Mapped: The Most Common Illicit Drugs in the World

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The Most Common Drugs in the World - Cannabis

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Mapped: The Most Common Illicit Drugs in the World

Despite strict prohibitory laws around much of the world, many common illicit drugs still see widespread use.

Humans have a storied and complicated relationship with drugs. Defined as chemical substances that cause a change in our physiology or psychology, many drugs are taken medicinally or accepted culturally, like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.

But many drugs—including medicines and non-medicinal substances taken as drugs—are taken recreationally and can be abused. Each country and people have their own relationship to drugs, with some embracing the use of specific substances while others shun them outright.

What are the most common drugs that are considered generally illicit in different parts of the world? Today’s graphics use data from the UN’s World Drug Report 2021 to highlight the most prevalent drug used in each country.

What Types of Common Drugs Are Tracked?

The World Drug Report looks explicitly at the supply and demand of the international illegal drug market, not including commonly legal substances like caffeine and alcohol.

Drugs are grouped by class and type, with six main types of drugs found as the most prevalent drugs worldwide.

  • Cannabis*: Drugs derived from cannabis, including hemp. This category includes marijuana (dried flowers), hashish (resin), and other for various other parts of the plant or derived oils.
  • Cocaine: Drugs derived from the leaves of coca plants. Labeled as either cocaine salts for powder form or crack for cocaine processed with baking soda and water into rock form.
  • Opioids: Includes opiates which are derived directly from the opium poppy plant, including morphine, codeine, and heroin, as well as synthetic alkaloids.
  • Amphetamine-type Stimulants (ATS): Amphetamine and drugs derived from amphetamine, including meth (also known as speed), MDMA, and ecstasy.
  • Sedatives and Tranquilizers: Includes other drugs whose main purpose is to reduce energy, excitement, or anxiety, as well as drugs used primarily to initiate or help with sleep (also called hypnotics).
  • Solvents and Inhalants: Gases or chemicals that can cause intoxication but are not intended to be drugs, including fuels, glues, and other industrial substances.

The report also tracked the prevalence of hallucinogens—psychoactive drugs which strongly affect the mind and cause a “trip”—but no hallucinogens ranked as the most prevalent drug in any one country.

*Editor’s note: Recreational cannabis is legal in five countries, and some non-federal jurisdictions (i.e. states). However, in the context of this report, it was included because it is still widely illicit in most countries globally.

The Most Prevalent Drug in Each Country

According to the report, 275 million people used drugs worldwide in 2020. Between the ages of 15–64, around 5.5% of the global population used drugs at least once.

Many countries grouped different types of the same drug class together, and a few like Saudi Arabia and North Macedonia had multiple different drug types listed as the most prevalent.

But across the board, cannabis was the most commonly prevalent drug used in 107 listed countries and territories:

Country or territory Most Prevalent Drug(s)
Afghanistan Heroin, opium
Albania Sedatives and tranquillizers (general)
Algeria Cannabis (general)
Argentina Cannabis (herb)
Australia Cannabis (general)
Azerbaijan Heroin
Bahamas Cannabis (herb)
Bahrain Cannabis (general)
Bangladesh Amphetamine
Belarus Opium
Belgium Cannabis (herb)
Bolivia Cannabis (herb)
Brunei Cannabis (herb)
Bulgaria Cannabis (herb)
Burkina Faso Cannabis (general)
Canada Cannabis (herb)
Central African Republic Cannabis (herb)
Chile Cannabis (herb)
China Methamphetamine
Costa Rica Cannabis (herb)
Côte d’Ivoire Cannabis (herb)
Croatia Heroin
Cyprus Cannabis (general)
Czech Republic Benzodiazepines
Dominican Republic Cocaine (powder)
Ecuador Cannabis (herb)
El Salvador Cannabis (herb)
Estonia Cannabis (herb)
Finland Cannabis (herb)
France Cannabis (hashish)
Georgia Cannabis (herb)
Germany Cannabis (herb)
Gibraltar Cannabis (hashish)
Greece Solvents and inhalants (general)
Guatemala Cannabis (herb)
Honduras Cannabis (herb)
Hong Kong Heroin, opium, opioids
Hungary Cannabis (herb)
Iceland Cannabis (general)
India Heroin
Indonesia Cannabis (herb)
Iran Opium
Ireland Cannabis (herb)
Israel Cannabis (herb)
Italy Cannabis (general)
Japan Methamphetamine
Jordan Cannabis (hashish)
Kenya Cannabis (herb)
Latvia Cannabis (herb)
Lebanon Cannabis (hashish)
Liechtenstein Cannabis (hashish)
Lithuania Sedatives and tranquillizers (general)
Luxembourg Cannabis (general)
Macao Methamphetamine
Madagascar Cannabis (herb)
Malaysia Methamphetamine
Malta Heroin
Mexico Cannabis (herb)
Moldova Cannabis (herb)
Mongolia Methamphetamine
Mozambique Cannabis (herb)
Myanmar Heroin
Netherlands Benzodiazepines
New Zealand Methamphetamine, solvent and inhalants
Nicaragua Cannabis (herb)
Nigeria Cannabis (herb)
North Macedonia Multiple types
Norway Cannabis (general)
Oman Opium
Pakistan Cannabis (hashish)
Panama Cannabis (herb)
Peru Cannabis (herb)
Philippines Cannabis (herb)
Poland Cannabis (herb)
Portugal Cannabis (general)
Qatar Cannabis (hashish)
Romania Cannabis (general)
Saudi Arabia Multiple types
Senegal Cannabis (herb)
Serbia Benzodiazepines
Singapore Methamphetamine
Slovenia Cannabis (general)
South Africa Cannabis (general)
South Korea Methamphetamine
Spain Cannabis (herb)
Sri Lanka Cannabis (herb)
Sudan Cannabis (herb)
Suriname Cannabis (herb)
Sweden Cannabis (general)
Switzerland Cannabis (herb)
Syrian Arab Republic Cannabis (hashish)
Tajikistan Heroin, opium
Tanzania Cannabis (herb)
Thailand Methamphetamine
Togo Cannabis (herb)
Trinidad and Tobago Cocaine (crack)
Tunisia Cannabis (general)
Turkey Cannabis (herb)
Turkmenistan Opium
U.S. Cannabis (herb)
UK Cannabis (herb)
Ukraine Opioids
Uruguay Cannabis (herb)
Uzbekistan Cannabis (herb)
Venezuela Benzodiazepines
Vietnam Heroin
Zambia Cannabis (herb)

How prevalent is cannabis worldwide? 72 locations or more than two-thirds of those reporting listed cannabis as the most prevalent drug.

Unsurprisingly these include countries that have legalized recreational cannabis: Canada, Georgia, Mexico, South Africa, and Uruguay.

How Common Are Opioids and Other Drugs?

Though the global prevalence of cannabis is unsurprising, especially as it becomes legalized and accepted in more countries, other drugs also have strong footholds.

Opioids (14 locations) were the most prevalent drugs in the Middle-East, South and Central Asia, including in India and Iran. Notably, Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, supplying more than 90% of illicit heroin globally.

Amphetamine-type drugs (9 locations) were the third-most common drugs overall, mainly in East Asia. Methamphetamine was the reported most prevalent drug in China, South Korea, and Japan, while amphetamine was only the most common drug in Bangladesh.

However, it’s important to note that illicit drug usage is tough to track. Asian countries where cannabis is less frequently found (or reported) might understate its usage. At the same time, the opioid epidemic in the U.S. and Canada reflects high opioid usage in the West.

As some drugs become more widespread and others face a renewed “war,” the landscape is certain to shift over the next few years.

The post Mapped: The Most Common Illicit Drugs in the World appeared first on Visual Capitalist.

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