Australia's Marijuana Usage on the Rise

Australia's Marijuana Usage on the Rise

Published on 1/6/12

A new study that was recently released shows that Australians are among the biggest smokers on the globe. According to the survey about 15% of Australians between the ages of 15 and 64 have used marijuana in 2009 while the U.S. only shows 7% of Americans to have smoked marijuana in 2009. This information was found to be close to what had been expected in Australia as there is no shortage of places for the plant to grow. In addition, marijuana is outweighing other drugs in terms of usage; it was still deemed the least likely to cause death.

Australia's Marijuana Usage on the Rise

The study, an analysis of global trends in illegal drugs and their effect on public health published in The Lancet, a prestigious journal, found that Australia and neighboring New Zealand topped the lists globally for consumption of both marijuana and amphetamines, a category of drugs whose use the study found to be growing rapidly around the world.

The study’s co-authors, Professors Louisa Degenhardt of the University of New South Wales and Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland, reported that as much as 15 percent of the populations of Australia and New Zealand between the ages of 15 and 64 had used some form of marijuana in 2009, the latest year for which data were available.

The Americas, by comparison, clocked in at 7 percent, although North America batted above the neighborhood average with nearly 11 percent of its population partaking. Asia demonstrated the lowest global marijuana use patterns at no more than 2.5 percent, the study said, although difficulties in obtaining accurate data in less developed countries were cited as one possible reason for the low figures.

The results were not surprising and reflected trends that have been in place for more than a decade, Mr. Hall said in an interview on Australian radio Friday. Despite the high figures in the report, he said, the rate of marijuana use in Australia has actually been dropping “steadily for the better part of a decade.”

Mr. Hall blamed both the ubiquity of the drug — Australia and New Zealand have no shortage of remote rural areas where policing is difficult and the plant grows like, well, a weed — and cultural mores that place the consumption of intoxicants at the center of social life.

“Just look at the way we take alcohol as an integral part of everyday life. I think a lot of young people see cannabis in the same way that we see alcohol: as no big deal, as a drug just to use to have a good time,” he said.

Stepping back for a global perspective, the study found that marijuana was the world’s most widely consumed illicit drug, with anywhere from 125 million to 203 million people partaking annually. Use of the drug far outstrips that of other illicit drugs globally, with 14 million to 56 million people estimated to use amphetamines, 14 million to 21 million estimated to use cocaine and 12 million to 21 million estimated to use opiates like heroin.

Still, despite marijuana’s significantly outpacing other illicit drugs in terms of the volume of use, the study found that it was the least likely of all illicit drugs to cause death. Additionally, barely 1 percent of deaths in Australia annually can be attributed to illegal drugs, the report said, compared with almost 12 percent from tobacco use.

The prevalence of marijuana use in Australia is widely accepted if not openly condoned, and at least three states have moved to decriminalize the possession of small quantities for personal use.

But the findings in the report most likely to cause concern to the Australian government were those relating to the use of amphetamines, and particularly methamphetamine, which has become a major public health concern over the past two decades. As much as 3 percent of the Australian population has used amphetamines like speed, compared with just 0.2 percent to 1.4 percent in Asia. 

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