’ answered one student. Another says it is a survival strategy for a budding burnout.

Consumption of ecstasy, inhalation substances (laughing gas) and hallucinogenics are falling. Van Beek is not surprised. “Ecstasy and laughing gas are typical party drugs and were thus less used when clubs closed and festivals were cancelled.”

This reason, however, does not seem to entirely apply to TU Delft students. They say that they used laughing gas mostly at home with friends both before and during the corona crisis. Even students who took pills during the lockdown mostly did so at home with friends.

Designer drugs such as 3-MMC are gaining popularity, not only in Delft but all over the Netherlands.

Van Beek says that “It is the only substance that was used by more people going out in 2020 than in 2019.” He cannot say for certain if there is a link between its popularity and the corona pandemic. “The usage was on the rise even before the pandemic.”

Van Beek believes that the percentage of TU Delft students that use less hallucinogenics since the corona crisis is striking. Other research shows a contrasting picture. “One possible explanation is that before the crisis students tried mushrooms or truffles and then did not use them again.”

Do you have your drugs tested?

How do students get hold of drugs? They buy cannabis and other soft drugs from coffee shops or smart shops or through friends. They usually get hold of hard drugs through dealers or friends.

Users of hard drugs can have them tested before consumption at one of 33 locations spread throughout the Netherlands. Most students (53%) do not use this service. ‘I trust my dealer’, ‘I only buy from friends’ and the inaccessibility of local testing sites in The Hague and Rotterdam during the corona crisis were frequently given reasons.

Nevertheless, Van Beek considers the testing willingness about TU Delft students high. “The last time that the Trimbos Institute asked this question to a large group of partygoers, the percentage was around 40% (in 2016).” He confirms that the test sites were closed for six weeks during the first lockdown. He emphasises that the testing facilities are not a service for drug users but a way to monitor (in Dutch) the illegal drug market. “It is also a way to inform users one-to-one about the drugs that they are having tested.”

Anyone that is unable to travel to a testing site can use alternative methods such as acid tests. “Even though these only check if a pill contains MDMA and say nothing about either the quantity or any additives.” Another option is to use the Trimbos Red Alert app. “The app contains a list of pills that are extra dangerous,” explains Van Beek. “But if your pill is not included on the list, it does not automatically mean that it is safe. This goes for testing too. The real value is that you know for certain what substances you have and how much. You can then dose it better.”

I saw a gnome while I was tripping. It was fun

So a ‘clean’ pill is not necessarily safe. Van Beek explains that “Even pure drugs are risky. You can get heat stress, water poisoning and encounter risks from bad trips.” The answers to the question ‘What is your worst experience with drugs’ show that TU Delft students too are aware of the dangers. They experienced nausea, dizziness, fainted, got stuck in bad trips and some students even ended up in hospital because of an overdose.

Some students used the question to share positive experiences, such as one student who wrote: ‘I saw a gnome while I was tripping. It was fun.’

Mental health
One student reported smoking joints to improve his emotional state. ‘I was alone in Delft, without friends, over the Christmas holidays. I was very upset, very lonely and depressed so I smoked a lot of weed.’

Are students who use more alcohol and drugs during the corona crisis more prone to addiction? “That is hard to say but there is an accumulation of risk factors”, explains Van Beek. “An increased frequency of consumption does not predict addiction in itself. It is usually a mix of risk factors such as mental health, the surroundings and genetic predisposition.”

Van Beek believes that many of the risk factors are quickly decreasing given the easing of restrictions. “We are meeting up more, there is more social control and less reason to feel bad.” It may be conjecture, but he expects that only a very small percentage will have problems.

Some partygoers will be compelled ‘to make up’ for last year’

With the encroaching delta variant, the fear of a new lockdown is increasing. However unpredictable the future may be, Van Beek does not expect the substance use to rise dramatically. “We will return to a society which is familiar from the first lockdown. It can be expected that the level of usage remains comparable. However, the situation now is different than during the first lockdown.”

Party desperation
In the short term, he mostly expects ‘party desperation’ (in Dutch) – or the intense need to party. And this brings risks. “Some partygoers will be compelled ‘to make up’ for last year. They will drink more and will be more inclined to take drugs. Users may take higher doses more quickly if they use drugs or alcohol.”

Furthermore, many students have not gone out or gone to festivals for a long time. “Their physical tolerance to alcohol and/or drugs may therefore have lessened. Then there is the risk that they are less fit because they have not done as much sports or because they have had corona. These may lead to greater health risks.”

There is an added risk for young people who experimented with psychedelic drugs such as mushrooms, truffles or 2C-B during the corona pandemic. Van Beek explains that “These drugs are mostly taken in quiet home settings. If partygoers use these drugs at a party or festival for the first time, they may become over-stimulated thereby increasing the chance of anxiety or panic attacks.”

  • For more figures and information about alcohol and drug use, see the Trimbos Institute website.
  • Information about substances, stopping or cutting down on consumption and addiction is available on Op AA and DrugsInfo (in Dutch).

The survey ran from 3 to 18 June and was publicised through all Delta’s media channels (website, newsletter and social media). 454 respondents filled in the survey; 47 people asked did not fill in the questionnaire; and 46 were not studying at TU Delft at the time of the survey. This left 361 usable and completely filled in questionnaires.

Of these 361 respondents, 57% were bachelor students, 40% master’s student and 3% PhD Candidates. This representation differs slightly from the actual division at TU Delft where 46% of the students are enrolled as bachelor students, 44% as master’s students and 10% as PhD Candidates.

64% of respondents come from the Netherlands, 23% from the European Economic Zone (EEZ) and 13% from outside the EEZ. This division is a reasonable representation of TU Delft where 78% of students are Dutch nationals, 12% from the EEZ and 10% from outside the EEZ.

Of a population of 12,891 bachelor students, 12,328 master students and 2,940 doctoral candidates, 361 usable questionnaires were filled in. With a 95% level of confidence, the margin of error is 5.13%.

News editor Marjolein van der Veldt

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