What are Cannabis users like?

Bernie Hayzy - a 2004 false stereotype

Bernie Hayzy - the unwashed, scruffy, half-awake spaced out cannabis using father of the Hayzy Family (and yes, he wears sandals!), a cartoon issued by the Mentor foundation through the government's talk to Frank anti-drugs campaign.

All cannabis users are unwashed hippies who slouch around all day, they never work nor indeed integrate in any way with normal society. Most of them will become heroin addicts within a few weeks of seeing their first joint ... ER yeah, That's what we've been told for all these years: cannabis - the wasters drug.

Sadly, even today when cannabis is so commonplace, these outdated stereotypes are still presented as the truth but of course it's not true; cannabis users are - on the whole - normal, productive members of society. But of course, to admit that would undermine the policy of prohibition, so the government lies and media hype continue.

So who uses cannabis in Britain, how do they use it and how much does it cost them?

The very real answer to that is we really don't know. We don't know because cannabis use is illegal and so we can't do the usual sort of user surveys we take for granted with any normal product. The government relies on the recorded crime statistics to make what is at best a guess at the level of drugs use, but it's likely to be wildly wrong for the simple reason that the vast majority of cannabis users never come into contact with the law.

We do have a more reliable source of information than the government though, thanks to the surveys conducted by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit. These surveys are dependent on respondents telling the truth of course and there's no way of checking, but there's nothing anyone can do about that whilst cannabis is an uncontrolled drug subjected to prohibition.

The IDMU have been handing out questionnaires to tokers at clubs and events such as Glastonbury for a great number of years, the format of the questionnaire has stayed the same over the years, allowing Matthew Atha and his co-researchers to spot trends changing through time. Comparisons are also possible on a regional basis.

You can read the IDMU's "Cannabis Use in Britain" lecture notes here

UK Drug Market Analysis, Purchasing Patterns & Prices.
Second in the series of Regular Users surveys

The IDMU publish several reports about drug use in the UK
click here
IDMU logo

The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit; IDMU

Independent Drug Monitoring Unit

Press Release [23-9-97]

Major new drug user survey estimates UK cannabis market to be worth a minimum £3.5 billion per year.

No evidence of increased road accident rate among cannabis users

Drug arrests do not appear to deter, and may even stimulate, drug use.

Results of a recent survey targeted at drug users was today presented by Matthew Atha and Sean Blanchard at the conference of the Addictions Forum, Durham Castle:

REGULAR USERS - Self-reported drug consumption patterns and attitudes towards drugs among 1333 regular cannabis users.
by Matthew Atha and Sean Blanchard
Published by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit (£24.99 including postage)

A sample of 1333 regular cannabis users, recruited from pop festivals, snowball samples and direct mailing, completed anonymous questionnaires about their use of all drugs.


The conclusions of the study were as follows:

  1. Virtually all respondents had used cannabis; the majority were daily users. Although the majority of users consume a moderate amount (1g per day or less, around 6 typical joints), there is a significant minority of heavy users consuming 1 to 2 ounces per week (4g to 9g per day, 10 to 20 or more joints). Even the heaviest UK users, including growers of cannabis (who use significantly more than average), use substantially less than in Caribbean producer countries. The distribution of cannabis consumption among UK users appears to have altered little since the authors previous survey 1984, although prevalence indicators suggest that the number of drug users in the general population has increased substantially in that time.

  2. Most regular cannabis users will have tried a range of drugs, notably LSD, Mushrooms, Amphetamine and Ecstasy. For most, such use is experimental or occasional. Hardly any respondents were regular users of cocaine, heroin or crack, and the proportion of daily heroin users within the sample (<1%) is similar to that found in 1984 (0.5%). Of those who have not yet done so, fewer would try heroin than in 1984. While these results provide some support for a progression from regular cannabis use to experimental or occasional use of hallucinogens and/or stimulants, there is no evidence of any progression from any level of cannabis use to regular use of any other drug. Ecstasy use among persons attending festivals would appear to be substantially lower than among 'clubbers'.
  1. A clear majority of users reported positive or highly positive attitudes to cannabis, Mushrooms, LSD and Ecstasy (in that order), and an overwhelming majority gave negative or highly negative ratings to solvents, crack, barbiturates, heroin, and tranquillisers. Subjective ratings of individual drugs were lowest among non-users, and highest among regular or daily users of each drug. LSD was responsible for the greatest number of worst, and of best drug experiences. A majority of those reporting health problems arising from cannabis also reported health benefits. The most common mental health benefit reported was relaxation and/or stress relief.

  2. Users who had been convicted or cautioned for cannabis offences were significantly more likely to use, and/or to spend, substantially more money, on a range of drugs. These results may indicate that the effect of an arrest could be more likely to stimulate than to deter subsequent drug use. The year of first use of cannabis mirrors the police conviction statistics for those years, suggesting both to be determined to a large extent by availability, and that naive users are not substantially deterred by convictions among their peers.

  3. The overall level of road traffic accidents reported by respondents who drove appeared to be no greater than that found in the general population. However, the small minority of respondents reporting multiple accidents were significantly heavier users of and/or spenders on a range of drugs. The proportion of road accident victims testing positive for cannabis, indicating use within the past month (under 10%) may not exceed the level of use among the general population, particularly among the young adults (i.e. inexperienced drivers) who are statistically more likely to become involved in road accidents. These results provide no support for the view that moderate drug use, particularly of cannabis, makes a significant contribution to road traffic accident statistics.

  4. Women tended to be lighter users of most drugs, and to have first used most drugs later in life, than men. Users under 20 had first used cannabis at a mean age three years younger than users over 30. The heaviest users of drugs tended to be respondents in their twenties. This is consistent with the finding in 1984 that users experiment with a range of drugs early in a drug-using career, and settle down to a more stable pattern involving regular cannabis use and, for some, occasional use of other drugs.

  5. Students reported lower drug use than unemployed or working respondents, a finding common to both the authors' previous surveys of this nature. A high proportion of drug abuse surveys concentrate on school and/or university students; these results suggest such studies may substantially underestimate the prevalence, and levels of, drug use among young adults, and any generalisations from such studies would be of questionable validity.

  6. Prices of cannabis are remarkably stable throughout the UK, both in geographical distribution and between inner-city and rural areas. The level of recognition of different types of cannabis appears to be lower than in previous generations, many could not easily distinguish between cannabis or resin of different types or origins. Eighth ounce deals (nominal 3.5g) of most types of cannabis resin tend to cost £15 or less, herbal cannabis £15 or more. Skunk and similar have more variable prices, from under commercial prices to up to twice the price of resin, most commonly £20 to £25 per eighth, but also supplied at lower prices on an informal basis. Home grown (outdoor/leaf) prices are much lower, around half the average resin price, but where supplied such material would most commonly be given away free. Prices are both lower and more variable in larger quantities.

  7. Extrapolation of these results to prevalence in the population may not be reliable due to the nature of the user population under study, although both previous surveys by the authors have found similar patterns of use and rates of arrest. However, using arrest statistics and reported 'busts' among respondents in this survey as indicators, regular cannabis users could comprise some 2.75 million UK citizens in 1994, consuming 817 metric tons of cannabis products per year worth approximately £3.5 billion at street level. These estimates would probably be conservative.