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UN: Cannabis is the most consumed substance globally: there are 219 million users in the world



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The most recent World Drug Report from UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) reveals that cannabis continues to be, by far, the most consumed illicit substance in the world. It is estimated that 219 million people consumed cannabis in 2021, which corresponds to around 4% of the world's adult population. The number of cannabis users has increased by 21% in the last decade.

The UN (United Nations) states that global drug-related challenges are hindering progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in all areas, from peace and justice to health and human rights, to environment and equality.

“Law enforcement responses must keep up with surprisingly agile criminal business models, as well as the proliferation of synthetic drugs, which are cheap and easy to put on the market,” warns the document.

Furthermore, UNODC stresses that public health must continue to be the priority in the context of the rapid development of drug control regulation, in particular with regard to medicinal use, and countries must invest more in research to monitor the effects of policies.

Commercial interests cannot override public health

According to the report, new research into the use of prescription drugs to treat mental health problems shows that such treatments have potential, but regulators risk increasing harm if public health is not made a priority. to the detriment of commercial interests.

Public health concerns should therefore be given priority, which continues to be a challenge given the growing commercial interest in developing and profiting from new legal drug markets (including cannabis). “If frameworks for medical use are not well designed and adequately resourced to ensure access and availability of medicines for medical purposes, the approaches may contribute to the creation of illicit markets through the limited supply or diversion of therapies for medical use. not a doctor”, states the document.

Several approaches are being adopted to regulate the medicinal use of cannabis, the report states. “The choices that regulators make in defining a medical market determine the porosity of the market: the types of products allowed in the medical market, who produces for the market, and who has access to cannabis use under what medical conditions are important considerations and can shape the size and scope of a medical cannabis regimen,” the document says.

In this regard, “regulatory approaches can be designed to ensure sufficient availability of products with proven safety and efficacy, while restricting access to legitimate medicinal needs. These approaches can also limit potential repercussions in a non-medical or recreational use market.”

UNODC also reports that clinical trials involving psychedelics for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders are advancing in some jurisdictions at an unprecedented rate, giving some hope that these compounds may be effective in treating certain conditions. psychological disorders resistant to treatment. However, the rapid pace of evolution increases the risk that people, particularly young people, will perceive these substances as “safe” or not harmful, regardless of the context, which in turn could encourage unsupervised and non-medical use. .

North America leads cannabis consumption

Cannabis use continues to be highest in North America, where 17,4% of the population aged between 15 and 64 used the substance in 2021.

The percentage of women among those who use cannabis varies between regions and subregions, from 9% in Asia to 42% in North America (2021). Periods of confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic led to increases in cannabis consumption, both in terms of quantity consumed and frequency of consumption.

On the other hand, seizures of cannabis resin decreased in 2021, after an all-time high in 2020, but remained the second highest level ever recorded. Herbal cannabis seizures declined in 2021, following a substantial increase in 2020, which followed a downward trend over the previous decade driven by large decreases in seizures in North America.

While cannabis trafficking and use affects all regions of the world, other drug issues pose additional threats in different geographic locations, according to UNODC.

The UNODC document also states that cannabis is responsible for a substantial part of drug-related harm worldwide, due in part to its high prevalence of use: “it is estimated that 41% of cases of drug-related disorders of drugs worldwide are disorders related to cannabis use (2019). In 2021, around 46% of countries reported cannabis as the drug associated with the highest number of drug use disorders and 34% of countries reported it as the main drug that raises concern for people undergoing drug addiction treatment.” .

Finally, the report highlights that “there is evidence for the effectiveness of cannabinoids in treating some conditions, but for many other conditions the evidence is limited. Many countries have made provisions for the medicinal use of cannabis, but regulatory approaches to medicinal cannabis differ widely between these countries.”

See the UNODC report in full here:




[Disclaimer: Please note that this text was originally written in Portuguese and is translated into English and other languages ​​using an automatic translator. Some words may differ from the original and typos or errors may occur in other languages.]


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