Cannabis use has risen with legalization and COVID lockdowns – UN report

(Deletes extra words ‘in the past year’ in section 7)

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Places, including US states that have legalized cannabis, appear to have increased its regular use, while COVID lockdowns had a similar effect, increasing the risk of depression and suicide, a UN report said on Monday.

Cannabis has long been the most widely used drug in the world, and that use is increasing as cannabis on the market gains strength in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its annual World drug report.

Several US states have legalized non-medicinal use of cannabis, starting with Washington and Colorado in 2012. Uruguay legalized it in 2013, as did Canada in 2018. Others have taken similar steps, but the report focused on those three countries.

“The legalization of cannabis appears to have accelerated the upward trend in reported daily use of the drug,” according to the Vienna-based UNODC report.

While the prevalence of cannabis use among teens “has not changed much,” there was “a marked increase in reported frequent use of potent products among young adults,” it said.

“The proportion of people with psychiatric disorders and suicides associated with regular cannabis use has increased.”

According to the report, about 284 million people, or 5.6% of the world’s population, had used a drug such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines or ecstasy by 2020, the most recent data available. Of these, 209 million used cannabis.

“Periods of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic fueled an increase in cannabis use…in 2020,” it said.

Cocaine production hit a record high in 2020 and maritime trade is growing, it added, with seizure data in 2021 pointing to an expansion beyond the two main markets of North America and Europe into Africa and Asia.

Opioids remain the deadliest drugs, it said, with fentanyl pushing the number of overdose deaths in the US to a new record: the preliminary estimate for 2021 is 107,622.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by Daniel Wallis)

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