While one might think that it would be relatively easy to make a list of the most commonly used illegal drugs, that’s not the case. The number of illicit drug users is hard to determine, since many countries, especially in Africa and Asia, have limited information about the extent of drug use. In creating this list we used multiple sources, but before presenting it, we give you a short overview of the history of the relationship between humankind and drugs, which is filled with strange twists and turns.
Some records suggest that use of opium dates back to 3.400 B.C., when opium poppy was cultivated by Sumerians in Southwest Asia. Cannabis was used as early as 4.000 B.C. in China, and it is considered to be one of the first cultivated plants. Our ancestors used plants with hallucinogenic potential for various purposes. For instance, marijuana was used as a medicine for treating different illnesses – constipation, severe pain, blood clots, even hair loss. Also, opium poppy was a sacred plant that was consumed during religious ceremonies as a mean of inducing an ecstatic state in which people received messages from Gods.
However, by the end of 19th century, first laws that prohibited use of narcotics appeared in UK and USA. At that time, the primary concern of legislators was banning opium use. It wasn’t long before the use of all narcotics was criminalized. Today, in majority of countries use, production and distribution of narcotic substances is prohibited but there are a few exemptions, including Argentina, Columbia, Equador, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Spain, Switzerland, Norway…. You can check our list of 10 Countries with the Toughest Drug Laws in the World to see which countries are not so liberal when it comes to drug use.
Until the mid-20th century drugs that were produced directly from plants dominated the market but then first synthetic drugs appeared. LSD, MDMA, PCP were developed in laboratories and used in medical treatments as well as in different kind of psychological experiments. And now, at the beginning of the 21st century, a whole new cluster of synthetic drugs has emerged. Spice and K2, synthetic marijuana products, Bath Salts, synthetic amphetamine, are some of the most popular synthetic narcotics on the market. Despite causing serious health problems, these drugs find more and more users every day.
The beginning of the 21st century brought another important change in the world of narcotics. The development of modern technologies created a new online market for drug users around the world. The findings of Global Drug Survey 2015 show that the number of people who buy drugs online has been growing. While, in 2000, 1.6 of respondents used the web to obtain a drug, in 2014, the number of online buyers reached 25.3 percents.
In making the list of 11 Most Commonly Used Illegal Drugs we consulted three sources: Global Drug Survey, World Drug Report and National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The reports present data from 2013. Each of these reports has its advantages and shortcomings. World Drug Report is published annually by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and it focuses on production, trafficking and use of illicit drugs. While the report presents data about the number of users of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy-type drugs, Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), opiates and opioids, it doesn’t provide the number of heroin or opium users but only estimates global production of these drugs. Global Drug Survey, which was conducted in 18 states, with 80,000 respondents, didn’t include countries in Asia, which is why Global Drug Survey’s list doesn’t include opium, whose production has reached its historical levels, according to UNODC, and which is mostly consumed in Asia. Finally, NSDUH presents a detailed list of most widely illicit drugs, but only in the USA.
According to World Drug Report 246 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 years used an illicit drug during 2013, and more than 1 out of 10 drug users is a problem drug user, which means that he or she is suffering from drug use disorders or drug dependence. In addition, almost half of drug addicts inject drugs, which is why there are 1.65 million HIV-positive addicts.