It's a "forbidden fruit", easy to get our hands on, or maybe we just like it.

Those are some of the explanations experts have for a study in the Lancet which finds Kiwis and Aussies are the world's biggest pot smokers.

Up to 15 per cent of New Zealanders and Australians aged 15 to 64 were reported to have used the drug in the past year, which compared with rates of 1.2 to 2.5 per cent in Asia.

"There were no surprises to us, I guess, of the fact that Australia and New Zealand have the highest rate of cannabis use globally," said report co-author Wayne Hall, of the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research. "Our rates are not fabulously high - we look like most other developed countries in Western Europe and North America - we are just a bit higher on some drugs and a bit lower on others."


New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell cited easy access to cannabis as a factor.

"I really don't know what it is in the New Zealand psyche that makes us want to use drugs - I think we saw when legal highs hit the market that New Zealanders really had an appetite for them."

He said the research showed the Government's approach was not working and believed the issue was one for the health sector rather than the justice system.

Tauranga GP and drug and alcohol specialist Dr Tony Farrell said the country's booze culture was a leading factor. "You can buy beer bongs at the corner store, which is ridiculous, and normalises drug-taking through alcohol. Now that it's commercialised to the max, it's only likely to get worse."

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party president Paul McMullan said New Zealand had long had a cannabis culture. "Perhaps there is a forbidden fruit factor there. Beyond that, I would have no reason to speculate on why it's so popular ... Maybe it's just the simple fact that people like it."

The report's authors suggest that nations wanting to try new approaches to drug legislation will have to move outside the existing international treaties.

"The system's emphasis on criminalisation of drug use has contributed to the spread of HIV, increased imprisonment for minor offences, and contributed to legitimising extremely punitive national policies."

High times
* Up to 15 per cent of New Zealanders and Australians aged 15 to 64 used cannabis in the past year.
* 2.8 per cent ingested, injected or inhaled amphetamines.
* 1.03 per cent injected drugs.

- Additional reporting: AAP