Use of psychedelics climbs globally while consumption of most other drugs drops

Findings from Global Drug Survey suggest COVID-19 may have played a role in lower cannabis use.

Angela Stelmakowich 3 minute read December 2, 2021

Forty-two per cent of respondents reported they shared joints/vapes/pipes/bongs less often. / AlexLMX / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Data from more 32,000-plus people from 22 countries around the world shows that the use of most drugs, including cannabis, has dropped while the consumption of psychedelics is reaching new heights globally.

The 2021 results of the Global Drug Survey (GDS) show that “there were falls in the rates of almost all drug classes. This might reflect the older age of the GDS2021 sample or reflect the trend we have seen in most drugs (most notably stimulants) being used less frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Although the experience in some Canadian jurisdictions seemed to indicate more cannabis use during the pandemic, recreational cannabis is legal in the country. That is not the case for the vast majority of countries where GDS respondents live.

Looking specifically at how behaviour among cannabis users changed before and during the pandemic, 42 per cent of respondents reported that they shared joints/vapes/pipes/bongs less often, the GDS reports.

In all, 25 per cent of those polled reported they believed they reduced COVID-related risk by sharing their loose cannabis less often and 24 per cent said they used joints/bongs prepared by themselves more often.

Overall, alcohol represented the top drug used, cited by 92.8 per cent of respondents compared to 94.0 per cent in 2020. “People got drunk less often during lockdown and on average participants regretted getting drunk 25 per cent of the time with the biggest predictors of getting drunk being drinking too quickly, mixing their drinks and hanging out with people who drink heavily.”

Cannabis THC took the second top spot, but again was down this year, with 57.4 per cent of people reporting using THC in 2021 compared to 64.5 per cent in 2020.

Use percentages were also down for cigarettes, MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy), cannabis CBD, cocaine and amphetamines.

Consumption of LSD, ketamine and magic mushrooms was also down, but the last by only 0.4 per cent. “Of those using LSD and magic mushrooms in the last 12 months (approximately 3,000 respondents for each substance), about 22 per cent reported having ‘microdosed’ either substance in the last year,” notes the report’s executive summary.

The slight drop in psychedelics use from 2020 to 2021 is somewhat out of step with the years-long trend. / Getty Images

But the slight drop in psychedelics use from 2020 to 2021 is somewhat out of step with the years-long trend. For instance, five per cent of those surveyed reported ketamine use seven years ago compared to 14 per cent in 2021.

For both LSD and magic mushrooms, the percentages rose from nine to 16 over that period.

Pointing out that the current report represents a “first pass” on the GDS analysis, “the takeaway message is clear. People who use alcohol and other drugs are concerned about their health and seek to balance pleasure, the risk of harm and social enhancement.”

Adds the report, “Better drug policy, smarter public health education and greater respect for pleasure as a driver for the use of substances are some of the many things we can do to help people achieve the optimal balance between pleasure and the risk of harm.”

The GDS makes clear the anonymous drug use data and resulting report do not represent a prevalence study, notes a statement from the GDS. Pointing out that most participants tend to be young, experienced with illicit drugs and employed or in education, “the rates of drug use in this sample are significantly higher when compared to the general population.”

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