Cannabis takes toll on Aborigines

THE serious consequences of long-term cannabis use in indigenous communities are beginning to show, with an alarming surge in the rate of chronic mental health conditions among those who started smoking the drug at an early age.
James Cook University researcher Alan Clough, who has been looking at the issue of indigenous drug use for the past five years, found cannabis use in remote communities was now as high as 70 per cent of people, with almost 90 per cent of users claiming to be addicted.
Since the study began in 2004, the bulk of users surveyed reported continuing heavy use. “After 15 years of a cannabis epidemic we’re really starting to see the chronic mental effects appearing,” Professor Clough said.
“We’ve seen acute psychosis that is irreversible, as well as depression and dependence. Unfortunately we also have the situation where suicide is linked not just with cannabis use but also through withdrawal. The other worrying trend is the declining age of people trying it for the first time. Some kids are starting at 10.”
In a recent study of three remote Arnhem Land communities, Professor Clough and a team of researchers found that cannabis use exceeded six “cones” daily in almost 90 per cent of users. This was about twice the consumption of regular users elsewhere in Australia. The study also found people spent more than 60 per cent of their income on cannabis.
Professor Clough denied that alcohol bans under the intervention had forced people to switch to drugs. Senior Arnhem Land elder Bakamumu Marika said young people were turning to cannabis out of boredom. “People just get bored stiff. They’ve got no work to do, no training, no jobs,” he said. 9th Nov. 2009

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