Cannabis and cocaine use on rise, as smoking goes out of fashion

Australia continues to be one of the biggest consumers of cocaine in the world.

Australia continues to be one of the biggest consumers of cocaine in the world. Photo: Shutterstock

Australians are one of the world’s largest consumers of cocaine and cannabis with no sign of slowing down, while the use of hallucinogenics is on the rise, according to a newly released survey.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) National Drug Strategy Household Survey asked more than 21,000 people across Australia on their attitudes to and usage of smoking, vaping, alcohol and illicit drugs.

Dr Jack Wilson, from the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at the University of Sydney, said Australia remains “one of the leading cannabis-using nations”.

“The number of Australians ever using cannabis is now at its highest since the survey began, and over one in 10 people reported use in the past year,” he said.

“The Australian Capital Territory, which decriminalised possession and cultivation of the drug, reported lower cannabis use rates compared to Australian states where it is criminalised.”

The survey found 11.5 per cent of Australians reported using cannabis in the past 12 months, while 4.5 per cent reported using cocaine.

Dr Stephen Bright, a senior lecturer in addiction at Edith Cowan University, said there is little public awareness about the use of cocaine in Australia.

“It is perceived to be an upper-class drug despite the significant impact that the production of the drug and trafficking has on the South American rainforest and indigenous communities,” he said.

“Use of psychedelic drugs has significantly increased, making them the third-most-popular illegal drugs in Australia after cannabis and cocaine.”

When it came to hallucinogens, 2.4 per cent of people reported using them compared to just 1.6 per cent in 2019, and Bright said it is “likely due to increased media hype regarding the potential for these drugs to be used to treat mental health conditions”.

Vaping and smoking

Although vaping had increased from 2.5 per cent in 2019 to 7 per cent, the rates of smoking have dropped by two-thirds since 1991, according to the survey.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Temple, a drug and alcohol use and addiction researcher from the University of New England, said that the “report is primarily a story of two different cohorts”.

“The first is comprised of approximately half of younger Australians, under 30 years of age, who have tried vaping at least once in their life, typically out of curiosity,” she said.

“The second cohort is comprised of older Australians who reported that they have mainly taken up vaping as a way to reduce or quit their use of tobacco.”

teen smoking

Smoking rates have dropped significantly since 1991. Photo: Getty

Eleven per cent of the adult population in 2019 reported smoking daily, compared to just 8.3 per cent in 2022-23.


The survey found that three in four Australians drank within the past 12 months, but one in three consumed alcohol in a way that put their health at risk.

Dr Katrina Prior, a research fellow from The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, said many individuals use alcohol as a temporary escape from stress and mental health issues.

“Over the past two decades, Australia has experienced a concerning rise in levels of psychological distress, a trend that has been closely linked to persistently high levels of risky drinking behaviours,” she said.

“Providing accessible support resources and encouraging open discussions about psychological distress, mental health, and drinking behaviours may empower individuals to develop healthier coping mechanisms and seek appropriate assistance when needed.”

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