Prevalence of daily cannabis use in the European Union and Norway

14 November 2012

This report brings together, for the first time in Europe, an integrated overview of the prevalence of intensive cannabis use, defined as daily or almost daily cannabis use (use on 20 or more days in the month preceding survey). Self-reported data regarding frequency of cannabis use from large, probabilistic, nationally representative samples of general population surveys from 20 countries, representing more than 83 % of the population of EU and Norway, were collected through two rounds of ad hoc data collection in 2004 and 2007 and through a routine, standard data collection instrument since 2010.

 

Executive summary

Cannabis use is relatively common in the European Union (EU) and Norway, with around 23 million people (6.8 % of all 15- to 64-year-olds) having used the drug in the past year and about 12 million (3.6 % of all 15- to 64-year-olds) in the last month. Although the prevalence of last-year cannabis use among the general population is generally stable or decreasing in many countries, demands for treatment in which cannabis is the primary drug continue to rise, indicating a possible increase in related problems. The substance is currently the most frequently mentioned drug by those demanding drug treatment for the first time in the EU and Norway. This suggests that, even though most cannabis use at the population level is likely to be transitory and at low levels, a significant minority of users use the substance intensively and/or for long periods of time. These patterns of use are reported to be associated with harms to the user and possibly with a need for treatment. Although this problem has been increasingly recognised, knowledge of the prevalence of the more intensive forms of cannabis use has been limited at the EU level.

This report brings together, for the first time in Europe, an integrated overview of the prevalence of intensive cannabis use, defined as daily or almost daily cannabis use (use on 20 or more days in the month preceding survey). Self-reported data regarding frequency of cannabis use from large, probabilistic, nationally representative samples of general population surveys from 20 countries, representing more than 83 % of the population of EU and Norway, were collected through two rounds of ad hoc data collection in 2004 and 2007 and through a routine, standard data collection instrument since 2010.

Depending on country, cannabis was used on 20 or more days by between 3.5 % and 44.1 % of people who had used the substance in the last month. Overall, among the 20 countries participating in the study, weighted by their estimated numbers of last-month cannabis users in the general population, the findings suggest that, on average, about 25 % of last-month cannabis users were daily or almost daily users of the substance. The population prevalence of daily or almost daily cannabis users ranged from 0.05 % to 2.6 % (among the 15–64 years olds). The weighted average of prevalence (weighted by population size) was 1 % in the countries that provided data. Based on the existing information, it can be estimated that there are around 3 million daily or almost daily cannabis users in the EU and Norway. This is, however, a minimum estimate owing to possible under-reporting among survey participants and to a higher probability of frequent users occurring outside the sampling frame of general population surveys.

It is also important to stress that daily cannabis use is concentrated in some population groups, among which prevalence is considerably higher than in the total population, particularly in certain countries. Gender and age are among the most important factors. According to this analysis, the population prevalence among young adults (aged 15–34 years) was almost twice the average (1.9 %), and more than three-quarters of these young users were male. When combined with population sizes and the fact that there is a higher prevalence of daily cannabis use among young adults (aged 15–34), it means that probably just over half of daily cannabis users in Europe come from the population group of young males aged 15–34.

In conclusion, bearing in mind the limitations of the current approach (possible reporting bias, lack of information about intensive users in the past year who did not use daily in the month preceding the survey, cultural and legal differences, etc.), the exercise has confirmed the feasibility and usefulness of collection and analysis of daily cannabis use data at the EU level. This study presents the first European overview of intensive cannabis use with a solid quantification of the phenomenon. The value of these data can be further enhanced by interpreting the results in the context of other data and information, for example treatment demand data or information from in-depth studies.

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)
Thematic Paper
November 2012

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