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Te Ao Taru Kino Drug Use Among Maori, 1998
Brendon Dacey and Helen Moewaka Barnes

Summary of findings

This report presents the findings from the Maori respondents who participated in the first national survey into drug use in Aotearoa/New Zealand.  It has been produced in response to a growing demand from people working in the Maori health sector for this type of information.  It also constitutes the findings from the first in a series of surveys that will allow trends in drug use among Maori to be monitored.  

This survey, conducted in 1998, explored the level of drug use, patterns of drug use and the perceptions of both users and non-users towards various issues related to drug use.  Opinions about what exactly is deemed to be a 'drug' varies from person to person.  Some would include caffeine in coffee and tea in their definition of 'drugs', while many would confine the term to substances that are illegal.  In this survey, drugs were defined as substances used to change people's state of consciousness for non-medical purposes.  The focus of this report is to describe the use by Maori of the three most common drugs in New Zealand: alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.  Use of other illegal drugs, such as hallucinogens (e.g. LSD, magic mushrooms, ecstasy), stimulants (e.g. cocaine, crack) and opiates (e.g. heroine, homebake,  poppies) are also reported.  

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This report is a summary of the responses from 1,593 Maori aged 15 to 45 who took part in a 1998 nationaI telephone survey of drug use in New Zealand.  It is intended to be the first in a series of reports to examine trends and inform drug policy relative to the Maori population .


The majority of Maori respondents (83%) were drinkers (people who had consumed alcohol in the previous twelve months).  Males (72%) were more likely than females (60%) to have used alcohol in the last month.  

Forty six percent of drinkers1 drank alcohol at least once per week in the previous twelve months.  Significantly more males (55%) reported drinking at least once per week compared to females (37%).  

Twenty seven percent of drinkers drank large amounts of alcohol on a single occasion2 at least once per week, with males (22%) reporting a higher level of drunkenness on a weekly basis compared to females (11%).  Male drinkers aged 20-24 were more likely to drink larger quantities (52%) and to feel drunk at least weekly (39%).

The most commonly reported problem caused by drinking was the effect on people's energy levels and vitality.  This was reported by 25% of drinkers.  This was followed by the effect on people's financial position, particularly for males and then problems experienced in friendships and social lives.

1. Drinkers are defined in this study as those who had consumed alcohol in the 12 month period prior to being interviewed
2. Large amounts are defined in this study, as in other studies of  alcohol use, as the consumption of six drinks by men and  four  drinks by women (Wyllie et al, 1996)


While almost three quarters (70%) of Maori had smoked tobacco at some time in their lives, 41% could be regarded as current smokers3  with more females (46%) than males (35%) reporting to be smokers.

Most smokers (60%) felt that they were smoking more than they were happy with.  Women and those under 30 years were more likely to smoke 1-10 cigarettes per day, while men and 30-45 year olds were more likely to smoke 11 or more cigarettes per day.

There was a high perception among respondents of risk associated with cigarette smoking, with over one third (38%) perceiving there to be a great risk associated with smoking (i.e. only having tried it once or twice) and the perception of risk increasing steeply as the level of smoking increased.

3. A 'current smoker' is defined as someone who had smoked tobacco in the one month period prior to  being  interviewed.


Sixty percent of the Maori respondents reported that they had tried marijuana at some time in their lives, about a quarter (26%) stated that they had used it in the twelve month period prior to being interviewed and 18% regarded themselves as current users.

A very small proportion of the sample could be regarded as heavy users, with 4% stating that they had used marijuana ten or more times in the one  month period prior to being interviewed.

Very few respondents had ever used either hash oil, hashish or skunk weed.

Forty one percent of those who had ever tried marijuana said that they tried it for the first time between the ages of 15 and 17.  The younger people in the sample reported trying it at slightly younger ages than those reported by the older people.

The majority (69%) of those who had ever used marijuana stated that they had stopped using it.  Very few (5%) stated that they were using more compared to a year ago, while 11% stated that they were using the same amount.  The main reason given for using more was that they liked the effect and it was fun.

The main reasons given by those who had never used marijuana were that they didn't like it, followed by concern over the health effects.

Respondents most commonly consumed their marijuana in groups of three or four people, rather than by themselves, and they usually smoked up to two joints on a typical occasion.

Marijuana users tended to consume most of their marijuana in private homes.  Younger people tended to also use a lot of their marijuana in public places, such as at beaches, parks and concert venues.

Fifty one percent of marijuana users stated that they used at least some of their marijuana with alcohol.  Significantly more females (21%) than males (12%) reported smoking all of their marijuana while drinking.

Most marijuana users (67%) did not drive while under the influence of marijuana.  However, 19% of males said they did some, most or all of their driving while under the influence of marijuana, compared to 9% of females.

While around half of those who had used marijuana in the previous twelve months were not concerned about the amount of marijuana that they were using, over a third (34%) felt that they were using more than they were happy with.

When asked to identify what problems if any, they had experienced as a result of using marijuana, 69% of those who had used marijuana in the previous twelve months reported experiencing no problems.  Heavier marijuana users (used on 10 or more occasions in the previous 30 days) were more likely to report memory loss as a problem.

Respondents who had used marijuana in the previous twelve months were asked how marijuana had affected a range of specified life areas.  Forty six percent reported a problem in at least one of these areas with 28% stating that it had adversely affected their levels of energy and vitality, followed by outlook on life (14%), finances (14%), friendships (14%) and health (13%),

Most (82%) of those who had ever used marijuana stated that they did not need any help to reduce their level of marijuana use.  Very few (8%) stated that they felt they needed at least some help, while a similar proportion stated that they had needed help at some stage in their life but had not got it.

The main reasons cited for not being able to get help were: fear of the law; fear of losing friends; having no local services; not knowing where to go; and social pressure.

Although most felt that marijuana use around children, before driving and before work or study was unacceptable, some felt that marijuana use in social situations such as at a party or at the beach with friends was acceptable.

 Respondents generally felt that the level of risk associated with marijuana use increased as marijuana use became heavier.  There were fairly low levels of risk associated with non-regular levels of use.

A small proportion of people who had smoked marijuana in the previous twelve months tried to ensure that they had a regular supply of the drug.  While almost all received marijuana for free at times, almost half bought at least some of their marijuana. Very few actually grew their own supply.

Other drugs

Fifteen percent of the sample stated that they had tried a hallucinogenic drug at some time in their lives, with 7% saying they had used them in the previous twelve months.

  Ten percent had tried magic mushrooms (4% in the previous 12 months); 8% had tried LSD (4% in the previous 12 months); and 2.3% had tried ecstasy (1.1 % in the previous twelve months).

Few respondents reported ever trying stimulants (7%), cocaine (2.4%), crack (0.7%) or ice (0.2%). Reported use of opiates was very low, and few reported ever trying these drugs. 6.3% had tried kava; 3.1% solvents, 1.5% tranquillisers and 1.2% had administered their drugs with needles.  Reported current use and use in the previous twelve months was also low.

Drugs and community

Drugs perceived to be of most concern for their effect on the community were illegal drugs, other than marijuana, followed by solvents, alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.  Women appeared generally more concerned than men about marijuana and alcohol, while men appeared to have greater concern about tobacco.  

Although most people felt that the levels of law enforcement for selling illegal drugs, including marijuana, and using illegal drugs, not including marijuana, were too light, around a third felt that the level of enforcement just for marijuana use was about right and a similar proportion felt that it was too heavy.  



Helen Moewaka Barnes, Brendon Dacey, Sally Casswell, Allan Wyllie, Adrian Field, Krishna Bhatta, Michael Ford, Jia-Fang Zhang and the CATI team

This report was a project of the Whariki Maori Health Research Group, based at the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit, University of Auckland.

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