Trends in the drug situation

Cannabis

Cannabis remains the most commonly used drug in the EU, with many countries reporting lifetime prevalence rates in excess of 20 % of the general population. A conservative estimate would suggest that at least one in every five adults in the EU has tried the drug.

Indicators suggest that cannabis use has been increasing across the EU, although this increase appears to have stabilised in some countries, albeit at what can generally be considered to be historically high levels. Some evidence of a convergence in patterns of use is also found, although rates still vary considerably, with France, Spain and the United Kingdom, in particular, reporting relatively high levels of use, and Finland, Sweden and Portugal reporting comparatively low figures. In all countries, estimates of the prevalence of recent use (last year prevalence) among the adult population remain below 10 %. When young adults are considered, rates of use rise considerably. In all countries, recent use (last year) prevalence peaks in the 15- to 25-year age group, with France, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom all reporting that over 20 % of this age group have used cannabis in the last 12 months. Lifetime use estimates are higher, with most countries reporting lifetime prevalence estimates of between 20 % and 35 % among young people. The number of people using cannabis on a regular basis is small in overall population terms (generally less than 1 %), although higher rates of regular use may be found among young people, and in particular among young men.

A worrying trend is the increasing frequency with which cannabis is mentioned in the context of the treatment demand indicator (TDI). In many countries, cannabis is now the drug most frequently reported after heroin, and a steady increase in cannabis-related demand for treatment can be observed. Caution is need in interpreting these data as a number of factors are likely to be important here. This issue is currently being explored by an EMCDDA technical working group and will be the focus of a publication in 2004.

In most EU countries, the majority of reports for drug law offences are related to cannabis. Cannabis seizures have exhibited an increasing trend over the last decade, although there are signs that seizures have stabilised. Europe remains the world’s biggest market for cannabis resin, with as much as three-quarters of the world total of cannabis resin being seized within the borders of the EU. Many countries also now report that herbal cannabis is being grown within the EU. The content of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in cannabis, varies greatly in street-level samples. On average, the THC content of resin and herbal cannabis is similar (5–14 % and 5–11 % respectively), although some samples of both forms of the drug are found to have a very high THC content.