Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 09 August 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 20 April 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Aug. 9]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, viewed 9 August 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
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The 2 most common subspecies within the cannabis genus from which cannabis is harvested are Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Cannabis comes in 3 main forms:
Cannabis is most commonly smoked in a rolled cigarette (joint) or water pipe, often in combination with tobacco, but it may also be added to food and eaten. Cannabis oil is generally applied to cannabis herb or tobacco and smoked, or heated and the vapours inhaled (ACIC 2021a).
The main psychoactive component of the cannabis plant is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is highest in the flowering tops and leaves of the plant. Other than THC, cannabis has more than 70 unique chemicals that are collectively referred to as cannabinoids (ACIC 2018). Cannabis is a central nervous system depressant, but also alters sensory perceptions and may produce hallucinogenic effects when large quantities are used (ACIC 2018; NSW Ministry of Health 2017). The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes was legislated by the Australian parliament in 2016.
Synthetic cannabis is a new psychoactive substance that was originally designed to mimic or produce similar effects to cannabis (Alcohol & Drug Foundation 2017). The availability, consumption and harms associated with synthetic cannabis are discussed further in the section on new (and emerging) psychoactive substances (NPS).
Half of all national illicit drug seizures in 2018-19 were for cannabis
Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Australia. Recent use increased between 2016 (10.4%) and 2019 (11.6%)
People who use cannabis are older than previously reported—the average age increased from 29 in 2001 to 35 in 2019
Cannabis use by age and sex
In 2019, of people who had used cannabis in the previous 12 months, 6.8% always used it for medical purposes
Cannabis was the principal drug of concern in 19% of closed treatment episodes in 2020–21 provided for clients’ own drug use
In 2019, 41% of Australians supported the legalisation of cannabis for personal use
View the Cannabis in Australia fact sheet >
Cannabis is relatively easy to obtain in Australia. Most participants in the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) and the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) report that cannabis is perceived as ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to obtain. This has remained relatively stable over time, as has perceived purity and pricing (Peacock et al. 2021; Sutherland et al. 2021a).
Perceived availability was the highest for hydroponic cannabis (88% of 2021 IDRS participants and 89% of 2021 EDRS participants rated it ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to obtain), followed by bush cannabis (78% of 2021 IDRS participants and 79% of 2021 EDRS users participants it ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to obtain) (Sutherland et al. 2021b; Sutherland et al. 2021a).
Data collection for 2021 took place from April–August for the EDRS and June–July for the IDRS. Due to COVID-19 restrictions being imposed in various jurisdictions during data collection periods for both the IDRS and the EDRS, interviews in 2020 and 2021 were delivered face-to-face as well as via telephone. This change in methodology should be considered when comparing data from the 2020 and 2021 samples relative to previous years.
The primary source of cannabis reported by people aged 14 years and over who had recently used cannabis was friends (65%), followed by dealers (17.9%) in 2019 (AIHW 2020) (Table S2.5).
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) collects national illicit drug seizure data annually from federal, state and territory police services, including the number and weight of seizures to inform the Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR).
According to the latest IDDR, in 2019–20, half (51%) of all national illicit drug seizures were for cannabis. However, cannabis only accounted for around a quarter (28%) of the weight of illicit drugs seized nationally. The number and weight of national cannabis seizures has increased over the last decade—the number of seizures increased from 50,073 in 2010–11 to a record 62,454 in 2019–20 and the weight seized increased from 5,452 kilograms in 2010–11 to a record 10,662 kilograms in 2019–20 (ACIC 2021a; tables S1.21 and S1.22).
The number of detections of cannabis at the Australian border increased between 2018–19 and 2019–20 by 15% (11,133 and 12,846, respectively). The number of detections has increased by 501% since 2010–11 (2,137).
The weight of cannabis detected at the Australian border increased from 69 kilograms in 2010-11 to 1,811 kilograms in 2018–19 before decreasing to 648 kilograms in 2019–20.
For related content on cannabis consumption by region, see also:
> Data by region: Illicit drug use
Cannabis continues to be the world’s most widely used illicit drug; 4% of the global population aged 15–64 years (or approximately 200 million people) reported using cannabis at least once in 2019. The reported consumption of cannabis in Australia and New Zealand by the adult population in 2019 (12.1%) was higher than the global average (UNODC 2021).
The 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (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). 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, which focuses on illicit use (AIHW 2020). Data relating to the medicinal use of cannabis are reported separately (see Medicinal cannabis).
The figure shows the proportion of people who recently used cannabis by age group between 2001 and 2019. Between 2001 and 2019, there were decreases in the proportion of people aged 14–19 (from 24.6% to 13.3%) and 20–29 (from 29.3% to 23.8%) who used recently used cannabis. Over the same period, there were increases in the proportion of people aged 50–59 who recently used cannabis (from 3.3% to 9.2%). In 2019, people aged 20–29 (23.8%) and 30–39 (13.7%) were most likely to have recently used cannabis.
Since 2001, recent cannabis use has generally declined among the younger age groups (those aged 14–39), but has increased for the older age groups (40 or over).
Between 2016 and 2019 there were significant increases in the use of cannabis among people aged 50–59 (from 7.2% to 9.2%) and 60 and over (from 1.9% to 2.9%) (Figure CANNABIS1; Table S2.39).
In 2001, the average age of cannabis users was 29 and this increased to 35 in 2019 (AIHW 2020). These results suggest there may be an ageing cohort of cannabis users.
Cannabis is used more frequently than other drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine. Specifically, 37% of people who used cannabis did so as often as weekly or more, compared with only 6.7% and 4.5% of ecstasy and cocaine users respectively. Males were more likely than females to use cannabis weekly (41% compared with 31%) (AIHW 2020).
There was little change in the proportion of recent cannabis use between 2016 and 2019 for all states and territories, except New South Wales where it increased significantly from 9.3% to 11.0% (Table S2.33).
There was a significant increase in recent use of cannabis for people living in Major cities (from 10.4% in 2016 to 11.7% in 2019) (Table S2.12). However, after adjusting for differences in age, Australians living in Inner regional, Outer regional and Remote and very remote areas were more likely than those living in Major cities to have used cannabis in the previous 12 months (AIHW 2020).
For people living in areas of highest socioeconomic advantage, there was a significant increase in recent use of cannabis (from 9.4% in 2016 to 12.4% in 2019). Across other socioeconomic areas, at least 1 in 10 people had recently used cannabis (Figure CANNABIS2; Table S2.13).
The figure shows the proportion of recent cannabis use for people aged 14 and over by socioeconomic area for 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019. Recent cannabis use trends were fairly stable across all 5 socioeconomic areas between 2010 and 2019. In 2019, regardless of what socioeconomic area a person came from, about 1 in 10 had recently used cannabis (12.6% of most disadvantaged socioeconomic areas and 12.4% of most advantaged socioeconomic areas).
View data tables >
The National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP) measures the presence of substances in sewerage treatment plants across Australia. Measurement of cannabis consumption was included for the first time in the August 2018 collection. It is important to note that an average dose was not defined for cannabis because reliable dose figures were not available. As such, cannabis was not included in the comparison of the highest consumed drugs monitored by the program. For further information, see Box HARM2 and Data quality for the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program.
Data from report 15 of the NWDMP indicate that the estimated population-weighted average consumption of cannabis in both capital cities and regional areas reached a record high in August 2021. On average, consumption in regional areas exceeded capital cities.
Consumption of cannabis increased in many jurisdictions after the initial COVID restrictions were put in place in March 2020. Consumption returned to previous levels before reaching record highs in both capital cities and regional areas in August 2021 (ACIC 2022).
For state and territory data, see the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program reports.
Prior to 2016, cannabis was classified as an illegal narcotic under Australian law. This changed in February 2016, when the National Drugs Amendment Act 2016 established a national licensing and permit scheme to enable the cultivation, production, and manufacture of cannabis for medicinal and related research purposes. Under this scheme, specific patient groups can now access medicinal cannabis products under strict medical supervision. Cannabis cultivated for other purposes remains illegal.
Medicinal cannabis typically refers to use of cannabis that is prescribed by a healthcare professional. However, in the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, this included any use of cannabis for medical purposes, regardless of whether a doctor prescribed it.
In 2019, the NDSHS included 2 new questions regarding medical use of cannabis—if respondents had recently used cannabis for medical purposes, and whether the cannabis was prescribed by a doctor (AIHW 2020).
Compared with people who did not use cannabis for medical purposes, people who had recently used cannabis for medical purposes only were:
Cannabis use is also highly correlated with the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. This makes measuring the effects of cannabis alone difficult and potentially increases risks for users.
The 2019 NDSHS showed that alcohol was the most common substance used concurrently with cannabis. Of those recent cannabis users who also consumed alcohol, 62% exceeded the single occasion risk guidelines at least monthly and 39% exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines (Table S2.68).
The most common other drugs concurrently used by recent cannabis users were:
Data on alcohol and other drug-related ambulance attendances are sourced from the National Ambulance Surveillance System for Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse and Overdose. Data for 2020 are currently available for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Data are presented for 4 snapshot months per year, specifically March, June, September and December. Please see the data quality statement for further information.
In 2020, the proportion of cannabis-related ambulance attendances where multiple drugs were consumed (excluding alcohol) ranged from 16% of attendances in Tasmania to 31% of attendances in Victoria (Table S2.81).
For related content on cannabis impacts and harms, see also:
The effects of cannabis (like all drugs) vary from one person to another including, but not limited to, the amount consumed, the mode of administration, the user’s previous experience, mood and body weight (NSW Ministry of Health 2017). The active drug in cannabis makes its way into the bloodstream more quickly when cannabis is smoked, compared to when it is orally ingested. Ongoing and regular use of cannabis is associated with a number of negative long-term effects. Regular users of cannabis can become dependent and commonly reported symptoms of withdrawal include anxiety, sleep difficulties, appetite disturbance and depression (Hall & Degenhardt 2009; Nielsen & Gisev 2017).
An overview of some of the short and long-term effects of cannabis are provided in Table CANNABIS1.
Source: Adapted from (Hall & Degenhardt 2009; Nielsen & Gisev 2017; NSW Ministry of Health 2017).
The Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018, found that cannabis use contributed to 0.3% of the total burden of disease and injuries in 2018 and 10.2% of the total burden due to illicit drugs (AIHW 2021b; Table S2.69). Drug use disorders (excluding alcohol) (11%) contributed most to the burden due to cannabis use, followed by poisoning (10%). Only a small proportion (3% or less) of the burden of schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, road traffic injuries and depressive disorders was attributable to cannabis use (AIHW 2021b).
Data on alcohol and other drug-related ambulance attendances are sourced from the National Ambulance Surveillance System for Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse and Overdose. In 2020, for cannabis-related ambulance attendances:
The characteristics of cannabis-related ambulance attendances varied by region in 2020:
Drug-related hospitalisations are defined as hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis relating to a substance use disorder or direct harm relating to use of selected substances (AIHW 2018). In 2019–20, cannabinoids accounted for around 1 in 20 (4.7%) drug-related hospitalisations (Table S1.8b).
AIHW analysis of the National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD) showed that the number of hospitalisations for cannabinoids increased from 6,020 in 2015–16 to 6,640 in 2019–20 (Table S1.8b). Taking into account population growth, the rate of hospitalisations was higher in 2019–20 (26.0 per 100,000 population) than in 2015–16 (25.1 per 100,00) (Table S1.8b).
In 2019–20, almost 2 in 3 (63%) cannabis-related hospitalisations occurred in Major cities. However, there is regional variation in the rate of cannabinoid-related hospitalisations, with rates typically highest in Remote and very remote areas of Australia (Man et al. 2021). AIHW analysis of the NHMD showed that, in 2019–20, the rate of cannabinoid-related hospitalisations in Remote and very remote areas was 76.4 per 100,000 population (375 hospitalisations) (Table S1.8c).
Drug-induced deaths are determined by toxicology and pathology reports and are defined as those deaths that can be directly attributable to drug use. This includes deaths due to acute toxicity (for example, drug overdose) and chronic use (for example, drug-induced cardiac conditions) (ABS 2021).
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) analysis of the AIHW National Mortality Database showed that in 2020, cannabinoids were present in 5.9% (or 109) of all drug-induced deaths, a decrease from 11.0% (208 deaths) in 2019 (Table S1.1a).
The short-term effects of cannabis can increase the risk of road traffic crashes, largely due to diminished driving performance in response to emergencies (Hall & Degenhardt 2009). In 2016, cannabis was the second most common drug identified on toxicology for transport accidents where a drug (excluding alcohol) contributed to death (ABS 2017).
The 2020–21 Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS) Early Insights report shows that cannabis was the principal drug of concern in 19% of treatment episodes provided for clients’ own drug use (AIHW 2022).
This was a similar proportion to 2019–20 (18% of closed treatment episodes) (AIHW 2021a).
Data collected for the AODTS NMDS are released twice each year—an Early Insights report in April and a detailed report mid year. Detailed information about treatment episodes for cannabis will be updated in July 2022.
The Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS) provides information on treatment provided to clients by publicly funded AOD treatment services, including government and non-government organisations. Data from the AODTS NMDS showed that cannabis was the 3rd most common principal drug of concern in closed treatment episodes provided to clients in 2019–20 (AIHW 2021a). Cannabis was the principal drug of concern in 18% of closed treatment episodes provided for clients’ own drug use—a similar proportion to 2018–19 (20% of closed treatment episodes) (Table S2.76; Figure CANNABIS3).
In 2019–20, where cannabis was the principal drug of concern:
Source: AIHW. Supplementary tables S2.76, S2.78 and S2.80.
Where the most common drug of concern was cannabis, the proportion of people living in Regional and remote areas who travelled 1 hour or longer to treatment services was higher than in Major cities (25% compared with 7%) (AIHW 2019).
For related content on at-risk groups, see:
The use of cannabis can be disproportionately higher for specific population groups.
There have been changes over time in public perceptions of cannabis use in Australia. Data from the 2019 NDSHS showed:
There have also been some associated changes in public perceptions about cannabis-related policies. For example:
Alcohol and Drug Foundation 2017. Synthetic cannabis. Viewed 30 November 2017.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey, 2018-19. ABS cat. no. 4715.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 8 January 2020.
ABS 2021. Causes of Death, Australia, 2020. ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 29 September 2021.
ACIC (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission) 2018. Illicit Drug Data Report 2016–17. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 21 September 2018.
ACIC 2021. Illicit Drug Data Report 2019–20. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 22 October 2021.
ACIC 2022. National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report 15. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 18 March 2022.
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AIHW 2019. Alcohol and other drug use in regional and remote Australia: consumption, harms and access to treatment, 2016–17. Cat. no. HSE 212. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 15 March 2019.
AIHW 2020. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Drug statistics series no. 32. Cat. no. PHE 270. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 July 2020.
AIHW 2021a. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia annual report. Cat. no. HSE 250. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 July 2021.
AIHW 2021b. Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018, AIHW, Australian Government. doi:10.25816/5ps1-j259
AIHW 2022. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia: Early Insights. Cat. no. HSE 242. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 April 2022.
DoH (Department of Health) 2017. Medicinal cannabis. Canberra: Office of Drug Control. Viewed 4 January 2018.
Hall W & Degenhardt L 2009. Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet. 374: 1383-1391.
Man N, Chrzanowska A, Sutherland R, Degenhardt L & Peacock A 2021. Trends in drug-related hospitalisations in Australia, 1999–2019. Drug Trends Bulletin Series. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW. Viewed 13 August 2021.
Nielsen S & Gisev N 2017. Drug pharmacology and pharmacotherapy treatments. In Ritter, King and Lee (eds). Drug use in Australian society. 2nd edn. Oxford University Press.
NSW Ministry of Health 2017. A quick guide to drugs & alcohol, 3rd edn. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.
Sutherland R, Peacock A, Karlsson A, Uporova J, Price O, Chandrasena U, Swanton R, Gibbs D, Bruno R, Wilson Y, Dietze P, Hall C, Eddy S, Lenton S, Grigg J, Salom C, Daly C, Thomas N, Juckel J, Degenhardt L, & Farrell M (2021a). Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
Sutherland R, Uporova J, Chandrasena U, Price O, Karlsson A, Gibbs D, Swanton R, Bruno R, Dietze P, Lenton S, Salom C, Daly C, Thomas N, Juckel J, Agramunt S, Wilson Y, Woods E, Moon C, Degenhardt L, Farrell M and Peacock A. 2021b. Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) 2021. World Drug Report 2021. Vienna: UNODC. Viewed 18 August 2021.
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