The U.N. World Drug Report: 6 takeaways

Pot is still the king of drugs, Canada is to blame for the meth crisis, and homemade synthetics such as the ecstasy-like "Meow Meow" are on the rise

Marijuana is still the world's drug of choice, according the UN global drug report.
(Image credit: Floris Leeuwenberg/The Cover Story/Corbis)

It's been 40 years since President Richard Nixon first launched America's "war on drugs," and the war goes on... and on. Each year, the global drug trade kills over 200,000 of an estimated 210 million users of illicit drugs (including 27 million "problem" users). Last week, the United Nations released its annual World Drug Report, which highlighted declines in some types of drug production, but worrisomely soaring rates in others. Here, six takeaways:

1. America is still the biggest market for cocaine

We're number one... at least when it comes to cocaine. The U.S. is the biggest consumer of blow, sniffing $37 billion worth of the white stuff annually, "despite slackening demand." The European market is close behind, having grown to $36 billion. In 2009, Americans consumed 157 tons of cocaine — 36 percent of the total global consumption.

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2. Pot is the most widely produced and consumed drug

No surprise. Marijuana remains the "world's drug of choice" — the most widely grown and consumed illicit drug. According to the report, as many as 203 million people used cannabis over the last 12 months. That's 4.5 percent of the global population.

3. Blame Canada for all the meth

The report singles out our neighbors to the north as the leading supplier of methamphetamine to the U.S., Malaysia, Mexico, and Jamaica. Canada is also noted for having "fueled" a resurgence of ecstasy use in some countries.

4. Peru is the new Colombia

Peru is challenging Colombia's reign as the world's leading producer of cocaine. In 2010, the illegal production of coca — the plant used to make cocaine — dropped 15 percent in Colombia, which receives $500 million in annual anti-narcotics aid from the U.S. Columbia now has 62,000 hectares devoted to coca. In neighboring Peru, coca production jumped 2.2 percent, to 61,200 hectares. Peruvians have ceded remote territory to drug traffickers and guerrillas, says Adam Isaacson with the Washington Office on Latin America, and, given the country's inadequate police force, "the numbers are starting to catch up with them."

5. "Designer drugs" are making big gains

These synthetic substances include "Spice," which mimics the effects of marijuana, says Sarah Morrison at The Independent, "BZP," which is similar to ecstasy, and "mephedrone" — or "meow meow" — which apes ecstasy and amphetamines. In Europe, 41 of these "unregulated" and "untested" synthetics were reported last year, twice as many as the year before. They can be produced with little "chemical know-how," says Sandeep Chawla with the U.N. Drugs and Crime office. "Recipes can be found on the internet and many of the so-called 'legal highs' can be made fairly simply."

6. Traditional narcotics are on the decline

As synthetic drugs take off, the global demand for cocaine, cannabis, and heroin has remained stable, or even declined. Opium production dropped 38 percent in 2010, though that was due, in part, to a blight in Afghanistan last year, while coca cultivation has declined 18 percent since 2007.

Sources: Associated Press, Bloomberg, Council on Foreign Relations, Globe and Mail, Guardian, The Independent

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