Legalised Cannabis Use Accelerates Demand

Rise In Both Drug Supply And Demand

The world saw an increase of 26 per cent of the use of drugs as the use of legalized cannabis in some countries and states accelerated its daily use, according to a major study by UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The World Drug Report 2022  details the environmental consequences of the illicit drugs trade, the expansion of synthetic drugs to new markets, and an all-time high in cocaine production.

“Numbers for the manufacturing and seizures of many illicit drugs are hitting record highs, even as global emergencies are deepening vulnerabilities,” said UNODC chief Ghada Waly.

“At the same time, misperceptions regarding the magnitude of the problem and the associated harms, are depriving people of care and treatment and driving young people towards harmful behaviours”.


In the report, UNODC says that some 284 million 15 to 64-year-olds used drugs in 2020, indicating a 26 per cent increase during the course of a decade.Globally, 11.2 million people were estimated to inject drugs, around half of whom were living with hepatitis C; 1.4 million with HIV, and 1.2 million with both.

In Africa and Latin America, those under 35 represent most of the people being treated for drug use disorders.  


In North America, legalized cannabis on a state level – especially new potent products containing elevated levels of high-inducing THC – appears to have increased daily usage, particularly among young adults.

In addition to increasing tax revenues, it has also caused a reported surge among people with psychiatric disorders, increased suicides and hospitalizations while generally reducing possession arrests. 


In 2020, global cocaine manufacturing grew 11 per cent from the previous year to 1,982 tons and, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, seizures increased to a record 1,424 tons.

Nearly 90 per cent of cocaine seized last year was trafficked via land and/or sea, reaching regions beyond the regular markets of North America and Europe.

Methamphetamine (or meth) trafficking continued to expand geographically, with 117 countries reporting seizures between 2016 and 2020, versus 84 from 2006‒2010, with volume growing an astonishing five-fold, between 2010 and 2020.

While the global area being used for opium poppy cultivation fell globally by 16 per cent to 246,800 hectares between 2020 and 2021, increased Afghan production triggered a seven per cent jump to 7,930 tons during that period. 


The report reveals that conflicts can lead to an increased usage of the drugs. It revels that data from the Middle East and Southeast Asia showed that conflict can act as magnets for synthetic drug manufacturing, which may increase if the violence is close to large consumer markets.  

Historically, parties to conflict have often used illegal drug profits to finance war.

Conflicts may also disrupt and shift drug trafficking routes, as has happened in the Balkans and most recently in Ukraine, since Russia annexed Crimea and separatists took control of areas of the east in 2014.

Reported clandestine laboratories in Ukraine have skyrocketed from 17 dismantled in 2019, to 79 in 2020 – 67 of which were producing amphetamines – the highest number of disassembled labs reported in any given country, in 2020.  


Although women remain in the minority of drug users globally, their consumption rate increases more rapidly than men on average. The report said that fewer get treatment.

They use an estimated 45-49 per cent of amphetamine and non-medical pharmaceutical stimulants, pharmaceutical opioids, sedatives, and tranquilizers.

And although women represent almost one in two amphetamines users, they constitute only one in five people in treatment for amphetamine use.

Moreover, they play a range of roles in the global cocaine economy, from cultivating coca to transporting small quantities and selling to consumers.

“We need to devote the necessary resources and attention to addressing every aspect of the world drug problem, including the provision of evidence-based care to all who need it, and we need to improve the knowledge base on how illicit drugs relate to other urgent challenges, such as conflicts and environmental degradation,” said UNODC chief Ghada Waly.

  • Young people continue to use more drugs than adults, and have higher levels of use than in past generations
  • Illicit drug economies can flourish in situations of conflict and weak rule of law, and can, in turn, prolong or fuel conflict
  • The impact of drugs on the environment can be significant at the local level
  • CANNABIS;  it remains by far the world’s most used drug. An estimated 209 million people used cannabis in 2020, representing 4 per cent of the global population. The number of people who use cannabis has increased by 23 per cent over the past decade. The use remains the highest in North America, where 16.6 per cent of the population use the drug. The percentage of women who use cannabis varies across regions, among those 9 per cent in Asia to 42 per cent in North America
  • COCAINE;  n  estimated 21.5 million people used cocaine in 2020, representing 0.4 per cent of the global population. North America and Europe remain the two main consumer markets for cocaine. Demand in Africa and Asia has risen over the past two decades, but regional demand remains uneven and lack of data prevents a clear understanding of the level of use
  • AMPHETAMINE; An estimated 34 million people used amphetamines in 2020, representing 0.7 per cent of the global population. While the prevalence of use is highest in North America, the largest number of users of amphetamines are found in East and South-East Asia. An estimated 20 million people used “ecstasy”-type substances in 2020, representing 0.4 per cent of the global population > “Ecstasy” seems to have been the drug whose use was most affected by restrictions on movement imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • NPS; The level of use of NPS is lower than that of drugs under international control. The most frequently used NPS are synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (“synthetic cannabinoids”) and ketamine.
  • Use of cannabis is particularly high in West and Central Africa, with past-year prevalence of use of nearly 10 per cent (28.5 million people), largely reflecting prevalence of cannabis use in Nigeria
  • The majority of people being treated for drug use disorders in Africa and Latin America are under the age of 35.
  • Ensure access to the controlled medicines included in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines as part of humanitarian response efforts.
  • Guarantee continuity of evidence-based care, treatment and services for drug use disorders, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and related infectious diseases.
  • Prevent negative coping behaviours such as substance use, especially among children and youth, through family skills support and psychosocial support.
  • Improve collection and analysis of data, disaggregated by gender and age, to strengthen early warning and evidence-based responses.
  • Tailor interventions to women, youth and at-risk groups and close treatment gaps so that everyone can access the services they need without stigma or discrimination, in line with the UNODC/WHO International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders.
  • Mobilize all sectors and industries, including health, justice, social welfare, education, media and entertainment, for a whole-of-society-approach to strengthen evidence-based prevention, building on the UNODC/WHO International Standards on Drug Use Prevention.
  • Step up cross-border law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation and intelligence-sharing to disrupt transnational trafficking enterprises.
  • Target increasing drug trafficking via waterways by strengthening container control and interdiction capacities at ports and sensitizing port authorities and commercial shipping companies to the related risks.
  • Increase technical assistance to developing countries to facilitate their engagement in international cooperation and joint operations, including to tackle drug trafficking on the dark web.


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