The most commonly consumed drugs in the world include alcohol and cannabis/marijuana. Although these substances are legal to a certain degree in the vast majority of countries, they can still lead to a number of negative outcomes and health problems if abused. Outside of alcoholic beverages, cannabis is the most widely cultivated possibly illicit drug in the world. According to the United Nations 2022 World Drug Report, cannabis is cultivated in 154 of the world's countries and territories, with opium, the next-most-prolifically cultivated drug, in 57 countries. The coca plant, which is processed to produce cocaine, is grown in eight countries.
One of the most widely used methods of quantifying drug use is to express it in Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), which represent the number of healthy years of life lost to the use of illicit drugs, averaged across the country's entire population.
The United States consumes more illicit drugs than any other country. It is estimated that approximately six percent of people in the United States use illegal drugs. Several other countries, including Greenland, the United Kingdom, and Mongolia, have rates of illegal drug use over five percent.
Multiple theories exist as to why the United States has a high rate of illegal drug use. One hypothesis posits that because drugs are so harshly prosecuted in the United States, it creates the allure of a "forbidden fruit," which entices people to get involved in drug use at a young age. Furthermore, the United States has a large population, a strong economy, and a very large and sparsely guarded border—which adds up to many easy-to-reach potential customers with ample disposable income, making the US an appealing market for drug smugglers.
In terms of consumption, the United States is the clear drug capital of the world. In terms of production, Afghanistan is the country most likely to earn the title. While opium poppies are cultivated in 57 countries, 95% of the world's opium comes from a mere three nations: Afghanistan (the world leader), Mexico, and Myanmar. Similarly, the countries of Columbia, and Bolivia, and Peru account for nearly all the coca—and by extension, cocaine—in the world.
Afghanistan may not be the world's leading producer of opium for much longer. The ruling Taliban have come out strongly against the opium trade, and have banned the cultivation of poppies in the country. However, completely stamping out the industry may prove challenging. Afghanistan's poppy production has been on the rise for years, comprising 177,000 hectares (438,000 acres) in 2021—enough to produce 650 tons of heroin. In fact, Afghanistan's production of opiates totaled $1.8-$2.7 billion USD in 2021, making up as much as 14% of the country's GDP.
Drug use is increasing both in the US and all over the world. One of the biggest drivers of drug use is stress, and factors such as the coronavirus pandemic, the state of the world’s economy, the political climate in many countries, and the largest war in Europe since World War II have provided a surplus of stress in recent years.
Here are the 10 countries with the highest DALYs:
As of 2022, the United States of America is ranked number one globally for drug use.