220,000,000 People Worldwide Are Using Cannabis According to a New UN Report, Yet Weed Is Still Illegal Almost Everywhere?

January 6, 2024 · Cannabis.net

The United Nations’ latest “World Drug Report” for 2023 sheds light on global substance use trends, emphasizing the sustained prevalence of drug consumption worldwide. In 2021, an alarming 1 in 17 individuals aged 15–64 engaged in drug use over the past year, marking a 23% increase since 2011. The report underscores the significance of this issue, with an estimated 296 million users constituting 5.8% of the global population aged 15–64.

Cannabis Takes Center Stage

The UN report illuminates the pervasive influence of cannabis on a global scale, solidifying its status as the most widely used substance. In 2021, an estimated 219 million users, constituting 4.3% of the global adult population, engaged in cannabis consumption. This continued dominance prompts an exploration into the implications of its widespread use and potential links to legalization initiatives, shaping the evolving landscape of cannabis consumption worldwide.

Within the realm of cannabis consumption, a significant shift in gender dynamics is observed, particularly in North America. Traditionally, around 70% of cannabis users are men, but recent trends reveal a substantial change. In North America, women now represent 42% of cannabis users, challenging conventional patterns. Understanding the factors contributing to this shift is crucial for unraveling the evolving societal perceptions and policies surrounding cannabis use.

Despite ongoing debates and regulatory changes, cannabis use maintains a consistent upward trajectory. This trend prompts an investigation into the factors influencing its rise, with a specific focus on the impact of legalization initiatives not only in the United States but also in other regions. By analyzing the drivers behind the increasing prevalence of cannabis, this exploration aims to provide insights into the shifting dynamics of drug use on a global scale.

While cannabis retains its global dominance, regional variations in its prevalence are evident. The UN report’s breakdown highlights distinct patterns in primary drug use reported by individuals entering drug treatment across different regions. Exploring differences in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa, and East and South-East Asia, this analysis offers a comprehensive overview of how cannabis trends vary globally, contributing to a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay between cultural, legal, and social factors influencing drug consumption.

Opioids: A Persistent Source of Harm

While cannabis dominates the global substance landscape, opioids persist as the primary contributors to severe drug-related harm, as outlined in the UN’s World Drug Report for 2023. The report aligns with the alarming surge in opioid-related incidents, particularly evident in the United States, where drug overdose deaths have reached unprecedented levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2021, the number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. was over six times higher than in 1999, with opioids accounting for more than 75% of these fatalities.

The opioid epidemic is characterized by three distinct waves, each contributing to the escalating crisis. The first wave began in the 1990s with increased opioid prescriptions, leading to a rise in overdose deaths involving prescription opioids. The second wave emerged in 2010, marked by a surge in overdose deaths involving heroin. The third wave, starting in 2013, witnessed significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly illicitly manufactured fentanyl. This complex landscape underscores the multifaceted nature of the opioid crisis, involving not only prescription medications but also the illicit production and distribution of highly potent synthetic opioids.

The UN report highlights that approximately 60 million people engaged in non-medical opioid use in 2021, with opiates, primarily heroin, accounting for 31.5 million users. Opioids remain the leading cause of fatal overdoses, contributing to nearly 70% of the 128,000 deaths attributed to drug use disorders in 2019. Furthermore, opioid use disorders accounted for the majority (71%) of the 18 million healthy years of life lost owing to premature death and disability in 2019. The persistent and escalating impact of opioids on global health underscores the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to address this ongoing crisis.

Global Patterns and Regional Variances

The UN’s World Drug Report for 2023 offers valuable insights into global drug use patterns and unveils clear regional differences in the primary substances reported by people entering drug treatment. In most of Europe and several subregions of Asia, opioids, particularly heroin, emerge as the most frequent primary drugs for individuals seeking treatment. In Latin America, cocaine takes precedence, while in parts of Africa, cannabis remains the focal point. In East and South-East Asia, methamphetamine dominates as the primary drug leading individuals into drug treatment.

The report also highlights an alarming uptick in intravenous drug use, with an estimated 13.2 million people injecting drugs in 2021, marking an 18% increase from the previous year. Eastern Europe and North America emerge as the two subregions with the highest estimated prevalence of people who inject drugs, accounting for 1.3% and 1.0% of the adult population, respectively. Notably, North America now surpasses East and South-East Asia in terms of the absolute number of individuals reporting drug injection, signaling a concerning trend in the region.

These global patterns and regional variances underscore the complex and interconnected nature of the global drug landscape. Understanding the prevalence of specific substances in different regions is crucial for developing targeted interventions and policies that address the unique challenges faced by diverse communities. As the world grapples with evolving drug use dynamics, a comprehensive and region-specific approach is imperative to effectively tackle the multifaceted issues associated with substance use and its impact on public health.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, the UN’s World Drug Report for 2023 underscores the persistent global prevalence of substance use, with cannabis taking center stage as the most widely consumed substance. The evolving landscape of cannabis use, marked by changing gender dynamics and regional variations, suggests a complex interplay of legal, cultural, and demographic factors. Concurrently, the report emphasizes the critical challenges posed by the opioid epidemic, urging comprehensive strategies to address its escalating impact on global health. The intricate patterns and regional variances in drug use underscore the need for targeted interventions and policies, emphasizing the importance of a nuanced, region-specific approach in addressing the multifaceted issues associated with substance use and safeguarding public health worldwide. (Full Story)

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