Global marijuana use rose by 60 percent over the past decade

Global marijuana use rose by 60 percent over the past decade

More people than ever are smoking weed around the world. But how can we decide whether to condemn or support the devil’s lettuce when our own governments can’t seem to figure it out?

The global story about cannabis — the most-used recreational drug in the world — is about as fuzzy as your body feels after taking your first hit. While some places, such as states in the US, have legalized the drug, it is strictly prohibited in others.

Almost 200 million people smoke pot worldwide according to the 2019 World Drug Report, published Wednesday, and that number is rising. Whether this is a good or bad thing seems somewhat hard to decipher with inconsistent global regulations on the drug, conflicting research studies and little concrete evidence of its long-term effects.

This inconsistent approach to regulation is most apparent in the United States, where, for example, one can take a road trip to Colorado — where cannabis was legalized recreationally in 2012 — and purchase the drug at one of the local streetside dispensaries as long as they have an ID.

However, immediately after crossing the border into Kansas, Colorado’s border state where the drug is illegal, pot-smokers can be arrested and charged with thousand-dollar fines or jail time. If caught again, they could face even heftier jail sentences.

It seems hard to construct a solid moral opinion on a substance that becomes illegal after crossing a border. If the government is acting in our best interest, but some governments deem the drug permissible for consumption while others send its users to jail, how do we know what’s right?

Read more here: Cannabis capitalists scrutinize future of UK’s fledgling industry

Weed smoker with a face painting

Weed can cause a racing heart, paranoia or an increased feeling of relaxation

A contradictory tale 

The United States isn’t the only nation telling a contradictory tale between reality and regulation.

In Europe, home of the highest global concentrations of teenage pot-smokers, it’s up to member states to decide their drug policies. Like the US, there isn’t a blanket European Union-wide legislation for cannabis.

So, while in the Netherlands one can sit in coffee shops and smoke weed as long as their racing heart desires, in Hungary, for example, they could be slapped with legal penalties involving jail time should they decide to light up in public.

We have to be careful when making these comparisons, however, according to Thomas Pietschmann, a UN drug researcher and co-author of the report. He said that although the situation may appear comparable between European states and US states, it’s a different story.

Despite what most people think, weed isn’t entirely legal in the Netherlands and can only be sold and smoked in designated coffee shops. It is decriminalized, however, so people can’t go to jail for smoking a joint on the street. The purpose of the shops isn’t to ignite interest in the drug, but rather to dilute it.

Students smoking joints

Europe hosts the highest concentration of young weed smokers

Since its decriminalization in the 1970s, weed use in the Netherlands has actually plateaued. The Dutch government has made frequent pointed attempts to quell the spread of the drug, banning its advertisement and, at one point, restricting its sale to only Dutch citizens over 18 when the onset of “drug tourists” grew too annoying for Dutch citizens.

This decriminalization doesn’t differ much from the majority of European Union member state policies, most of which took the form of “harm reduction” after the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. While the United States criminalized most forms of drugs, member states such as Switzerland led policy efforts aimed at harm reduction.

These efforts took shape in the form of areas such as Zurich’s “needle park”, where the government allowed heroin addicts to shoot up in a controlled environment.

In the United States, Pietschmann said, drug regulators have been far more extreme. In the 1960s and 70s, attitudes toward pot were fairly liberal, with loose regulations and a turn-a-blind-eye attitude. This changed in the 1980s with President Ronald Reagan’s “war on drugs,” which implemented zero-tolerance policies in which anyone caught with drugs of any variety could be jailed.

In the 1990s, with President Bill Clinton’s prevention-centered approach to drug reform, the drugs were destigmatized and acceptance toward cannabis steadily grew. In 2008, campaigns for the legalization of medical cannabis emerged.

Medical marijuana was legalized and weed started becoming decriminalized overall, leading to lower public perceptions of risk. Media contributed to this culture of weed acceptance, Pietschmann said.

“All the newspapers talked about how great this is, how fantastic this is, all kinds of money for businesses,” Pietschmann said.

The United States has since found itself host to a bustling weed economy armed with shiny marketing and heavy pro-cannabis lobbying forces.

Read more here: Police probe rapper who posted about airport drugs stash on Instagram

Canadian flag with a pot leaf in the middle

Recreational weed is legal throughout Canada

So… is there a problem with weed?

The contradictions between reality and regulation may remind one of the conversations they had with their equally-stoned roommates while taking their first-year philosophy courses. What is reality? What is right and wrong? Good and bad? Is this all conception?

Pietschmann, who also does research on drugs such as heroin and Fentanyl, isn’t particularly concerned about people over 18 who occasionally smoke a joint.

“If you ask if people are dying from pot, we don’t have evidence,” he said.

He cautions against subscribing to extreme claims surrounding the drug.

“People have said when you legalize cannabis, crime will decline. Hasn’t happened. Weed use will decline. Hasn’t happened. Some have been afraid that when you legalize cannabis, its use will increase significantly in young people. Hasn’t happened — people above the age of 25 are using it more.”

The problem with pot is simply that too many people are smoking it, he said. It can mess with your motivation, keep you from thinking abstractly or mathematically, and in some cases cause car accidents, he said. For a small minority of people, it can cause mental health issues such as psychotic episodes. This is somewhat contrary to popular belief, which often states weed can’t cause mental issues, but can only soothe them.

The report cautions people to take note of the increasing lobbying influence of the legal weed industry.

Read more here: New Zealand to vote on cannabis legalization

Medicinal cannabis

Weed grew more accepted in the United States after it was legalized as a medical substance

With the introduction of pot to the private sector, there has been a growing market for high THC cannabis grown in greenhouses using high-tech innovation.

This can have surprisingly detrimental effects on US society, he said. Before, much of the pot exported to the United States came from Mexican farms. Now that tech has revolutionized the sector, creating multimillion dollar companies profiting off high-THC weed snacks like gummies and brownies, people’s tolerance for the natural weed grown on farms has lessened, causing them to buy less of it.

Although this could seem like a good thing to some Americans, Pietschmann said, it can have reverse effects.

“The problem is that in some of the areas in Mexico where cannabis is cultivated, people are growing poppies and exporting heroin to the United States instead,” he said.

Looking ahead

Global weed use has grown by 60 percent over the past decade, with people smoking around 130 percent more than before.

The biggest issue Pietschmann sees is youth smoking, which he said can have negative effects on brain development and IQ, citing a study conducted in 2012 in New Zealand, which indicated that pot smokers under 18 experienced an approximate 6-point loss in IQ points.

Last year, according to the report, youth cannabis use increased slightly. Although this should be monitored, Pietschmann said, one year is not a proper indicator of a trend.

Read more here: Germany: Drivers on cannabis will no longer automatically lose license

  • Cannabis Marihuana (Fotolia/Opra)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Cannabis – smoke it or wear it

    The cannabis plant contains the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It makes people feel euphoric and relaxed and can also alleviate pain. The flowers of infertilized female plants contain particularly high amounts of THC, that’s why they are taken for producing marihuana. Some cannabis species do not contain any THC at all and are grown for fiber production.

  • opium poppy (picture alliance/dpa/D.Ramik)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Better than aspirin

    Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) produces – you guessed it – opium. To harvest it, you simply incise the capsules and let the white latex exude and dry. Opium contains high amounts of morphine, the strongest existing pain medication. A chemical variation of morphine provides the semi-synthetic drug heroin.

  • Pluteus salicinus (picture alliance/dpa/Wildlife)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Fancy a magic mushroom?

    Mushrooms are chemical artists – some of them even produce psychoactive substances. Among them: this grey-coloured Pluteus salicinus. It grows on wood and contains psilocybin, which causes visual and mental hallucinations similar to LSD. Side effects are nausea and panic attacks.

  • Chewing on a coca leaf (Reuters)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Drug snack to go

    Leaves of the coca plant harbour chemical compounds similar to cocaine. They alleviate pain and act as stimulants. In many countries in Latin America, chewing on raw coca leaves is quite common. It helps tourists deal better with altitude sickness, too. By fermenting and drying the leaves and processing them chemically, cocaine is produced.

  • Angel's trumpet (picture alliance/dpa)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Beautiful poisonous flowers

    Angel’s trumpets are beautiful to look at but you should refrain from tasting them. All parts of the plant contain alkaloids – chemical compounds with strong effects on the human body. When you eat or smoke the plant, your heart rate will increase and you will start to hallucinate. As with all natural drugs, finding the right dosage is difficult. Deadly accidents occur quite often.

  • Datura inoxia, Datura inoxia, toloache, thornapple (picture-alliance/blickwinkel/R. Koenig)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Bummer with thornapple

    On the internet, poisonous Datura plants – also known as thornapples – are advertised as natural drugs as well. Really not a good idea: The plant induces strong hallucinations, sometimes with a complete loss of reality. People tend to hurt themselves severely under its influence.

  • Argyreia nervosa, Hawaiian baby woodrose, elephant creeper, wooly morning glory (picture-alliance/blickwinkel/R. Koenig)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Hawaiian Babies

    Argyreia nervosa is native to Asia, even though the plant is called Hawaiian baby woodrose. The seeds of this climbing vine contain ergine, a compound similar to LSD. It causes colourful visions and euphoria but also nausea, prickling and psychoses. Overdosing can happen easily as one seed alone already has a strong effect.

  • Peyote cactus (picture-alliance/WILDLIFE)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Ecstasy with cactus

    The peyote cactus in Mexico and Texas is full of mescaline, a hallucinogenic compound that is illegal under the international Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Mescaline alters thinking processes and one’s sense of time and self-awareness. The cactus is cut into pieces and eaten or boiled into a tea. The cactus species is now listed on the Red List as vulnerable.

  • Myristica seeds (picture alliance/CTK/R. Pavel)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Beware of nutmeg

    Nutmeg in high amounts can act as a drug, since it contains the hallucinogenic compound myristicin. But don’t worry: you’ll never reach the necessary dosage if you only use nutmeg as a spice. Getting high on nutmeg seems a bad idea anyway, as side effects include headaches, nausea and diarrhea.

  • Mitragyna speciosa (picture-alliance/Arco Images/Sunbird Images)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    Psychedelic leaves?

    Yes, it’s true: the evergreen kratom tree (Mitragyna speciosa), native to Southeast Asia, incorporates the opioid-like compound mitragynine into its leaves. In traditional medicine, the leaves are chewed to relieve pain, increase appetite and treat diarrhea. But they can also be used to mix drug cocktails.

  • tobacco plant (picture alliance/ZB)

    Mother Nature’s drug lab

    One of nature’s most dangerous killers

    The tobacco plant produces poisonous and addictive chemicals, such as nicotine and other alkaloids, and harbours them inside its leaves. With this poisonous cocktail, the plant tries to ward off animals that might want to eat it. When the leaves are dried and smoked, the chemicals enter the human body – together with many cancerous substances generated by burning tabacco.

    Author: Brigitte Osterath


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