The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has just released its annual European Drug Report for 2016, revealing that both MDMA and synthetic cannabis are currently on the rise across the continent, while the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium are the region’s leading snorters of cocaine.
According to the report, a number of social, economic and technological changes are influencing drug-taking tendencies in Europe. For instance, the recent return to popularity of MDMA appears to have been facilitated by improving production techniques, leading to the creation of ultra-pure pills and powders. The emergence of online markets on the dark web is also helping to connect buyers and sellers, and appears to be encouraging the spread of so-called new psychoactive substances (NPS).
NPSs are synthetic compounds that are designed to mimic the effects of popular illicit drugs like cannabis, MDMA and amphetamines. In 2014, European police busted 50,000 shipments of NPSs, around 60 percent of which were made up of synthetic cannabinoids.
These are designed to bind to the same brain receptors as THC (the active ingredient in weed), although the report warns that many of these products are much stronger and more toxic than marijuana. For instance, the authors mention a type of synthetic cannabinoid called MDMB-CHMICA that has been responsible for 13 deaths and 23 other non-fatal intoxications.
Regarding more traditional drugs, cannabis remains the number one substance of choice in Europe, with around 84 million people having tried it at some point in their lives. Total weed sales across the continent are estimated at around 9.3 billion euros in 2014 ($10.4 billion), making up around 38 percent of all drug sales in Europe.
The next most popular drugs are heroin and cocaine, which accounted for 28 percent and 24 percent of all revenue gained from narcotics in Europe in 2014.
Though cocaine use is declining in many countries, noses in London, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Barcelona remain relatively well stocked with lines of the white stuff, with more than 3 percent of young adults (aged 15 to 34) in these cities having used the drug in the past year.
Sadly, though, it’s not all fun and games, as overdose deaths appear to be on the rise, reaching 6,800 in 2014. More than three-quarters of these involved males, with opioid drugs like heroin being responsible for 82 percent of all fatal overdoses.