Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in Australia and worldwide, with around 209 million people reporting past year use globally in 2020 (ACIC 2023; UNODC 2022). Australia has among the highest cannabis use rates in the world, with 2.5 million people reporting cannabis use in the previous 12 months in 2022–2023 (AIHW 2024; UNODC 2022). Cannabis use varies by sociodemographic factors; for example, consumption is typically higher in regional areas of Australia than in capital cities (ACIC 2023).

What are cannabinoids (including cannabis)?

Cannabinoids are drugs that have a similar action to the Cannabis sativa plant in the brain (ADF 2023). There are between 80 and 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis and is responsible for its intoxicating effects (ADF 2023). Cannabinoids can be used recreationally or medicinally, and include:

  • Cannabis, which is available in forms such as herbal cannabis (marijuana), cannabis resin (hashish) and cannabis oil. In Australia, cannabis is often smoked in a joint or water pipe, either alone or with tobacco, or added to food and eaten (AIHW 2024). Cannabis can be grown indoors (‘hydroponic cannabis’) or outdoors (‘bush cannabis’).
  • Medicinal cannabis, which generally refers to cannabis that is prescribed by a healthcare professional for the treatment of conditions such as chronic pain. In Australia, medicinal cannabis is available in forms including oil, capsule, and flower (MacPhail et al. 2022).
  • Synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs), which are synthetic compounds that are designed to mimic the effects of cannabis but are not structurally related to THC (Darke et al. 2021). SCRAs are powdered chemicals that are typically sprayed onto herbs to give the appearance of cannabis and are usually smoked.

This report focuses primarily on cannabis, as opposed to medically prescribed cannabis or SCRAs. Information on medical cannabis is outlined in ‘Medical cannabis’.

People use cannabis for many reasons, and many do so without experiencing any adverse effects. However, cannabis use has been linked to a range of harms. At a broad level, cannabis accounts for substantial social and economic costs. These costs amounted to an estimated $4.5 billion across Australia in 2015–16, mostly relating to criminal justice, healthcare, and workplace expenditure (Whetton et al. 2020). Cannabis use has also been linked to a range of negative health outcomes at the person-level, such as dependence. The risk of harm varies between individuals, and particularly impacts people who use cannabis daily or started using in adolescence (Volkow et al. 2014). Understanding the characteristics of people who may be at increased risk of harm is essential for developing targeted education and awareness campaigns and ensuring adequate access to treatment for those who seek support for their use.

Policy context

The legislative landscape surrounding cannabis in Australia is rapidly evolving. Prior to 2016, cannabis was generally considered to be an illegal narcotic under Australian law. Legislation allowing access to medicinal cannabis products was introduced in 2016, under which healthcare providers can prescribe cannabis for specific medical conditions under strict supervision (Department of Health and Aged Care 2016). In addition, possession of cannabis for personal use has been decriminalised in one jurisdiction (ACT Government 2019). These changes are reflected in shifting attitudes towards cannabis use and policy among the general population, with broad increases in support for decriminalisation and away from legal penalties for possession over time (AIHW 2024). In addition, the Australian Government has implemented numerous strategies that aim to minimise the risk of harm associated with cannabis use and ensure access to evidence-based treatment for people who seek support for their cannabis use.

Key cannabis policies in Australia

National Drug Strategy 2017–2026 

The National Drug Strategy (NDS) aims to provide a national framework for minimising harm related to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in Australia (Department of Health and Aged Care 2017). The NDS is guided by 3 pillars of harm minimisation: demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction. Together, these pillars aim to prevent or reduce the uptake, supply and production, and adverse health, economic and social consequences of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The NDS also aims to support people to manage their AOD use via evidence-based treatment. Accordingly, research that supports evidence-informed approaches has been identified as a priority action under the NDS. 

National Framework for Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Treatment 2019–2029 

The National Framework for Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Treatment aims to ensure that all Australians have access to evidence-based treatment (Department of Health and Aged Care 2019). The framework focuses on treatment interventions for AOD use and provides an overview of effective treatment principles.

Purpose of this report

This report uses data from multiple sources to create a robust picture of cannabis availability, use and treatment in Australia over time. Examining cannabis-related trends is timely given Australia’s high rate of cannabis use and the potential impacts of recent regulatory changes on cannabis use and associated harms. The report aims to examine:

  • Changes in cannabis availability (including supply) over time;
  • Changes in the use of cannabis among the Australian population and characteristics of people who use cannabis and their use;
  • Characteristics and treatment pathways of people who receive treatment for cannabis.

Data sources and methodology

This report includes data from several different sources to give a robust overview of cannabis availability, use and treatment in Australia (Table 1). Direct comparisons across sources should be interpreted with caution as each source differs by methodology, data items, population group, and terminology. See ‘Technical notes’ for more information.

Table 1: Summary of data sources used in this report

Data source


Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS)

An administrative data collection on publicly funded alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia, reported annually since 2003–04. It includes information on clients (e.g., age, sex) and treatment received (e.g., the principal drug of concern that led the client to seek treatment).

Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey

A national survey of adolescents aged 12–17 years, conducted every 3 years across Australian schools since 1984. It includes information on lifetime and current use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs among school students.

Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA)

An illegal drug monitoring program including a self-report survey and urinalysis of police detainees across 5 locations across Australia annually. It includes information about drug use and the price, purity, and availability of illegal drugs.

Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS)

A national survey of people who use ecstasy and related drugs, conducted annually in Australian capital cities since 2003. The EDRS includes information about participant characteristics (e.g., age, sex), lifetime and recent drug use, and the price, purity, and availability of illegal drugs.

Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR)

A report that collates national data on illegal drug markets in Australia, reported annually each financial year from 2002–03. The IDDR includes information about arrests, seizures and detections, and the purity and price of illegal drugs.

Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS)

A national sentinel survey of people who inject drugs, conducted annually in Australian capital cities since 2000. The IDRS includes information about participant characteristics, lifetime and recent drug use, and the price, purity, and availability of illegal drugs.

National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS)

A national household survey of people aged 14 and over, conducted across Australia every 2 to 3 years since 1985. The NDSHS includes information about participant characteristics, lifetime and recent use of alcohol, tobacco and other illicit drugs, and attitudes towards drug policy and consumption. 

National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP)

A collection that measures the presence of selected legal and illegal substances in samples obtained from wastewater treatment plants in capital city and regional sites across Australia, reported three times per year since 2016. The NWDMP includes information about the population-weighted average consumption of substances across Australia, with coverage of around 55% of the Australian population for the April 2023 report.