Chapter 3

Prevalence and patterns

Figure 3 Current use (last month) of cannabis among young adults (aged 15–24), measured by national surveys


Data are from the most recent national surveys available in each country.

Some countries use a slightly different age range to the EMCDDA standard age range for young adults. Variations in age ranges may to a small extent account for disparities between countries.

Sources: Reitox national reports (2004), taken from population surveys, reports or scientific articles. See also Table GPS-0 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.


Cannabis is by far the most commonly used illegal substance in Europe. Recent population surveys indicate that between 3 % and 31 % of adults (aged 15–64 years) have tried the substance at least once (lifetime use). The lowest prevalence rates of lifetime use are found in Malta (3.5 %), Portugal (7.6 %) and Poland (7.7 %) and the highest in France (26.2 %), the United Kingdom (30.8 %) and Denmark (31.3 %). In most countries (15 of 23 countries with information) lifetime prevalence lies between 10 % and 25 %.

Between 1 % and 11 % of adults report having used cannabis in the last 12 months, with Malta, Greece and Sweden presenting the lowest prevalence rates and the Czech Republic, France, Spain and the United Kingdom the highest. Most countries (14) reported prevalence rates of recent use of between 3 % and 7 %.

An estimate of the total number of adults (15–64 years) using cannabis in the EU as a whole can be constructed from the available national estimates. This exercise suggests that around 20 % of the total population, or over 62 million people, have ever tried cannabis. This figure falls to around 6 % of adults, or in excess of 20 million people, when the more recent use of cannabis is considered (last year prevalence). For comparison, in the 2003 United States national survey on drug use and health (SAMHSA, 2003), 40.6 % of adults (defined as 12 years and older) reported having tried cannabis or marijuana at least once and 10.6 % reported having used it during the previous 12 months. Among 18- to 25-year-olds, the figures were 53.9 % (lifetime), 28.5 % (last 12 months) and 17 % (last month) (37).

As is the case with other drugs, young adults consistently report higher rates of use. Between 11 % and 44 % of young Europeans aged 15–34 years report that they have ever tried cannabis, with the lowest prevalence rates being found in Greece, Portugal and Poland and the highest in France (39.9 %), the United Kingdom (43.4 %) and Denmark (44.6 %). Recent use was reported by 3–22 % of young adults, with the lowest figures in Greece, Sweden, Poland and Portugal, and the highest in the United Kingdom (19.5 %), France (19.7 %), and the Czech Republic (22.1 %) and 11 countries reporting recent use prevalence rates of between 7 % and 15 %.

Among 15- to 24-year-old Europeans, 9–45 % claim to have tried cannabis, with rates in most countries falling in the range 20–35 %. Recent use (in the last 12 months) was reported by 4–32 %, with rates in most countries being in the range 9–21 % (38).

As with other illicit drugs, rates of cannabis use are notably higher among males than among females, although the extent of this difference varies between countries. The male–female ratio for lifetime experience varies from 1.25:1 to 4:1 (1.25 to 4 men for each woman) and for current use from approximately 2:1 to 6:1. Surveys also indicate that cannabis use is more common in urban areas or in areas with high population density. Thus, national differences noted might, in part, reflect differences in levels of urbanisation, although it has been suggested that recreational drug use is spreading from urban areas towards rural areas.

The fact that rates of recent use and current use are substantially lower than lifetime experience rates indicates that cannabis use tends to be occasional, or to be discontinued after some time. In most EU countries, 20–40 % of those adults who have ever tried cannabis report having used it during the previous 12 months, and about 10–20 % report having used it during the last 30 days (‘continuation rates’).

In recent surveys, rates of use in the last month were reported by 0.5–9 % of all adults (with many countries in the range 2–4 %), by 1.5–13 % of young adults (with many countries in the range 3–8 %) and by 1.2–16 % of 15- to 24-year-olds (with many countries in the range 5–10 %) (Figure 3). A very rough estimation will be that 1 in 10 to 20 young Europeans is a current user of cannabis. The countries with the lowest current prevalence rates included Malta, Greece, Sweden, Poland and Finland, while the United Kingdom and Spain had the highest.

In the 2004 Annual Report (EMCDDA, 2004a), data presented on frequency of cannabis use in the last 30 days suggested that approximately one-quarter (19–33 %) of those who had used cannabis in the last month were doing so on a daily or almost daily basis (39), most of them young males. It was estimated that among 15- to 34-year-old Europeans, 0.9–3.7 % were daily cannabis users, and that roughly 3 million people in Europe could be using the substance daily or almost daily.

(37) Note that the age range in the US survey (12 years and over) is wider than the age range reported by the EMCDDA for EU surveys (15–64 years). On the other hand, the age range for young adults (18–25 years) is narrower than the range used in most EU surveys (15–24 years).

(38) See Figure GPS-2 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

(39) See the 2004 annual report. The information refers to ‘use on 20 days or more during the past 30 days’, expressed also as ‘daily or almost daily use’.