Figure 4 Trends in recent use (last year) of cannabis among young adults (aged 15–34), measured by national surveys (1)

Figure 4


Data taken from national surveys available in each country. Figures and methodology for each survey can be consulted in Table GPS-4 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

For young adults, the EMCDDA uses the range 15–34 years (Denmark and UK from 16, Germany, Estonia (1998) and Hungary from 18). In France the age range was 25–34 in 1992 and 18–39 in 1995.

(1) Sample sizes (respondents) for the 15–34 age group for each country and year are presented in Table GPS-4 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

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


The lack of a long-term series of consistent surveys in most EU countries presents a limit to the reliable identification of drug trends. Many countries carry out consecutive surveys, but these are not series in the strict sense – despite progress in harmonisation, methods and sample sizes differ between surveys and frequency may be irregular. In addition, surveys are conducted in different years in different countries, making it difficult to identify European trends. Ideally, national population surveys would be carried out in all Member States at the same time; this would make it much easier to compare results at a national level (over time) and at a European level (between countries), facilitating evaluation of the achievement of the European Action Plan on Drugs.

What the available findings, obtained from different types of surveys (national or local household surveys, conscript and school surveys), reveal is that cannabis use increased markedly during the 1990s in almost all EU countries, particularly among young people, and that cannabis use has continued to increase in recent years in some countries (Figure 4). In the United Kingdom, which until 2000 exhibited the highest figures, cannabis use among young adults remained relatively stable between 1998 and 2003/04, with other countries (France and Spain (40)) catching up. In Greece there was a reported decrease between 1998 and 2004.

Among new Member States, the available evidence, mainly from school surveys, suggests that there has been a substantial increase in cannabis use in recent years in many of them. This has mostly occurred since the mid-1990s, and has been concentrated in urban areas and among males and young adults. In Estonia and Hungary, consecutive surveys among adults have allowed the identification of recent trends (Figure 4).

A comparison of the results of the 1995, 1999 and 2003 ESPAD schools surveys (Hibell et al., 2004) shows that, in almost all Member States and candidate countries that participated in the survey, the prevalence of lifetime use of cannabis among 15- to 16-year-old school students increased by 2 % or more (Figure 5). In more than half of these countries, prevalence estimates have doubled or trebled since 1995. The highest relative increases occurred mainly in eastern European Member States that had reported lifetime cannabis prevalence rates of less than 10 % in 1995. In none of the countries surveyed by ESPAD was there a continuous and noticeable decrease in lifetime use of cannabis across the three surveys.

Figure 5 Lifetime prevalence of cannabis use among 15- to 16-year-old school students reported in the 1995, 1999 and 2003 rounds of the ESPAD survey


In 1995, surveys in countries marked with an asterisk were not strictly comparable with the ESPAD surveys. Spain did not participate in the ESPAD survey. The data included here are based on a Spanish survey series in 1996, 1998 and 2002. Drug prevalence questions may be considered comparable to the ESPAD questions, but other aspects of the method mean that the Spanish data are not strictly comparable.

Source: Hibell et al., 2004.


School surveys reveal that EU Member States can be categorised into three distinct groups regarding trends in the recreational and occasional use of cannabis. In the first group (which includes Ireland and the United Kingdom), lifetime prevalence is high (around 38–39 %) but has remained stable over the past eight years. These countries have long histories of cannabis use and high prevalence rates of cannabis use developed during the 1980s and 1990s. In a second group of countries, lifetime prevalence of cannabis use among school students has increased substantially over the period (by up to 26 percentage points). This group comprises all the new eastern European Member States together with Denmark, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. In the third group, estimates of lifetime prevalence among school students have remained at relatively low levels (around 10 % and below). This group includes Member States from both the north and south of Europe (Finland, Sweden and Norway as well as Greece, Cyprus and Malta).

Among adults, the picture is less clear because less information is available, and what is available is more heterogeneous, but a similar pattern emerges, with recent cannabis use (last year use) high but stable in the United Kingdom, some countries (e.g. Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Spain and France) showing substantial increases in recent years and other countries exhibiting lower prevalence estimates and less clear trends (e.g. Greece, Finland and Sweden). New school and adult surveys in the next 2–3 years will help to throw more light on the complex issue of the development of drug trends.

(40) Information that arrived too late to be included in the report gave an LYP among young adults in Spain of 20.1% in the 2003 survey.