International drugs: Growing marijuana users

Marijuana infographic

In the song made famous by the late recording artist Tom Petty, the storyteller compares marijuana use to romance, as he longs for a “Last dance with Mary Jane, one more time to kill the pain.” These lyrics echo the romanticized sentiment that many people still have today. Marijuana remains the most-used illicit substance in the US. Popular opinion about its low risks help to spread misinformation, myths, and drive the narrative that marijuana is safe.

According to the latest findings from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report, there are an estimated 188 million global users of cannabis, that is an equivalent of nearly 4% of the global population.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana is the product of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa, containing the psychoactive chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds. Popular names for the drug include weed, pot, and cannabis. 

Learn more about marijuana

How is marijuana the most-used illicit substance around the world?

Drug trafficking is a lucrative business and an active threat to the public throughout the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that cannabis is the most widely cultivated, trafficked, and abused illicit drug around the globe, accounting for roughly half of all global drug seizures.

Data from the World Drug Report on the state of global seizures of drugs since 2017 helps to tell the story of why marijuana use is so prevalent:

  • 2.7 million seizure cases reported to the UNODC, up from 2.5 million in 2016
  • Half of these seizure numbers are attributed to the herbal form of marijuana
  • Cannabis seized from 1998 –2017 has grown by nearly 60%

How does marijuana affect users? 

Although public attitudes about the drug continue to change, marijuana users may experience both short and long-term side effects according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Short-term effects may include altered senses, changes in mood, impaired body movement, difficulty with problem-solving, impaired memory, hallucinations, delusions, and possible psychosis when taken in high doses. 
  • Long-term effects may include brain development issues. Smoking can cause breathing problems and higher risk of lung infections. Increased heart rates can be a concern for those predisposed to heart conditions, and worsening symptoms in people with schizophrenia. 

What is a marijuana use disorder?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) characterizes a substance use disorder as when an individual’s continued use of drugs or alcohol that “causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.” More specifically, a diagnosis of a marijuana use disorder is the result of an individual meeting the criterion described by the DSM-5 through consuming marijuana.

Marijuana use disorders do exist and often go undiagnosed and untreated, according to research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Analysis from the NIH estimated that nearly 6 million people, 2.5% percent of adults, experienced marijuana use disorder in the past year. Rising marijuana potency and availability of the drug may contribute to the rise in use and long-term addiction.

Discover more information about marijuana use disorders in our white paper The new age of marijuana.


Changing state marijuana legislation, coupled with misinformation about its physical effects and addictive properties, all play a role in muddying the waters for individuals, lawmakers, and employers. As strong advocates for drug-free workplaces and the benefits they provide, we are dedicated to educating and informing employers about the importance of establishing policies and programs to help deter drug use in the workplace.

For more information, visit our website or contact us online.