Cannabis use spiked, but methamphetamine use plunged in Australia during COVID-19 lockdown

With cannabis use on the rise, Australian authorities are cracking down. COVID-19 is a national drug enforcement strategy that effects all of Australia’s states and territories for one week every year in which law enforcement activities are largely curtailed due to an increase in illicit drugs. As a result, methamphetamine use plunged during this period from 2015-2016 at the same time as marijuana consumption increased. This show how successful strategies can be implemented when they take place before any changes occur related to law or regulations



According to a recent research conducted by the University of South Australia, methamphetamine (ice) usage decreased in Australia during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, but cannabis use increased.

Western Australia had the biggest decrease in ice loads, dropping more than 50% between April and June 2020, because to border restrictions limiting the popular drug’s importation. Cannabis is mainly manufactured locally, therefore national supplies were still abundant, and wastewater samples mirrored this, with significant rises in cannabis usage in all states except the Northern Territory.

The study, which was published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, included researchers from UniSA, The University of Queensland, and the University of Adelaide.

Every two months, wastewater samples from 20 treatment facilities throughout Australia are collected and analyzed for methamphetamine (ice), MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine, cannabis, and alcohol, covering about half of the population. Those obtained before the COVID-19 pandemic (August 2016 – December 2019) were compared to samples taken between February and June 2020, when Australia was placed on high alert.

Approximately half of Australia’s cocaine users ceased taking the party drug – or severely reduced their usage – during the lockdown when worldwide supply lines were interrupted, according to the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System. This was reflected in the wastewater discharges, although cocaine usage recovered to pre-pandemic levels once restrictions were relaxed. Ecstasy usage followed a similar trend.

South Australians drank considerably less during lockdown, drinking 12% less alcohol than usual, according to 2020 samples, with NSW and the Northern Territory following suit.

The findings also revealed that during the three-month lockdown, alcohol consumption was equally distributed throughout the week, despite the fact that overall consumption was reduced, with the closure of bars, hotels, nightclubs, and social events limiting the usual weekend surge.

Alcohol consumption increased when restrictions were lifted, especially in the Northern Territory, which was released from lockdown sooner than the other states.

While ice usage declined dramatically in Western Australia and other areas of the nation, declines in South Australia and Victoria were more gradual and gradual, indicating that both states’ capital cities retained residual ice supplies.

Job losses and income loss may have contributed to the drop in use throughout the country, but it’s more likely to be linked to interrupted supply lines.”

Cobus Gerber, University of South Australia Associate Professor and Study Lead Author

“This research sheds light on the first four months of COVID limitations in Australia,” he adds, adding that “it remains to be seen what the pandemic’s long-term impact will be.”

The research, according to Dr Richard Bade of UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences, is one of only a few in the world to look at community drug usage using wastewater analysis in a COVID-19 environment.

“A study of eight European cities that looked at drug usage over the course of one week in 2020 found that the most popular substances like cocaine, amphetamine, and MDMA all dropped during the lockdown time,” he adds. “However, unlike what we observed in Australia, an Austrian research analyzing samples from only one city revealed that methamphetamine usage rose.”


Journal citation:

Bade, R., et al. (2021) Impact of COVID-19 Controls on the Use of Illicit Drugs and Alcohol in Australia. Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

You May Also Like