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Over 80% of Cannabis in Australia Is Consumed by Daily Users, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jan 15, 2020   
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The vast majority of Australian cannabis is consumed by a small proportion of daily consumers, according to a new study published in Addiction.

In a conclusion that could have serious implications for public health approaches to cannabis legalization, the paper claims that the wider habits of cannabis consumption are more similar to alcohol use than previously thought, in that daily users account for the majority of total consumption.

Habits down under

Conducted at the University of Queensland, the study used data from four national surveys, which included responses from over 90,000 households in Australia. Respondents reported how often they used cannabis as well as their method of consumption. These figures were then extrapolated in a computer simulation technique and used to estimate the total amount of cannabis consumed in Australia per day.

Once the calculations were complete, the study’s authors estimated that between 2007 and 2016, around 81-85 percent of all cannabis in the country was consumed by just the 16 percent of all Australian cannabis users who used daily. And the researchers believe the true rates could be even higher.

As the survey figures were self-reported, the consumers’ real consumption habits could be underestimated. The potency of the cannabis used was also not reported.

But although only an estimate drawn from Australian figures, the researchers believe the study’s conclusions could still have major implications for all countries considering cannabis legalization.

“One of the key implications in our study is that the majority of cannabis related harms is likely to fall disproportionally on a small number of heavy users,” Dr Gary Chan, the paper’s lead author, told Analytical Cannabis.

According to Chan, this dominance of total cannabis consumption by daily users has a startling comparison to alcohol drinking habits, even if the two aren’t identical parallels.

“For cannabis and alcohol, the majority of the products were consumed by very small proportion of users in the population,” he added. “But it should also be noted that there are differences in consumption patterns. For example, binge drinking is relatively more common than ‘binge cannabis smoking’.”

Public health first

Fortunately, many regions that have already legalized recreational cannabis, and those that intend to, have taken the vulnerabilities of heavy users seriously.

Canadian authorities, for example, deliberately delayed the legalization of cannabis edibles for a year, partly so they had enough time to properly assess any public health and regulatory concerns. And in its draft legalization bill ahead of its cannabis referendum, New Zealand’s government has proposed banning all advertisements of cannabis products and requiring harm minimization messaging on all packaging to curb heavy use.

But by paralleling the consumption habits of cannabis consumers to those of heavy alcohol users, the University of Queensland’s study may make some authorities think again before finalizing their cannabis regulations.

“Jurisdictions that are considering legalizing cannabis will need to consider strategies that discourage heavy use, such as a tax that based on cannabis potency and restriction on marketing practices that target heavy users,” Chan continued.

“Screening and intervening with the heaviest users in primary care medical settings will need to be implemented to reduce cannabis related harms.”

Speaking to Analytical Cannabis last November, Ian Hamilton, a senior lecturer in addiction at the University of York, also stressed the importance of fortifying public health policies to tackle cannabis dependence.

“For the small proportion of users who develop problems, support services need to be adequately funded and available – something [US] states and countries should factor in when thinking of changing their cannabis policies,” said Hamilton.

“Even a small percentage increase in regular cannabis users can increase the risk of developing problems like cannabis dependence, which services would be unlikely to have the capacity to support,” he added.

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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