This is the World’s Most Popular Recreational Drug

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by Dan Larkin

The United Nations keeps tabs on the world’s most popular recreational drug. The number one choice of people around the world is…cannabis.

Ok, that isn’t really that surprising, I know. But, it’s still interesting to see just how popular cannabis has become. It’s also pretty interesting to see who are the biggest consumers of cannabis. So, let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

The World’s Most Popular Recreational Drugs by the Numbers

According to the United Nations World Drug Report, 271 million people worldwide, ages 15-64, used recreational drugs (5.5% of that demographic). That number is from a 2017 UN survey.

That’s the increase in worldwide recreational drug use since 2009. This number takes into account all drugs, not just cannabis.

A whopping 188 million people worldwide used cannabis in 2017. North Americans lead the way with an estimated 56.6 million people consuming it in one form or another in 2017. Asia finished number two, with an estimated 54.2 million cannabis users. That shows an increased acceptance of cannabis in that region.

The world’s most popular drug is also very popular among men in Israel where they topped all other frequent users of cannabis. A full 1/3 of Israeli men consumed it in 2017. they were followed by the men of Jamaica who came in at 28.5%. American men made the top three with 21.4% of them being identified as frequent users. Next in line were the Canadian men with 19.1%. And, New Zealanders rounded out the top 5 frequent users with 18.6% of their men partaking.

Seizures of cannabis in North America are in long-term decline – down 77% from the level in 2010. This is due in large part to legalization and decriminalization in a number of states as of 2017. This number should continue to drop over the next survey period.


While cannabis continues to be the world’s most popular drug, the unfortunate news is the rise of opioid use and opioid deaths. While there was some progress in lowering its use, deaths continue to climb and worldwide attention needs to be paid to this epidemic.

47,000 opioid-related deaths were reported in 2017. That’s up from the 2015 number of 33,000. Those numbers are astounding. There is hope that more and more opioid users can find cannabis to be an alternative for them. But, lots more need to happen to create better access and to remove barriers to cannabis for adults.

Read more stories from CannabisIRL about cannabis surveys here.

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