State surge in cannabis use

CANNABIS use was the main problem for more than half the Tasmanians who last year sought help from a drug-treatment service, according to a new national drugs report. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfarereport released on Friday shows that Tasmania was the only state in Australia in 2009-10 in which cannabis rather than alcohol was the most common primary reason for people to attend drug counselling. The data is based on reporting by alcohol and drug treatment services nationally.  Cannabis was the “principal drug of concern” for 62 per cent of Tasmanian clients of drug and alcohol services well over double the national average.  The next highest percentage of people seeking help primarily for cannabis was in Queensland (36 per cent), followed by Victoria with 23.4. compared to the national average of 10 per cent.

Nationally, in 150,000 instances of drug and alcohol treatment provided in 2009-10, alcohol was the principal drug of concern in almost half (46 per cent), with cannabis nominated in 23 per cent of episodes.  The Tasmanian treatment figures for cannabis reflect concerns expressed by the Australian Medication Association (AMA) that use of the drug was now a bigger long-term problem than alcohol abuse among Tasmanian teenagers.  AMA spokesman Hamley Perry recently told the Sunday Tasmanian that the effects of cannabis were more far-reaching and longer lasting than those of alcohol, and that a growing number of teens “self-medicated” by smoking pot.  The AMA has also expressed dismay that bongs and hydroponic growing equipment were easily available for sale in Tasmania. Drug Education Network community development project officer Jonathan Pare said Tasmania’s youth justice drug diversion programs could account in part for the high number of clients seeking counselling for cannabis. However, the current uptake of the drug among young people was troubling.

Over a typical year in counselling, Mr Pare would see about 90 young people who were dealing with a range of substance-use issues.  “One thing I was very concerned about over my last 12 months in practice was the uptake of cannabis,” Mr Pare said.  Cannabis may be becoming an easier option than alcohol for young people looking for a cheap buzz. “There’s been a lot of education around the harms associated with alcohol and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was putting young people off alcohol,” he said. “The comments that have come from young people in the past 12 months have been that [cannabis] is easier for them to get than alcohol, it tastes better for them, as they don’t actually like the taste of alcohol. “They’re definitely looking for a high, and there are lots of different reasons for that.” For some it’s boredom, for others it’s stress or anxiety, and for a small per cent it’s because everyone else is doing it.”

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