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200 Million People Worldwide Use Illegal Drugs, Study Says

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An estimated 200 million people worldwide use illegal drugs, according to a new study. The health consequences of this use are wide-ranging, researchers report this week in The Lancet. They include overdose, dependence, violence or injury due to intoxication, as well as heart disease, mental disorders and cirrhosis.

The Los Angeles Times reports that 125 to 203 million people use marijuana, 14 million to 56 million use amphetamines, 12 million to 21 million use opioids, and 14 million to 21 million use cocaine. In addition, 11 million to 21 million inject drugs. An estimated 15 million to 39 million are considered problem drug users, the article notes.

Illegal drug use is highest in developed countries, the researchers found. They point out that many people who use illegal drugs take more than one drug.

The major adverse health effects of marijuana are dependence, and probably psychotic disorders and other mental disorders, the researchers conclude. They say that marijuana is unlikely to be deadly.

Drugs caused 2.1 million years of life lost in 2004, followed by alcohol, which caused a loss of 1.5 million years, according to the World Health Organization. Drug-related deaths tend to strike younger people, accounting for the higher number of years of life lost compared with other causes of death. Overall, illegal drugs led to 250,000 deaths in that year, compared with 5.1 million deaths due to tobacco, and 2.25 million due to alcohol.

3 Responses to this article

  1. maxwood / January 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Deaths/year update from Douglas Bettcher, WHO news release of May 30, 2011: tobacco (of which over 90% is $igarettes) 6 million, alcohol 2.5 million. What if (b) tobacco were largely replaced by cannabis, and (a) 700-mg-per-smoke $igarettes were largely replaced by low-dosage portable vaporizers (such as a 25-mg “one-hitter” made for pennies in your neighborhood).

  2. Sandra / January 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Isn’t it hard to tell the side effects of an illegal drug like cannabis when they are rare? Especially when the primary side effect is “addiction” and the only ones assessing incidence are the ones treating that effect? Doesn’t seem scientific to me.

  3. Avatar of bly
    bly / January 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Two hundred million people worldwide? I understand the importance of statistics based on verifiable research, but is there any human being with any common sense who believes that only one in every 35 people uses – or has used at some time in their life – illegal drugs? With a global population of seven billion, this is the ratio two hundred million yields.

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