By / June 18, 2024

Cannabis Remains the (Illegal) Substance of Choice in Europe

The European Drug Report 2024, published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), provides an overview of substance use patterns and trends across Europe based on data from 2023. The report highlights significant findings on the consumption of various illicit substances, with a particular focus on cannabis, the most widely consumed in the region.

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Substance Use and Trends

Cannabis remains the most commonly consumed illicit substance in Europe, with 22.8 million adults (8% of the population aged 15 to 64) having used it in the past year. Lifetime consumption figures are even higher, with 85.4 million people (29.9%) having used cannabis at some point in their lives. The level of cannabis consumption varies significantly from one country to another, reflecting diverse national trends and policies, as well as a continuity with previous years.

The European cannabis market is undergoing significant changes, marked by high availability levels and shifting trafficking routes. In 2022, Spain recorded a significant drop in cannabis resin seizures, likely due to supply route adaptations to anti-trafficking measures.

Despite this, Spain remains a crucial transit and production zone for cannabis in Europe, representing a substantial proportion of seizures. In 2023, Spanish authorities seized 22 tons of cannabis resin hidden in fake tomato packaging, highlighting the ongoing challenges in intercepting cannabis trafficking.

Other Illicit Substances

Cocaine, MDMA, and Amphetamines

In addition to cannabis, the report provides detailed information on the consumption of other illicit substances. Cocaine, the second most consumed drug, was used by 4 million people (1.4%) in the past year, and 15.4 million people (5.4%) have used it in their lifetime. MDMA (ecstasy) was consumed by 2.9 million people (1%), with 12.3 million (4.3%) having used it in their lifetime. Amphetamines were consumed by 2.3 million adults (0.8%) last year, with a lifetime prevalence of 10.3 million (3.6%).

Opioids and Public Health Concerns

Heroin and other synthetic opioids, though less commonly used, pose significant public health problems. Approximately 860,000 high-risk users were reported, and 513,000 people received opioid substitution treatment in 2022. Heroin and synthetic opioids were involved in 74% of overdose deaths, underscoring the serious risks associated with their use.

Cannabis Market and Policy Changes

The cannabis market in Europe is diverse, with both herb and resin widely available. The potency of cannabis resin has increased, with average THC levels reaching just under 25%. Cannabis herb, on the other hand, has remained relatively stable, with a THC content of around 10%. The market also sees a variety of new products, including extracts and edibles.

Recent substance trends indicate that cannabis trafficking routes are diversifying, with seizures in places such as the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, showing cannabis resin originating from Pakistan. This diversification complicates interdiction efforts and suggests that the European cannabis market is becoming more complex.

Illegal Cannabis Policy Responses and Regulatory Changes

European countries are adopting increasingly diverse approaches to cannabis regulation. Malta, Luxembourg, and Germany have introduced legislation allowing home cultivation and private use, with non-profit cannabis cultivation clubs also permitted.

The Czech Republic plans to implement a regulated and taxed distribution system. Non-EU countries like Switzerland are conducting sales and distribution trials, and the Netherlands is testing a closed cannabis supply chain to address the issue of illegal market supplies to “coffeeshops.”

These policy changes reflect the ongoing debate over the best regulatory approach to cannabis consumption, balancing public health concerns with efforts to control the illicit market. The European Drug Report underscores the need for continued research into the potential harms associated with different modes of cannabis consumption and their implications for policies and practices.

Prevalence and Consumption Patterns

Cannabis use among young Europeans (aged 15 to 34) remains high, with 15.1 million (15%) reporting use in the past year. Among those aged 15 to 24, 18.6% (8.8 million) used it in the past year, and 9.7% (4.6 million) in the past month. Daily or near-daily use is reported by 1.3% (3.7 million) of adults, with the majority of users being men under 35.

National trends in cannabis consumption yield mixed results. Some countries report higher consumption rates, others remain stable, and a few have recorded decreases since their last surveys.

The full study is available on the EMCDDA website.

(Featured image by Wesley Gibbs via Unsplash)

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