Places that have legalized cannabis appear to have increased its regular use, while COVID lockdowns had a similar effect, raising the risk of depression and suicide, a UN report said on Monday.

Cannabis has long been the world’s most widely used drug and that use is increasing while the substance on the market is getting stronger in terms of its tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its annual World Drug Report.

Various US states have legalized non-medical use of cannabis, starting with Washington and Colorado in 2012. Uruguay legalized it in 2013, as did Canada in 2018. Others have taken similar steps but the report focused on those three countries.

“Cannabis legalization appears to have accelerated the upwards trends in reported daily use of the drug,” the Vienna-based UNODC’s report said.

“Periods of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic drove increases in the use of cannabis … in 2020,” it said.

While the prevalence of cannabis use among teenagers “has not changed much” there had been “a pronounced increase in reported frequent use of high-potency products among young adults,” it said.

Burden on health facilities

Rising cannabis consumption is also leading to an increased burden on health facilities. Drugs from this class are responsible for around 30% of drug therapies in the European Union, the UNODC report says.

In Africa and certain countries in Latin America, the largest proportion of therapies are linked to cannabis addiction.

The UNODC said that the increased strength of the hashish and marijuana on the market, along with regular consumption, had led to a rise in psychological illness in Western Europe.

The report said roughly 284 million people, or 5.6% of the world’s population, had used a drug such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines or ecstasy in 2020, the most recent data available. Of those, 209 million used cannabis.

Cocaine production hit a record high in 2020 and trafficking by sea is growing, it added, with 2021 seizure data suggesting an expansion outside the two main markets of North America and Europe into Africa and Asia.

Similarly, methamphetamine was no longer a problem only in the Far East and South-East Asia but also in Afghanistan and Mexico.

Ukraine war could boost illegal drug production

The war in Ukraine could allow illegal drug production to flourish, the UNODC report warned.

Previous experience from the Middle East and Southeast Asia suggests conflict zones can act as a “magnet” for making synthetic drugs, which can be manufactured anywhere, the report said.

Ukraine’s capacity to produce synthetic drugs could grow as the war continues. “You don’t have police going around and stopping laboratories” in conflict zones, UNODC expert Angela Me said.

According to the UNODC, the number of dismantled amphetamine laboratories in Ukraine rose from 17 in 2019 to 79 in 2020, the highest number of seized laboratories reported in any country in 2020.

dh/jsi (AFP, dpa, Reuters)


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