The Global Initiative For Drug Policy Reform



The UN estimated that in 2004 about 4% of the world’s adult population (162 million people) use cannabis annually, and about 0.6% (22.5 million) uses it on a daily basiss, making cannabis the world’s most popular illegal drug. It constitutes roughly 80% of the illegal drug market. As such, it is grown all across the globe. There are two main types; herbal cannabis, including “skunk” which is often grown in indoor factories in the UK, and resin which tends to be manufactured in Morocco and Afghanistan. Many users grow their own cannabis. Cannabis has been used both medicinally and recreationally for centuries, although it was only in the latter half of the 21st century that its use skyrocketed.


Cannabis is controlled by the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which means that it is illegal under international law for any country to legalise the commercial sale of cannabis, although many countries, notably Portugal, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands have decriminalized either possession or trade. In the United States many states have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes if you have a doctor’s recommendation.

Medical Use:

The active chemical in cannabis is tetrahydracannabinol (THC). THC has a wide use of medicinal usages. It can be used to relieve pain, and is preferable for many to synthetic painkillers because it has very few side-effects. It is also has been used to treat nausea in cancer sufferers, to increase appetite in AIDs patients and to treat some of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. A number of THC containing medicines such as Marinol and Sativex have been produced.


Recreational Use:

Cannabis is mostly popular with younger people, in some countries over half of 16-24 year olds have tried it at least once. It can induce a feeling of relaxation and a mild euphoric “buzz” in the user, and according to a Beckley Foundation study, it can increase the user’s creativity. Different types of cannabis have different effects, and stronger forms such as “skunk” can be more overwhelming than cannabis resin.


Cannabis is non toxic and has very little risk of overdose, making it a very safe drug. When strong cannabis is used, this increases the risk of anxiety and paranoia, which can be unpleasant and frightening. The media often reports about cannabis causing mental illness, but, although it can worsen existing mental health problems, there is little evidence to say it can cause bad mental health. Cannabis contains known carcinogens, and when smoked can cause damage to the lungs. Cannabis also impairs the user’s ability to drive.  

Read about possibilities for cannabis policy reform