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Legalising bhang speeds drug impact, report says

By Robert Amalemba - Jun 29th 2022
Police cruiser ferrying bhang uprooted from a suspect's farm in Bahati, Nakuru. [Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard]

Legalisation of cannabis in some countries appears to have accelerated daily use and related health impacts, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report released on Monday.

The World Drug Report 2022 further says that many countries in Africa and South and Central America have the largest proportion of people on treatment for drug use effects, especially cannabis use disorders. 

“Around 284 million people aged 15-64 used drugs worldwide in 2020, a 26 per cent increase over the previous decade. Young people are using more drugs, with use levels today in many countries higher than with the previous generation,” says the report.

“In Africa and Latin America, people under 35 represent the majority of people being treated for drug use disorders.”  

It notes that most people in drug rehabilitation throughout Africa and South and Central America are primarily being treated for cannabis abuse while those in eastern and south-eastern Europe and central Asia, most often require help for the misuse of opioids.

Currently, 64 countries have provisions in their national legislation allowing medical use of cannabinoid pharmaceutical preparations and cannabis herb for a range of medical conditions.

The research says cannabis is the most widely used drug in the world, with 209 million people using it in 2020. Its consumption has surged by 23 per cent in the last decade as per the report which places Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Eswatini, Ghana, Zambia and South Africa as source countries of opium in Africa.

It says that opium production worldwide grew seven per cent between 2020 and 2021 to 7,930 tons – predominantly due to an increase in production in Afghanistan.

However, the global area under opium poppy cultivation fell by 16 per cent to 246,800 in the same period.

It notes that even as the recent legalisation of bhang in North America led to increasing tax revenues, “it has also caused a reported surge among people with psychiatric disorders, increased suicides and hospitalisations while generally reducing possession arrests.” 

The report further says that about 11.2 million people across the globe were injecting drugs, a half of the number living with hepatitis C, 1.4 million with HIV, and 1.2 million were living with both.  

Even as the findings put women in the minority of drug users, it notes that they tend to increase their rate of drug consumption and progress to drug use disorders more rapidly than men do.

Women now represent an estimated 45-49 per cent of users of amphetamines and non-medical users of pharmaceutical stimulants, pharmaceutical opioids, sedatives, and tranquilisers.

“Numbers for the manufacturing and seizures of many illicit drugs are hitting record highs, even as global emergencies are deepening vulnerabilities. At the same time, misperceptions regarding the magnitude of the problem and the associated harms are depriving people of care and treatment and driving young people towards harmful behaviours,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.

“We need to devote the necessary resources and attention to addressing every aspect of the world drug problem, including the provision of evidence-based care to all who need it, and we need to improve the knowledge base on how illicit drugs relate to other urgent challenges, such as conflicts and environmental degradation.”

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