Cannabis Still Most Used Drug in Europe

Liz Filmer
22 Jun 2023

Last week, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published its annual European Drug Report. The report uncovered that cannabis is still Europe's most frequently used illegal drug. Around 8% (22.6 million) of European adults aged between 15–64 are thought to have consumed it in the last 12 months. About 1.3% of adults in the EU (3.7 million people) are calculated to be classed as daily or very regular users.

Seizures of weed are at their highest level in 10 years, with herbal cannabis making up a substantial ratio of all EU drug seizures.

The report shows that in  2021, 816 tonnes of resin were seized, and 256 tonnes of the flower were. All of which suggests that cannabis is widely obtainable across mainland Europe.
Regarding cannabis-related offences, there were approximately 566,000 recorded possession violations reported in the EU in 2021 (up 10,000 on figures from 2020), alongside 100,000 supply offences. Spain made up 66% of the seizures in the EU and just under three-quarters (74%) of all EU seizures.

Prevalence of use came out as follows:
Czechia - 11.1% 
Spain - 10.6% 
France - 10.6% 
the Netherlands - 10.4% 
Croatia - 10.2%
Italy - 10.2%
Germany - 8.8%
Finland - 8.2%

Looking particularly at cannabis use among young adults, it was found that last year, 15.3 million between 15-34 were calculated to have used cannabis. Men were twice as likely to report use as women typically. In this same age group, 8.6 million (18.2%) were estimated to have used cannabis in the last 12 months, with 4.5 million (9.6%) ingesting it during the previous month.

Regarding the preponderance of use of those aged 15-34, Czechia was highest at 22.9%, followed by Italy at 20.9%, Croatia at 20.3%, France at 19.2%, the Netherlands at 19.2% and Spain at 19.1%.

The report also revealed that cannabis makes up nearly a third of all European drug treatment admissions. An estimated 97,000 people entered some drug treatment program for cannabis-related problems in 2021. 83% were male and 17% female, just over half of which reported being daily cannabis users.

In response, the report highlights the need for a better understanding of the kinds of problems experienced by cannabis users, as well as referral pathways and treatment options for those with difficulties.

It also highlights the challenges posed by 'new cannabis products' – which may contain synthetic cannabinoids and high levels of THC – and tetrahydrocannabinol (HHC). 

The report has been released ahead of forthcoming advances in the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands, and Switzerland, exploring new approaches to regulate cannabis supply for recreational use.

European countries are starting to move away from criminalisation and more toward a public health drug policy. Evidence has shown that correctional policies are increasingly inadequate in averting drug use and heightening the risk of harm.

Then, of course, there are the economic benefits that a regulated cannabis market brings with it. With 22.6 million consumers, a report released last year by industry analysts estimated that the Euro cannabis market may be worth as much as €11.6bn.

Liz Filmer