Cannabis Remains the Most Widely Used Drug in Europe

Stephen Andrews
21 Jan 2023

A report issued in 2022 suggests that cannabis continues to be Europe's most commonly used substance. In the meantime, countries like Germany and the Czech Republic are preparing to launch legal markets and thus regulate the sales of cannabis. At the end of 2021, the small island nation of Malta became the first European country to fully legalize cannabis.

The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), based in Lisbon, Portugal, is the leading authority on illicit drugs in Europe. Their most recent report says that drug availability and use remain at high levels across the European Union. However, the report also notes that the situation differs from country to country. 

According to EMCDDA, more than 83 million people, or 29% of adults aged 15-64 who live in the 27 countries of the European Union, are estimated to have used an illegal drug. The use of drugs is more prevalent in males, who account for more than 50 million drug users. These figures are probably much higher if other countries outside the union, such as the United Kingdom, Switzerland, or Norway, are also considered. 

The EU-focused report says that cannabis remains the most widely used substance: It estimates that over 22 million Europeans reach out to cannabis. Stimulants such as cocaine, MDMA, and amphetamines are the second most commonly used drug. The numbers suggest that around 3.5 million people consume cocaine, followed by 2.6 million who use MDMA and 2 million who use amphetamines. Approximately 1 million Europeans use heroin or another illegal opioid, the report also notes. 

Although opioid use is lower than other classes of drugs, it's the drug that has been associated with the most harm caused by illicit drug use. The report notes that the presence of opioids, often in combination with other substances, was found in around three-quarters of fatal overdoses reported in the European Union in 2020. 

The report further says that people who struggle with drug problems are much more likely to use a range of substances. It says that there's "considerably more complexity in drug consumption patterns, with medicinal products, non-controlled new psychoactive substances and substances such as ketamine and GBL/GHB now associated with drug problems in some countries or among some groups." 

While various European countries are preparing to legalize cannabis for recreational use, and some, such as Malta, have already done so, it's worth noting that 2022 saw the biggest quantities of illegal weed seized by the police ever. Last November, Spain's Guardia Civil alone seized 32 tones of illegal packaged weed with an estimated street value of 100 million euros (107 million US dollars). Spain remains a major transshipment point for international drug traffickers on the map of Europe. 

Stephen Andrews