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This review of the literature on the health and psychological effects of cannabis was undertaken at the initiative of the former Federal Justice Minister, Senator Michael Tate, who requested a review of knowledge relating to cannabis, to inform policy decisions. At Senator Tate's urging, a National Task Force on Cannabis was established on 25 May 1992. The Task Force commissioned this review of the evidence on the health and psychological effects of cannabis use. A new and independent review was thought necessary because there has not been any major international review of the literature on the health and psychological effects of cannabis since 1981, when the Addiction Research Foundation and World Health Organization jointly reviewed the literature. The purpose of this review was to update the conclusions of earlier reviews in the light of research undertaken during the past decade (ARF/WHO, 1981; Fehr and Kalant, 1983).
2.1 Our approach to the literature
Our review of the literature was not intended to be, and could not hope to be, as comprehensive as the major review undertaken by the Addiction Research Foundation and the World Health Organization. The literature is too large, and the diversity of relevant disciplines represented in it beyond the expertise we had available for the task. Unavoidably, we have relied upon published expert opinion in the very many areas which lie outside the authors' collective expertise, which is primarily in epidemiology, psychopharmacology, neurophysiology and neuropsychology. This fact is inevitably reflected in the relative attention given to the literatures that lie within and beyond our expertise. The literatures on the psychological consequences of acute and chronic cannabis use, for example, are much more comprehensively and critically reviewed than those pertaining to effects on the reproductive and immune systems. In reviewing the literature that lies outside our expertise, we have relied upon the consensus views expressed in the literature by experts in the relevant fields. When there has been controversy between the experts we have explicitly acknowledged it. We have checked our understanding and representation of these expert views by asking Australian and international researchers with expertise in the relevant fields to critically review what we have written.