Cannabis Consumption and Approval Up, Report Finds

The latest World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has found that the use and acceptance of cannabis are rising globally.

Marijuana use and social attitudes toward cannabis are climbing throughout the world, according to the 2016 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).

The UNDOC report, published annually, presents a global overview of the latest drug markets. Published in May, the year’s UNDOC report found that cannabis is globally the most commonly used substance, with an estimated 182.5 million people using it in 2014.

The report’s findings align with those of a 2015 study published in Jama Psychiatry that found cannabis use in the United States doubled in the 10 years between 2001-02 and 2012-13.

The UNDOC report also recognized that overall attitudes toward cannabis use are shifting toward acceptance, grounding its conclusions in the findings of several recent studies on youth. One survey, looking at the level of acceptability from 12th graders in the United States, found that the percentage of those that do not disapprove of people 18 or older trying cannabis once or twice has steadily climbed since 2007. Another, which tracked Chilean teen attitudes between their eighth year of primary school and their fourth year of secondary school, showed a similar shift toward greater acceptability of cannabis use, as well as a decrease in the perception of risk.

The U.S. is experiencing a clear shift in the way its citizens perceive cannabis. A Gallup survey from last fall found that nearly 60 percent of Americans say marijuana should be legal in the U.S. While younger respondents were shown to be more accepting of cannabis than the older population, the survey found that even older adults, particularly those between 35 and 64, are more supportive of legal marijuana than their age group was in the past.

The positive gains in the way the general public discerns cannabis is the result of a greater understanding of marijuana’s therapeutic benefits, as well as a recognition that previous prejudices were likely due to exaggerated, ungrounded anti-marijuana propaganda. Additionally, the trend toward the legalization of all cannabis products domestically and internationally has contributed to the cannabis industry receiving greater acceptance within the general public.

Men were found to be three times more likely to use cannabis than women in the UNDOC report, with the disparity in gender being attributed to greater social environment opportunities rather than sexual identity itself.

Additionally, the report found that opioids are associated with the highest risk of harm and health consequences. Common opioids include pain-killing prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, as well as heroin. Commonly prescribed to treat severe and chronic pain, opioids are associated with a high risk of addiction and abuse, and more than 16,600 painkiller overdose deaths occur every year in the U.S.

“Heroin continues to be the drug that kills the most people and this resurgence must be addressed urgently,” wrote UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov.

The UNDOC report found that an estimated 32.4 million people (0.7 percent of the world’s adult population) use pharmaceutical and illegal opiates like heroin and opium, despite findings in a recent study that suggest opioids could actually be making chronic pain worse. Additionally, global opium cultivation was found to be the highest since the late-1930s, reaching 7,554 tons in 2014.

In October, a collection of researchers published a paper urging doctors to recommend cannabis to chronic pain patients rather than opioids. A recent survey found that medical marijuana significantly reduces opioid pain medication intake, thereby decreasing the risk of abuse and overdose. The increased frustration with the opioid crisis is likely also helping to drive the trend toward legalization, as marijuana has shown potential as a far safer alternative.