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Cannabiss usage and consumption in Australian territories (straya)

According to J. Copeland from the NCPICand others,[72] cannabis in Australia is commonly smoked as a cluster (or "cone", similar to "bowls" as known in the United States) of the flowering heads (buds) or resinglands (also known as Hashish) of the female plant. Typically, cannabis is smoked using a bong, pipe or joint. There is an increasing prevalence of electric vapourisers for inhalation of cannabis.[73] Cannabis is also consumed in other forms such as Tinctures of cannabis, Cannabis edibles.

Cannabis was not commonly used in Australia until the 1970s. Since then it has gradually increased until the late 1990s when it was at its highest usage. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia.[74] In the early 2000s patterns of use are similar to those throughout the developed world with heaviest use occurring in the early 20s, followed by a steady decline into the 30s, with ninety percent of experimental or social recreational users of cannabis not going on to use the substance daily or for a prolonged period; most discontinued its use by their late 20s.[75]



Cannabis continues to be the world's most widely used illicit drug, with an estimated annual prevalence of 3.9% of the adult population aged 15–64 years, or the equivalent of 192 million people having used cannabis at least once in 2018. The reported consumption of cannabis in Australia and New Zealand in 2018 (10.6%) was substantially higher than the global average (UNODC 2020).[76]

The 2019 NDSHS showed that cannabis continues to have the highest reported prevalence of lifetime and recent consumption among the general population, compared with other illicit drugs, for people aged 14 and over in Australia 36% had used cannabis in their lifetime, up 1% from 2016 and 11.6% had used cannabis recently up 1.2% since 2016. Note: for the first time in 2019, people who had used cannabis only for medicinal purposes and always had it prescribed by a doctor were identified and excluded from data relating to the recent use of cannabis.

  • The average age range of initiation for people who use cannabis was 18.9 (mean) or 17.2 (median)

  • The median age of people who used cannabis was 26 in 2001 and increased to 31 in 2019

  • The age group most likely to use recently was 20–29

  • People are also using cannabis more frequently since 2016 with the percentage of people who use cannabis daily increasing from 36% in 2016 to 37% in 2019, the percentage of people who used cannabis once a month increased from 12.1% to 12.8%, the percentage of people who used cannabis every few months increased from 17.3% to 17.8% and the percentage of people who used cannabis once or twice a year fell from 34% to 32%.

The 2016 NDSHS showed that cannabis continues to have the highest reported prevalence of lifetime and recent consumption among the general population, compared with other illicit drugs (Tables S2.31 and S2.32).[76]

  • For people aged 14 and over in Australia in 2016, 35% (or approximately 8.9 million) had used cannabis in their lifetime and 10.4% (or 2.1 million) used cannabis in the prior 12 months (Figure CANNABIS1).[76]

  • Recent and lifetime use of cannabis has remained relatively stable over the past decade but there were some statistically significant changes among different age groups (AIHW 2017) (Tables S2.38 and S2.39).[76]


Males aged 14 years or older were slightly more likely than their female counterparts to have ever used cannabis (37.1% versus 30.0%), and one in five teenagers aged 14 to 19 reported having used cannabis. This difference is seen across all age groups except the 14- to 19-year-olds, in which there is little difference between males and females in terms of lifetime and past-year use.[77]

Of the entire population, those aged 30 to 39 years were the most likely (54.6%) to have used cannabis at some time in their lives. According to McLaren and Mattick,[18] the lower proportion of cannabis use among older age groups compared with younger users is even more striking when recent use is assessed; males aged 14 and older were more likely than corresponding females to have used cannabis in the previous 12 months (1.0 million and 0.6 million, respectively). 12.9% of teenagers aged 14 to 19 had used cannabis in the previous 12 months; those aged 20 to 29 were the most likely age group to have used cannabis in the previous 12 months, with one in five having done so.

According to Hall,[78] although rates of cannabis use are considerable, most people who use cannabis do so infrequently. According to the 2004 household survey,[79]approximately half of all recent cannabis users used the drug less than once a month. However, the proportion of recent cannabis users who use cannabis every day is not considered trivial; it is cited at 16% by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Those aged 30 to 39 were most likely to use cannabis every day. The 2004 household survey also shows that of all respondents who used cannabis on a regular basis, the average number of cones or joints smoked on any one day was 3.2.

Statistics show that between 1995 and 2007[77][79] (after peaking in 1998), the proportion of both males and females aged 14 years or older who had used cannabis in the previous 12 months declined steadily. Between 2004 and 2007, the decline was significant. Recent cannabis use dropped steadily since 1998 and significantly between 2004 and 2007—from 11.3% to 9.1%. Cross-sectional analysis of household survey data shows the age of initiation into cannabis is decreasing over time. According to the Mental Health Council of Australia in 2006,[80] the average age of first use for 12– to 19-year-olds was 14.9 years—significantly lower than in previous years.

The percentage of school aged students admitting to past year Cannabis use reduced from 32% in 1996 to 14% in 2005.[81]Cannabis is considered relatively easy to obtain in Australia, with 17.1% of the population recording that they were offered (or had the opportunity to use) cannabis.[77]

In 2010 the number of people in Australia using cannabis increased from 1.6 million in 2007 to 1.9 million in 2010 after peaking in 1998, the proportion of people who had recently used cannabis had been decreasing, but in 2010, it statistically significantly increased significantly from 2007, from 9.1% to 10.3% (Table 6.1), an increase that was reflected for both males’ and females’.[82]

Indigenous Australians

Historical and social factors have contributed to the widespread use of tobacco and alcohol among Indigenous communities and according to Perkins, Clough and others, the use of illicit drugs (cannabis in particular) is higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than among the non-Indigenous population of Australia.[83][84]

Little detailed information is available on cannabis use in urban or remote Indigenous communities. J. Copeland from the NCPICand others[85] cite 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey results showing that 27% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents reported using cannabis in the last 12 months, compared with 13% of non-Indigenous Australians. However, these results are likely to under-report cannabis use in non-urban Aboriginal populations; communities are often small, isolated and highly mobile, making data collection problematic.[80] What little detailed information is available on remote Indigenous communities comes mainly from targeted studies of several communities in the Top End of Australia's Northern Territory.[86]

Studies that do provide information on cannabis use within the Indigenous population show pattern of problematic cannabis abuse that exceeds that seen in the mainstream non-Indigenous population. A survey conducted in the mid-1980s by Watson and others[87] failed to detect any cannabis use in Top End Indigenous communities. However, by the late 1990s the Aboriginal Research Council provided information suggesting that cannabis was used by 31% of males and 8% of females in eastern Arnhem Land. A further study in 2002 found that cannabis was being used regularly by 67% of males and 22% of females aged 13 to 36.[86] A survey about drug use conducted in 1997 of two NSW populations of Aboriginal Australians found that 38% had used Cannabis.[88]

As part of the 2004 National Drug Strategy,[79] a survey was conducted assessing drug use among Indigenous populations living in urban areas. Results showed that 48% had tried cannabis at least once, and 22% had used cannabis in the previous year. Regular cannabis use (at least weekly) was also more common among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities than non-Indigenous groups (11% and 4%, respectively).

The 2018–19 NDSHS asked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 14 and over were whether they had used illicit substances in the last 12 months, 5.5% had used cannabis in the last 12 months—almost 1.3 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians (12.0%).[89]

The data describing cannabis use in the Indigenous population compared with non-Indigenous use varies in the ratio of recent cannabis use to those respondents who have ever used cannabis. In the non-Indigenous population, rates of cannabis use in the last 12 months are a third of those ever using cannabis; however, researchers found only a few percentage-points' difference between rates of regular and lifetime use within the Indigenous population.[86]

According to McLaren and Mattick,[18] the reasons for high rates of cannabis use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are complex and likely to be related to the social determinants of drug use. Risk factors associated with harmful substance use are often related to poor health and social well-being, stemming from the alienation and dispossession experienced by this population.[90] Spooner and Hetherington confirm that many of the social determinants of harmful substance abuse are disproportionately present in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.[91]

In June 2020, it was revealed that New South Wales Police had pursued criminal charges against more than 82% of Indigenous people caught with small amounts of cannabis, compared with only 52% of non-Indigenous people. In other words, Indigenous people were very likely to get criminally charged, while non-Indigenous people were more likely to receive only a warning. The data was obtained by The Guardian using freedom of information laws.[92]

Synthetic cannabinoids

Before June 2011, synthetic cannabinoidswere relatively unknown in Australia.[93]However, compulsory employee drug tests at Western Australian mines found that 1 in 10 employees had consumed compounds found in synthetic cannabinoids.[94] Their popular usage as opposed to naturally-grown cannabis was attributed to the fact that users could obtain a "legal high",[95] as the compounds in synthetic cannabis were not yet listed as illegal on the Australian Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons [SUSMP] – the governing body of drug listing in Australia.[96] Richard Kevin, a psychopharmacology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sydney who is studying the effects of the synthetic compounds on mice stated one reason people use these products is to avoid drug testing.[97]

Due to their popularity among recreational drug users, health professionals began researching the drug. As a result of a study by the Drug and Alcohol Review, it was found that 291 of 316 participants reported side effects in an online survey pertaining to the patterns of synthetic marijuana use. These side-effects included panic, vomiting, depression and psychosis and some felt the side effects were serious enough to consider seeking medical assistance.[98]

An additional study conducted with the assistance of the UNSW, found that of 1100 self-reported synthetic drug users, 10% of individuals who had admitted to trying synthetic marijuana felt they were going to die, and 75% said they wouldn't try it again.[99]

People who use large quantities of synthetic cannabis may become sedated or disoriented and may experience toxic psychosis – not knowing who they are, where they are, or what time it is. High doses may also cause fluctuating emotions, fragmentary thoughts, paranoia, panic attacks, hallucinations and feelings of unreality.


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