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Cannabis 'by far' most commonly used illegal drug worldwide

However the study in The Lancet found that opioids – such as heroin – are the biggest cause of death and illness of all illicit drugs.

Image: Smoking joint close up via Shutterstock

A NEW STUDY into illicit drugs has found that cannabis is by far the most commonly used drug across the world – but that opioids such as heroin are causing the biggest problems to users.

Research published in medical journal The Lancet today found that opioid dependence has the highest level of illness and death of all drug use.

Also, despite cannabis being the most commonly used drug, the number of people classed as dependent on the drug was lower than for other drugs: 13 million worldwide, compared to 15.5 million for opioids and 17.2 million for amphetamines

Men aged between 20 and 29 were the group most likely to be dependent on the four main types of illicit drugs – cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine and opioids – and were also the group most likely to be ill from drug use.

In the first ever analysis of the global prevalence of dependence upon drugs, a team of researchers in Australia and the US found the highest level of cocaine dependence was in North and Latin America, while the highest levels of opioid dependence in in Australasia and western Europe.

Researchers found that disability and illness caused by the four drugs studied has increased by more than 50 per cent between 1990 and 2010. Some of this may be attributed to growing populations, but more than one fifth of the increase is thought to be an increase in drug use disorders, particularly with opioid addiction.

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Around 78,000 deaths in 2010 – the year the data for the study came from – were attributed to drug disorders, with more than half thought to be due to opioid dependence.

Despite the findings, researchers found that despite the substantial preventable disease burden attributable to the four drugs, their overall burden was still less than that of smoking and alcohol worldwide. researchers estimated that illegal drug use is responsible for just under 1 per cent of all deaths and illness worldwide, compared to around 10 per cent for smoking and drinking.

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About the author:

Christine Bohan

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