Pubdate: Fri, 15 Nov 2013
Source: Timaru Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2013 Timaru Herald


Many New Zealanders are turning to cannabis as an alternative to
alcohol, which might explain why we are among the highest users in the
world, a medical anthropologist says.

According to the Ministry of Health's most recent New Zealand Alcohol
and Drug Use Survey, one in seven New Zealand adults will have used
cannabis in the past year.

The survey found 46.4 per cent of all adults had used cannabis in
their lifetime.

That put New Zealand among the highest cannabis users in the world,
according to the 2013 United Nations World Drug Report.

Medical anthropologist and research consultant Geoff Noller, who
completed his doctoral thesis on cannabis use in New Zealand, says a
major theme was the use of cannabis instead of drinking alcohol.

He surveyed 80 people in Dunedin about their cannabis

"A lot of people in my study found they didn't like alcohol, felt out
of control when they had alcohol, so for a lot of the cannabis users,
it was a way they could destress but remain in control."

Cannabis was easy to grow in New Zealand, and this had led to the
development of a "cannabis culture" - comparable to winetasting, Dr
Noller said.

"People like cannabis, they like growing it, and the gardening side.
They enjoy the different varieties like a person who might enjoy
different types of wine," he said.

"There's a real interest outside of simply getting high, there's a
whole culture around it."

National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml)
president Chris Fowlie agreed the majority of cannabis users found it
a more enjoyable, safer alternative to alcohol.

"They're making a decision to use something that works for them and is
safe for them," he said.

New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said it was
difficult to put a finger on exactly why New Zealand's cannabis user
rates are so high.

"There's something about us though, generally, we like our booze, so
we're also one of the highest users of alcohol in the world," he said.

"When legal highs first hit the market, within a couple of years a
quarter of the population had tried it, so there does seem to be
something about Kiwis and their drugs."

The foundation is hosting an International Drug Policy Symposium at
the end of the month to explore the science around cannabis and health.

"We've always had a focus on cannabis for the simple reason it's our
most-used illegal drug," Mr Bell said.

"So we've decided to try to shed a light back on this drug that people
kind of take for granted or simply ignore."
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