High prevalence of cannabis use, mental health impacts, and potential intervention strategies: data from the Cape York cannabis project
Bohanna, India, Graham, Veronica, Robertson, Jan, Rogerson, Bernadette, Genn, Ray, Demarchi, Celia, O'Brien, Jana, and Clough, Alan (2011) High prevalence of cannabis use, mental health impacts, and potential intervention strategies: data from the Cape York cannabis project. Drug and Alcohol Review, 30 (S1). p. 13.
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Introduction and Aims: High rates of cannabis use and dependence are significant issues in remote Indigenous communities. We have previously shown extremely high rates of cannabis use, dependence and adverse mental health impacts in Arnhem Land. This study reports the first data on cannabis use and its mental health impacts in Cape York.
Design and Methods: We interviewed over 300 Aboriginal people aged 16–40 years in three remote Cape York communities. Data was gathered on rates of cannabis use, mental health impacts including dependence and withdrawal, and reasons for quitting.
Results: One in two individuals interviewed was using cannabis, with most using cannabis daily or weekly. Approximately 70% reported cannabis dependence. Encouragingly, more than 70% of current users were considering quitting/cutting down or had made previous attempts. In current users, seeking or starting employment was the most common motivation for wanting to quit, whilst former users quit primarily for family reasons. Users reported negative mental health impacts of cannabis. One in four reported ‘stressing out’ when cannabis was unavailable, suggesting withdrawal. Anger/ irritability, paranoia, auditory hallucinations, thoughts of suicide/ self-harm and memory impairment were reported in up to 10% of users.
Discussion and Conclusions: Rates of use and dependence are much higher than national rates (4.9% of males and 2.2% of females nationally used cannabis in the past week, 21% exhibiting dependence), and are similar to Northern Territory rates. One in four Aboriginal users in remote communities may be suffering mental ill health. Interventions should enhance quit support and employment opportunities and strengthen families.