The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use - chapter 4

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4. Cannabis the drug


4.6 Patterns of use

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Australia, having been tried by a third of the adult population, and by the majority of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 (see Donnelly and Hall, 1994). The most common route of administration is by smoking, and the most widely used form of the drug is marijuana.

The majority of cannabis use in Australia and elsewhere is "recreational". That is, most users use the drug to experience its euphoric and relaxing effects rather than for its recognised therapeutic effects. Unless explicitly stated to the contrary (as in chapter 8) it should be assumed that the phrase "cannabis use" is a short-hand term for the recreational use of cannabis products.
The majority of cannabis use is also "experimental" in that most of those who have ever used cannabis either discontinue their use after a number of uses, or if they continue to use, do so intermittently and episodically whenever the drug is available. Only a small proportion of those who ever use cannabis become regular cannabis users. The best estimate from the available survey data is that about 10 per cent of those who ever use cannabis become daily users, and a further 20-30 per cent use on a weekly basis (see Queensland Criminal Justice Commission, 1993; Donnelly and Hall, 1994). Among those who continue to use cannabis, the majority discontinue their use in their mid to late 20s.

Because of uncertainties about the dose of THC contained in illicit marijuana, there is no information on the amount of THC ingested by regular Australian cannabis users. "Heavy" cannabis use is typically defined in terms of the frequency of use rather than average dose of THC received. Although it is possible that daily users could use small quantities per day, this is unlikely to be true of the majority of regular users because of the tolerance to drug effects which develops with regular use. Evidence collected on chronic long-term users at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (Solowij, 1994), indicated that they typically used more potent forms of cannabis (namely, "heads" and hashish).

The daily or near daily use pattern is the pattern that probably places users at greatest risk of experiencing long-term health and psychological consequences of use. Such users are more likely to be
male and less well educated, and are more likely to regularly use alcohol, and to have experimented with a variety of other illicit drugs, such as amphetamines, hallucinogens, psychostimulants,
sedatives and opioids.