Cannabis four times stronger than 25 years ago 

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Cannabis potency has increased by as much as four times since 1995, according to UNODC’s World drug report 2021, a period that has also seen the number of adolescents who perceive it as harmful falling by 40 per cent.

cannabis
The percentage of THC, cannabis’s main psychoactive component, has almost doubled.

This is despite ‘evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health and other harms, especially among regular long-term users’. 

The percentage of THC, cannabis’s main psychoactive component, has almost doubled – from 6 per cent to more than 11 per cent – in Europe since 2002, and quadrupled from 4 per cent to 16 per cent in the US since 1995, the document states. The agency is calling for increased investment in research into both cannabis harm and the drug’s potential medical uses, along with a worldwide ban on cannabis advertising to ‘prioritise public health over private business’. In a survey of health professionals from almost 80 countries, 42 per cent said they perceived cannabis use was on the increase. 

Around 275m people worldwide used drugs last year, 36m of whom have a ‘drug use disorder’, the agency states. The number of people using drugs has increased by 22 per cent in the last decade as a result of population growth, with demographic changes likely to mean an 11 per cent increase worldwide in people using drugs by 2030 and a 40 per cent increase in Africa. An ‘integrated, people-centred and human-rights based approach’ will be needed to empower African societies to ‘develop sustainable solutions to drug use’, the document says. 

More than 11m people worldwide are now estimated to inject drugs, around half of whom are living with hepatitis C. The number of daily doses of methadone and buprenorphine has risen from 557m in 1999 to 3,317m, a six-fold increase. 

In common with recent reports from EMCDDA and others , the document states that drug markets ‘swiftly resumed operations’ after the initial disruption caused by COVID-19, demonstrating traffickers’ ‘ability to adapt quickly to changed environments and circumstances’. Diversified cocaine supply chains into Europe were ‘pushing prices down and quality up’, it added, while major online ‘dark web’ drug markets were now worth upwards of $315m in annual sales. 

UNODC’s executive director Ghada Waly, who took office earlier this year, stressed the importance of strengthening the evidence base and raising public awareness. ‘Lower perception of drug use risks has been linked to higher rates of drug use, and the findings of UNODC’s 2021 World drug report highlight the need to close the gap between perception and reality to educate young people and safeguard public health,’ she said. 

Document at www.unodc.org