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"Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded."

Abraham Lincoln - Former U.S. President

Cannabis & Health

Cannabis & Psychosis

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug. It is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant and comes in three forms: marijuana, hashish and hash oil. The chemicals in cannabis interfere with normal brain functioning. Cannabis use can cause drug-induced psychosis, trigger the first episode of a psychotic illness or make a pre-existing psychotic illness worse. People who have, or may be at risk of developing, a psychotic illness should avoid using cannabis.

Cannabis is a psychoactive drug
Cannabis contains a chemical commonly known as THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is a psychoactive substance, which means that it travels in the bloodstream to the brain. It disrupts usual brain functioning and causes certain intoxicating effects, including:

  • A feeling of relaxation and wellbeing
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Increased talkativeness
  • A confused perception of space and time
  • Reduced ability to concentrate and remember
  • Reduced coordination – this makes it dangerous to drive or operate machinery while under the influence of the drug.

Heavy use may cause hallucinations
Other possible effects, which are more common with heavy cannabis use, include:

  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety.

Drug-induced psychosis
Cannabis use can cause a condition known as drug-induced psychosis. Symptoms usually appear quickly and last a relatively short time (a few days) until the effects of the cannabis wear off. Disorientation, memory problems and visual hallucinations are the most common symptoms.

People who already have a psychotic illness may experience longer lasting and more intense symptoms.

Cannabis effects last longer if you have a psychotic illness

The effects of cannabis begin within minutes and can last several hours. However, for people with a psychotic illness (such as schizophrenia), the effects can be longer lasting.

Cannabis can precipitate the first episode of psychosis
If someone has a predisposition to a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, use of drugs such as cannabis may trigger the first episode in what can be a lifelong, disabling condition. There is increasing evidence that regular cannabis use precedes and causes higher rates of psychotic illness. Psychotic illnesses are characterised by:

  • Delusions – for example, the person believes they have special powers.
  • Hallucinations – for example, the person hears voices or sees things that aren’t really there.
  • Thought disorder – for example, the person has difficulty organising their thoughts.

When people experience psychotic symptoms, they are unable to distinguish what is real. They lose contact with reality.

Psychotic symptoms can become worse
Cannabis use generally makes psychotic symptoms worse and lowers the chances of recovery from a psychotic episode. People with a psychotic illness who use drugs experience more delusions, hallucinations and other symptoms. They have a higher rate of hospitalisation for psychosis, and treatment is generally less effective. People with a psychotic illness should avoid using cannabis.

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Cannabis Fact Sheet

Ins008 Here we present widely available medical warnings developed by government agencies to promote health awareness in relation to illicit cannabis use.

We then contrast this with statistics and insight regarding the widespread use of cannabis in contemporary Australian society.

Cannabis, or marijuana, is the most commonly used illegal "recreational" drug in Australia.

It comes from the Cannabis sativa plant. It can be smoked "cigarette" form, or in specially designed utensils known as water-pipes or "bongs", or eaten as an active component of specially prepared biscuits, cakes and cookies. When ingested in the latter form the effects are less potent and of a different quality, often described by users as more physical and less psychotropic.

"Street" or commercially-sold 'recreational' Cannabis comes in different forms:

  • Marijuana– is the most common and least powerful form of cannabis. It is made from dried plant leaves and flowers. The flowers, or ‘heads’, are the most potent forms of the plant where the resinous sap is concentrated. Marijuana resembles chopped grass and ranges in colour from grey-green to greenish-brown. It is usually smoked in a waterpipe (bong), a small pipe or in a hand-rolled cigarette (joint) often combined with tobacco. Recent profit-driven trends towards producing recreational cannabis in illicit hydroponic farms (with an output known as"hydro"), using sophisticated gwtechniques, grow lamps, timers, and various liquid fertilizers, to produce more concentration of THS has resulted in common cannabis being more powerful in its effects. Users have concerns that chemical residues, hormones and artificial fertilizers in this less "natural" high may have toxic effects. Then again, "pot" use is known to increase paranoia.
  • Hashish – consists of small blocks of dried cannabis resin. Blocks range in colour from light brown to nearly black. The concentration of THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) in hashish is higher than in marijuana. Rare in Australia in the past decade as hydroponic production has increased the potency of street "deals".
  • Hash oil – is a thick, oily liquid extracted from hashish and ranges in colour from golden-brown to black. It is usually spread on the tip or paper of cigarettes and then smoked. Hash oil is more powerful than the other forms of cannabis and is rare in Australia.

A 'chemical' provides the ‘high’
The psychoactive substance in cannabis that makes users feel ‘high’ is called THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol).

Cannabis is a 'depressant' drug
Depressant drugs do not necessarily make a user feel depressed. Rather, they slow down the central nervous system and the messages going to and from the brain to the body.

Cannabis effects vary from person to person
The effects of cannabis are different for each person. The effect can vary according to the mood or atmosphere in which it is used. The immediate effects of cannabis can last approximately two to three hours and may include:

  • A feeling of relaxation and sense of wellbeing
  • A feeling of heightened creativity and more intense enjoyment of music, dance, and sensuous touch
  • Reduced concentration, especially with regards to mental processes requiring sustained logical thought
  • Decreased coordination
  • Distorted perceptions of time, space and distance
  • Increased heart rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased talkativeness
  • Reddened or bloodshot eyes
  • Impaired driving ability.

Larger doses or stronger forms of cannabis can exacerbate these effects and result in other effects such as:

  • Confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of excitement
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety or panic
  • A sense of detachment from reality
  • Paranoia
  • Nausea.

Long-term users may experience additional effects
Cannabis may also have additional effects on long-term users, including:

  • The risk of asthma, emphysema, shortness of breath, chest infections, and throat, mouth and lung cancers
  • Poor concentration, memory loss and learning difficulties
  • Depression of the immune system, which increases the risk of developing infections
  • Serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

Cancer-causing (carcinogenic) substances
Cannabis smoke has more tar and contains a higher concentration of certain cancer-causing (carcinogenic) agents than the smoke from tobacco. However a larger danger arises from the common practice in Australia of combining the two. This sometimes masks a tobacco dependence.

Cannabis can cause psychosis
Research suggests that cannabis use can make existing psychotic symptoms worse. Evidence is emerging that cannabis use in teenage years may even bring on symptoms in people who are predisposed to psychosis if they have a personal or family history of the disorder.

It is also believed that cannabis use, especially if heavy and regular, may cause an individual to experience psychotic symptoms that can last for a few days. These episodes are often characterised by visual or aural (hearing-related) hallucinations, or by withrawal, demotivation and anxiety.

Tolerance and dependence
A tolerance to cannabis can develop with regular use, which means the person has to take increasing quantities to get the same effect. Some people can become psychologically and/or physically dependent on cannabis, although this is hard to define.

How to prevent the negative health effects of cannabis
The best way to avoid any potential harmful effects of cannabis is simply to avoid its use, especially important for people who have experienced a psychotic episode in the past, or who have a family history of psychosis.

Things to remember

  • Cannabis has many harmful effects on health.
  • Cannabis is an illegal drug.
  • Cannabis impairs the user’s driving ability.
  • Avoid cannabis if you have had a psychotic episode or there is a history of psychosis in your family.
  • Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Where to get help with marijuana dependence or related emerging health problems

  • DirectLine Tel. 1800 888 236 – for 24-hour confidential drug and alcohol telephone counselling, information and referral
  • DrugInfo Clearinghouse, Australian Drug Foundation Tel. 1300 858 584 – for information
  • Your family doctor
  • Hospital emergency departments,
  • Drug and alcohol treatment centres and Community health centres

More Facts & Figures on users and attitudes from the Australian Context

• A non-psycho-potent form of "industrial" cannabis with very low THC content, known as Indian hemp, is used to produce fibres for use in paper, textiles and clothing.

• THC (Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in marijuana that makes the user feel 'high', produces temporary euphoria, or an experience of change in mood - one may see or feel things in a different way to 'normal' and thus there is an induced sense of revelation or heightened perception or insight. This is subjective and partly dependent on expectations.

• One in every three Australians have used cannabis at some time in their lives and 13 per cent have used cannabis in the previous 12 months.

• Of those who have used cannabis at some stage in their lives, the mean initiation age was 18.5.

• There is little evidence to support the notion that cannabis use leads to the use of other drugs. While it is true that most heroin users have also used cannabis (and alcohol and tobacco), it is worth noting that most people who use cannabis do not progress to using heroin, amphetamines or any other illegal drug. By criminalising a relatively harmless and widely used plant, it is argued, this leads to an erosion of the users resistance and more chance of exposure to other more dangerous forms of illicit drug use.

• When people are affected by cannabis they are said in the vernacular to be 'stoned', 'bent' or 'high'. Traces of THC can remain detectable in urine samples for days, even weeks, after use.

•It is commonly believed by cannabis users that controversial new technologies designed to detect and combat driving under the influence of cannabis are compomised by the measurable retention in the body beyond the relatively short period of desired euphoria.

• 33% of the Australian population reported using cannabis at some time, with 18% having used it in the last 12 months.

• 34% of 14-19 year olds reported ever using cannabis.

• Young people attending high school across Australia have high rates of cannabis use with 32% of 12-17 year old males and 29% of females ever reporting use; 53% of 17 year old males reported ever using cannabis; 50% of 17 year old females reported ever using cannabis; 11% of 12 year old males reported ever using cannabis; and 7% of 12 year old females reported ever using cannabis.

• Cannabis being illegal has many "code" names and is also known as: marijuana, grass, pot, dope, Mary Jane, hooch, weed, hash, joints, brew, reefers, cones, smoke, mull, buddha, ganga, hydro, yarndi, heads and green.

• Australians are now among the world's largest users of marijuana, spending more than $7 billion a year on the drug. The per capita expenditure on marijuana is $400 a year, double that on wine.

• Australians aged 20-29 years are more likely than those in the other age groups to have used marijuana/cannabis at some time in their lives. Almost three in five (58.9%) people aged 20-29 years had used marijuana/cannabis in their lifetime.

• Across all age groups, males were more likely than females to have ever used marijuana/cannabis.

• There were over two million Australians aged 14 years or older who had recently used marijuana/cannabis.

• Almost one-quarter of teenagers had used marijuana/cannabis in the last 12 months. More male teenagers (221,100) than female teenagers (179,500) were recent marijuana/cannabis users.

• New research has been disseminated in Australian media concluding that cannabis use predisposes towards later depression. Young women are twice as likely as non-users to suffer depression or anxiety if they had smoked cannabis weekly, and eight times as likely if they had used it every day. For young men the trend is similar, though less pronounced.

• People who were depressed or anxious when 14 or 15 were not more likely than others to be heavy cannabis users by their early 20s — meaning the link could not be explained in terms of a 'self-medication' cycle when induced psychosis leads to feelings of unhappiness, resulting in further use.

• Dependence (addiction) to a drug can be psychological or physical or both. It is claimed a person can become both physically and psychologically dependent on cannabis but definitions are vague.

• Cannabis and cannabinoids are useful to relieve symptoms of illnesses, but do not cure the underlying disease. Many of the uses of cannabis for medical purposes revolve around its ability to reduce pain and nausea, stimulate appetite and perhaps reduce muscle spasms.

• Cannabis or cannabinoids may be useful for some persons with the following conditions: HIV-related and cancer-related wasting; pain unrelieved by usual pain relief treatments; neurological disorders including multiple sclerosis, Tourette's syndrome, and motor neurone disease; and nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, which does not respond to the usual treatments for this problem.

• Smoked cannabis is unlikely ever to be prescribed in Australia because a smoked plant product will not satisfy the requirements for registration as a 'therapeutic good'. Registration is required if cannabis is to be medically prescribed. This means that any prescribed cannabis products will need to be pharmaceutical drugs derived from THC or other cannabinoids. No such drugs are currently registered in Australia.

• Support for the legalisation of personal use of marijuana/cannabis in 2001 (29.1%) was similar to that in 1998 (29.6%). Males (31.3%) were more likely than females (27.0%) to support legalisation.

  • In 2004, there were almost 2 million Australians aged 14 years and over who had recently used cannabis.
  • There were approximately 180,000 fewer recent cannabis users in 2004 when compared with 2001.
  • Almost one in five teenagers (persons aged 14-19) had used cannabis in the last 12 months. Slightly more male teenagers (18.4%) than female teenagers (17.4%) were recent cannabis users.
  • Persons aged 20-29 years were most likely to be recent cannabis users. 32.4% of males and 17.4% of females in this age group consumed cannabis within the last 12 months.
  • When comparing lifetime and recent rates of usage, approximately 60% of males and 70% of females who had used cannabis at some time in their life were no longer using in 2004.

Source: 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey : first results




THC content of cannabis in Australia: evidence & implications.


by Hall W., & Swift, W.; National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

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OBJECTIVE: To examine evidence on three claims that:

1) the THC content of Australian cannabis plants has increased up to 30 times;

2) problems experienced by cannabis users have increased in Australia in recent years; and

3) an increase in THC content is the most likely explanation of any increase in cannabis-related problems.

METHODS: These claims were assessed by examining data:

1) on THC potency in Australia, the United States and New Zealand;

2) on cannabis-related problems; and

3) from the 1998 National Drug Strategy Household Survey on patterns of cannabis use.


1) Published data do not show a 30-fold increase in THC potency of cannabis but show a more modest increase in the US.

2) There is suggestive evidence of an increase in cannabis-related problems among people seeking treatment for alcohol and drug problems, juvenile offenders and young adults with psychosis.

3) There are two other more plausible explanations for these reportedly higher rates of cannabis-related problems among adolescents and young adults: (i) more potent forms of cannabis ('heads') are more widely used; and (ii) cannabis users are initiating cannabis at an earlier age, thereby increasing the prevalence of harmful patterns of use.

CONCLUSIONS: There has probably been a modest increase in the THC content of cannabis, but changing patterns of cannabis use have probably made a larger contribution to any increase in rates of cannabis-related problems among young Australian adults.

IMPLICATIONS: Better data on the THC content of cannabis, the extent of cannabis-related problems and the ability of users to titrate the dose of cannabis would contribute to more informed debate.