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Section 6 - Attitudes to cannabis

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Many users gave multiple reasons for using cannabis, so quantitative data is of limited value. Respondents chose their own words to describe why they used cannabis, health problems and benefits, and best and worst experiences; we have summarised them and given some quotes in the tables. Unsurprisingly, people say they use cannabis because they enjoy it. Relaxation, enlightenment and socialising were also frequently mentioned reasons for using it. The users feel that it does them more good than harm. They would prefer that the law was more liberal, but a majority don"t think they would use more if it was.

Cannabis had the highest average positive subjective rating of all the drugs, with a positive/negative ratio of 39.4:1 (Tables 3.1-3.4) and was the second most commonly cited cause of a "Best drug experience" either alone or in combination with other drugs. It was the fourth most frequent cause of a "Worst drug experience", chosen 83 times, but 16 of those bad experiences were running out of drugs, and three were being busted. 15% of our sample had never tried any illegal drug except cannabis.

Only 3 people believed there should be no change in drugs laws. 43% of users believed that cannabis should be legalised, 34% decriminalised and 21.5% licensed (these options are not exclusive of one another and multiple answers were common). 24% thought all drugs should be legalised (Tables 6.2-6.3). 71% believed that liberalising the law on cannabis would not alter their own consumption patterns.

61% of users felt that cannabis had been of benefit to their physical or mental health, the most common reasons given being relaxation or stress relief, increased social tolerance, and pain relief. These also showed up frequently as "Best drug experience". 17% felt it had caused them physical or mental problems at some time, commonly short term memory loss, paranoia, or lung complaints. Some of these problems were also listed as "Worst drug experience".

Those reporting health problems from cannabis showed significantly higher frequencies of use of all drugs (aggregate frequency), alcohol, cannabis, mushrooms, tranquillisers, and number of plants grown. Mean incomes of this group were significantly lower. No other indices of drug use or spending showed any significant differences between those who had or had not experienced health problems from cannabis. Those people who reported health benefits were also significantly heavier users of cannabis and most other drugs, although their alcohol and tranquilliser use was lower.

A large majority of those reporting health problems with cannabis also reported health benefits, in particular those who did not specify what problem or benefit.


Section 7 - Variations by Age and Sex

Just over two thirds (68%) of respondents were male, and 32% female. The youngest was 15, the oldest 68 years old. The mean age was 25 years and two months, with no significant age difference between the sexes. The sample under-represents the under-20's compared with other drugs studies. The mode, or most common age, was 21. No age was given by 71 respondents, 67 gave no sex.

Sex and Age Groups





< 19 












> 30 








Lifetime prevalence and age of initiation

For all drugs, the lowest number who had ever used them was in the under 20 age group, presumably because of the lower number of that age group, and perhaps because older respondents have had more opportunities to try different drugs. However, younger respondents had first tried all drugs earlier than their elders. The initiation age difference was largest for ecstasy and crack, which were not widely available until the late 1980"s. Respondents under 20 had, on average, tried cannabis around 3 years earlier in their lives than the over thirties.

The illegal drugs most likely to ever have been used by the under-20s, apart from cannabis, were LSD, amphetamines, and mushrooms. Alcohol and tobacco were actually the second and third most commonly tried drugs, and a high proportion of that usage will have been illegal because of age limits.


Frequency of use and Spending

The most frequent users of most drugs were in their twenties, with the exceptions of mushrooms (over 30s), other psychedelics (over 25s), cocaine, heroin, barbiturates and tranquillisers (all over 30s). There were notable age differences in spending on drugs, with teenagers spending less than adults on legal drugs and cannabis, and more on LSD, and young adults (20-24) spending nearly twice as much on ecstasy as other groups. The higher levels of drug use among younger, less experienced users, is similar to the findings of the 1984 survey. Drug users would appear to try a range of substances early in their drug-using careers, but revert to mainly cannabis use and possibly occasional use of other drugs as they grow older.


Attitudes to Drugs

There were age-related differences in the subjective ratings given to various drugs. Attitudes to tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and solvents were more negative (or less positive) the older the age group, and attitudes to tea & coffee became more positive. For the other drugs, attitudes were most positive among respondents in their twenties. Respondents under 20 would typically give the most negative responses to most drugs, but gave the most positive responses to LSD and cannabis. This may relate to the numbers who had ever used particular drugs, as low ratings generally correlate with low usage.



Women had first tried most drugs later than men, other than alcohol, LSD and amphetamine in the youngest age group. The difference between sexes in age of first use tended to be greater between older respondents (Tables 7.1 & 7.2).

Females of any age group were less likely to have ever used most drugs, likely to use drugs less often, and spent less per month on average, than males. The exceptions were legal drugs, cannabis and ecstasy. The heaviest tobacco smokers and tranquilliser users were women over 30. Women under 20 used alcohol and ecstasy more often than young men. Women between 20-30 were slightly more likely to have ever used alcohol or cannabis than men, but used them less frequently. Ecstasy was more likely to have ever been tried, and used more often, by under-20's females than males, and over 30's males than females.



The British Crime Survey found that more men than women had ever used any drug, for all age groups, with the difference narrower among younger people. The levels of lifetime use of all drugs reported here were higher than in the BCS, and higher than in the London Dance Safety Campaign survey except for Ecstasy and cocaine. They were lower than in the Release Drugs & Dance survey for every drug listed in both, except cannabis and mushrooms, for every age group and both sexes. In particular, the proportion of users in our study (mainly from a pop festival), ever having used ecstasy (52%) was much lower than in the clubs (63%-85%). The Release study found no significant differences between the sexes" levels of lifetime use of any drug except LSD, Ketamine, and crack. Comparisons with the present authors" 1984 survey show a marked rise in ecstasy (included as 'other' in 1984), slightly increased prevalence of LSD and amphetamine, but reduced prevalence of cocaine and heroin (Tables 7.3- 7.5). In other respects the results of this survey are strikingly similar to those reported in 1984.

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