Cannabis remains the most commonly consumed illicit drug in Europe, with around 8% of European adults using it in the past year. This equates to approximately 22.6 million adults between the ages of 15 to 64. However, the usage and trends are varied across different nations. Additionally, an estimated 1.3% of adults in the European Union are daily or near-daily users of cannabis. This group is most prone to experiencing issues related to drug use.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction's (EMCDDA) annual review of the drug situation in Europe, the European Drug Report 2023, provides a comprehensive analysis of the cannabis situation in the continent. It sheds light on the prevalence of use, treatment demand, seizures, price, and purity, along with the related harms.
Interestingly, the proportion of individuals entering specialist drug treatment for the first time, who reported cannabis as their primary problem drug, remained below pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels in the majority of EU Member States in 2021. This pattern points towards a decrease during the pandemic, and a lack of return to pre-pandemic levels. However, the impact of the pandemic on service delivery and issues with data quality and availability complicate the interpretation of these trends.
There's been a noticeable surge in the quantities of cannabis resin and herbal cannabis seized in 2021, reaching the highest level in the past decade. This indicates the high availability of the drug. Spain takes the lead with 66% of the number of cannabis seizures in the European Union and 74% of all EU seizures of cannabis plants reported by weight. It highlights Spain's significance as a transit country for cannabis trafficking and as a production area, though substantial cannabis production occurs across the EU.
A troubling trend is the increasing diversity of cannabis products available in Europe. This is true for both the illicit drug market and consumer markets. The availability of high-potency extracts and edibles is a particular concern and has been linked to acute toxicity presentations in hospital emergency departments. Furthermore, some products sold on the illicit market as natural cannabis may be adulterated with potent synthetic cannabinoids, adding to the regulatory challenges in this area.
The prevalence and patterns of cannabis use provide more insight into the extent of the situation. Last year, it was estimated that 15.1% of the EU population aged 15 to 34 used cannabis, with males being twice as likely to report use as females. Around three-quarters of daily or near-daily cannabis users are male, and the majority are under 35. National-level trends in cannabis use seem mixed, with some countries reporting higher estimates, some remaining stable, and others showing a decrease compared with previous surveys.
Cannabis market data
In 2021, EU Member States reported 202 000 seizures of cannabis resin amounting to 816 tonnes (588 tonnes in 2020) and 240 000 seizures of herbal cannabis amounting to 256 tonnes (157 tonnes in 2020). In addition, Türkiye reported 9 800 seizures of cannabis resin amounting to 33 tonnes and 52 500 seizures of herbal cannabis amounting to 31 tonnes.
Approximately 566 000 cannabis use or possession offences were reported in the European Union in 2021 (555 000 in 2020), alongside 100 000 supply offences (99 000 in 2020).
In 2021, the average THC content of cannabis resin in the European Union was 20 %, more than twice that of herbal cannabis, at 9.5 %. However, samples of both forms of the drug can vary considerably.
The EMCDDA's European Drug Report 2023 presents a nuanced picture of the cannabis situation in Europe, replete with challenges and complexities. As cannabis continues to be the most consumed illicit drug in the region, stakeholders are called upon to address these issues with a balance of prevention, treatment, and regulatory measures.
Important To Note
* The purpose of the current report is to provide an overview and summary of the European drug situation up to the end of 2022. All grouping, aggregates and labels, therefore, reflect the situation based on the available data in 2022 with respect to the composition of the European Union and the countries participating in EMCDDA reporting exercises. However, not all data will cover the full period. Due to the time needed to compile and submit data, many of the annual national data sets included here are from the reference year January to December 2021. Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Although considerable improvements can be noted, both nationally and in respect to what is possible to achieve in a European-level analysis, the methodological difficulties in this area must be acknowledged. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Caveats relating to the data are to be found in the online Statistical Bulletin, which contains detailed information on methodology, qualifications on analysis and comments on the limitations in the information set available. Information is also available there on the methods and data used for European level estimates, where interpolation may be used.