UQ Study Finds Growing Number of Young Australians Would Try Cannabis if Legalised

The researchers argue that increased cannabis usage amongst young Australians could be a potential consequence of recreational legalization.

A new study conducted by the University of Queensland has found that an increasing number of young Australians say they would be willing to try recreational cannabis if it were legalized.

The survey used data taken from more than 3,000 young Australians, as part of an investigation into the proportion of adolescents and young adults who would make use of recreational cannabis

Our study gives policymakers and health service providers a glimpse of the potential impacts of cannabis legalisation on adolescents and young adults in Australia. This data could be used to inform and plan for public health interventions, treatment services, educational campaigns, and regulations needed for jurisdictions that have adopted or are considering legalising cannabis for recreation use. University of Queensland Study Lead, Dr Janni Leung

The researchers argue that the potential for increased cannabis usage amongst young Australians is a key concern when it comes to considering the possibility of recreational legalization.

According to the study's lead author, Dar Janni Leung, if the government does elect to legalize adult-use cannabis then it should also be accompanied by a public health campaign to discourage its use by adolescents, while also educating the larger public about any potential risks that could be involved.

"Support for legalising recreational use of cannabis has increased in high-income populations around the world, including Australia. Our study showed that 13 per cent of adolescents (aged 12-17) and 15 per cent of young adults (aged 18-25) would try cannabis if it were legal," Leung said.

"Of these, 85 per cent  of the adolescents and 59 per cent of the young adults said they had never used cannabis before. While most young Australians did not intend to use the drug, we have a substantial minority who say they would try it for the first time if it were legal to do so.

"In addition, young people who have used cannabis before expressed their intention to increase their use if it were allowed by law."

The announcement follows on from a similar study conducted by the University of Queensland earlier this year, which found that daily habitual users account for approximately 80% of the cannabis smoked in Australia.

Another key finding from the earlier study was that cannabis used appeared to be on the rise over time, as its prevalence increased from 8.9% in 2007 to 10.5% in 2016.

The researcher in charge of the study, Dr Gary Chan, said that the findings were similar in nature to those related to alcohol consumption, where the majority of daily consumption is accounted for by daily users.

"Between 2007 and 2016, 16 per cent of cannabis users consumed the drug daily and this group accounted for more than 80 per cent of all cannabis consumed in the country. In other words, the majority of cannabis was consumed by a small proportion of people who used it daily. This suggests harm caused by cannabis use is likely to fall on a small proportion of users," Dr Chan said.

"Cannabis legalisation needs to be accompanied by policies that discourage heavy use, such as a tax based on cannabis potency, restrictions on advertising, strengthening social norms that discourage heavy consumption and screening and intervening in the case of heavy cannabis users in primary care medical settings."

"This small increase in cannabis use is likely due to a more liberal attitude towards cannabis use compared to ten years ago. People are also more interested in its medicinal value now. However, it should be noted that at the moment, the science of cannabis' medicinal use is weak, and cannabis is a drug that is linked to mental health problems."

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Hugo Gray
Hugo Gray

Hugo Gray is a Melbourne-based journalist with a body of work that covers a diverse range of topics, including immigration law, sex technology, and now the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.

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