Use Patterns

This section provides information about the ways in which Australians use cannabis. It addresses how much and how often Australians use cannabis, the most common types used, and methods and locations of use.

The primary source of data used in this section is the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018). The NDSHS is a triennial general population survey of Australians' awareness, attitudes, and behaviours relating to alcohol and other drug use. It is the best data source available to provide a national population demographic profile of Australians’ cannabis use behaviours. 

Although the NDSHS does collect data regarding cannabis use from 12 and 13 year olds, only data from respondents aged 14 years and over is presented in the NDSHS report. Secondary analyses of the NDSHS conducted by NCETA were therefore also restricted to those aged 14 years or older.

What proportion of Australians have used cannabis?

Approximately one third (35%) of Australians have used cannabis in their lifetime, 10% have used cannabis in the past 12 months, 6% have used in the past month, and 4% have used in the past week.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Are men or women in Australia more likely to have used cannabis?

Australian men are more likely than women to have used cannabis in their lifetime, the past 12 months, the past month and the past week.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Are younger or older Australians more likely to have used cannabis?

Australians aged 30-39 years are more likely than other age groups to have used cannabis in their lifetime. Those aged 18-24 years are more likely to have used cannabis in the past 12 months, past month, and past week.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

What is the average age at which Australians start to use cannabis?

Among Australians aged 14 years and older who have ever used cannabis, the average age at which they first tried it was 19 years.

Among Australians aged 14-29 years who have ever used cannabis, the average age at which they first tried it was 17 years.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Has the average age at which Australians start to use cannabis changed over time?

Among Australians aged 14 years or older who have ever used cannabis, the average age at which they first tried it has remained stable at 19 years between 1995 and 2016.

Among Australians aged 14-29 years who have ever used cannabis, the average age at which they first tried it has increased slightly over time: between 2004 and 2010 the average age of initiation was 16 years; while in 2016 it increased to 17 years.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

What forms of cannabis do Australians use?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, the majority (68%) used the head of the cannabis plant, followed by cannabis leaf (46%).

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Please note: Percentages do not tally to 100% as respondents could select more than one form of cannabis.

Do men and women in Australia use different forms of cannabis?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, men were more likely than women to use the head of the cannabis plant, cannabis resin, and cannabis oil.  Women were more likely than men to use cannabis leaf and forms other than head, resin or oil.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Please note: Percentages do not tally to 100% as respondents could select more than one form of cannabis.

Do younger and older Australians use different forms of cannabis?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, those aged 14-17 years and 18-24 years were more likely to use cannabis leaf. Other age groups were more likely to use cannabis head. 

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use.

Please note: Percentages do not tally to 100% as respondents were could select more than one form of cannabis.

How do Australians use cannabis?

Most Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months smoked it as a joint (83%) or in a bong or pipe (73%). Many (57%) mixed it with tobacco.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

Please note: Percentages do not tally to 100% as respondents could select more than one response.

Do men and women in Australia use cannabis differently?

Australian men and women who used cannabis in the past 12 months tended to use it in similar ways.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

Please note: Percentages do not tally to 100% as respondents could select more than one response.

Do younger and older Australians use cannabis differently?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, it was most commonly smoked as a joint, followed by in a bong or pipe, in all age groups.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

Please note: Percentages do not tally to 100% as respondents could select more than one response.

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use.

Where do Australians obtain cannabis?

The majority (66%) of Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months usually obtained it from a friend. Dealers were the usual source of cannabis for 20% of cannabis users.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Where do Australians usually use cannabis?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, the majority (87%) used it in a private home.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Please note: Percentages do not total to 100% as respondents could select more than one location.

How often do Australians use cannabis?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, the largest proportion (34%) used once or twice per year. Approximately one in seven (14%) used every day.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Please note: Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding.

Do men or women in Australia use cannabis more often?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, men were more likely than women to use frequently (every day or once a week). Women were more likely than men to use once or twice per year.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

Do younger or older Australians use cannabis more often?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, those aged 40 years or older were more likely than other age groups to use cannabis every day. Those aged 25-29 years were more likely to use cannabis every few months, and those aged 14-17 years were more likely to use once or twice per year.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

 * Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use.

 Please note: Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding.

How much cannabis do Australians usually use?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, 39% usually used one or less joints, bongs, or cones of cannabis on a day they used, and 38% usually used 2-4 joints, bongs or cones. Approximately one in five (23%) usually used 5 or more joints, bongs or cones on a day they used.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

Please note: Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding. The category “one or less” refers to those who usually consume ¼, ½, ¾ or 1 joint, bong or cone per day of use.

Do men or women in Australia use more cannabis?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, men tended to use more cones/joints/bongs per occasion of use than women.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

Please note: Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding. The category “one or less” refers to those who usually consume ¼, ½, ¾ or 1 joint, bong or cone per day of use.

Do younger or older Australians use more cannabis?

Among Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months, younger age groups (14-24 years) were more likely to use 2-4 joints, bongs or cones. Older Australians (25+ years) were more likely to use one or fewer joints, bongs or cones on an occasion they used cannabis.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution.

Please note: Percentages may not tally to 100% due to rounding. The category “one or less” refers to those who usually consume ¼, ½, ¾ or 1 joint, bong or cone per day of use.

Has the proportion of cannabis users in Australia changed over time?

Lifetime and past 12 month cannabis use has remained relatively stable since 2004 (34%-35% and 9%-11%, respectively).

The proportion of Australians who had used cannabis in their lifetime was lowest (31%) in 1995 and highest (39%) in 1998. The proportion of Australians who had used cannabis in the past 12 months was lowest (9%) in 2007 and highest (18%) in 1998.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

What proportion of cannabis users use other drugs concurrently?

The majority of Australians who used cannabis in the past 12 months used at least one other drug at the same time. Alcohol (79%) was the drug most often used with cannabis, followed by tobacco (61%).

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey

Please note: Percentages do not tally to 100% as survey respondents could select more than one drug type.

Do levels of cannabis in wastewater in Australia vary by geographic location?

The amount of cannabis found in Australian wastewater varies substantially between Australian jurisdictions.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission reported that specific sites in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory had the highest cannabis use. Use was relatively low in capital city New South Wales and Victoria compared to other parts of the country. In general cannabis use was substantially higher in regional areas than in capital cities.

Source: Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (2019). National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program: Report 7. Canberra: ACIC.

†This FAQ uses data from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Cannabis consumption was measured by its urinary metabolite, 11-Nor-9-carboxy-∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-COOH). Further information on the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is available here.