Mapped: The Most Common Illicit Drugs in the World
Despite strict prohibitory laws around much of the world, many common illicit drugs still see widespread use.
Humans have a storied and complicated relationship with drugs. Defined as chemical substances that cause a change in our physiology or psychology, many drugs are taken medicinally or accepted culturally, like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
But many drugs—including medicines and non-medicinal substances taken as drugs—are taken recreationally and can be abused. Each country and people have their own relationship to drugs, with some embracing the use of specific substances while others shun them outright.
What are the most common drugs that are considered generally illicit in different parts of the world? Today’s graphics use data from the UN’s World Drug Report 2021 to highlight the most prevalent drug used in each country.
What Types of Common Drugs Are Tracked?
The World Drug Report looks explicitly at the supply and demand of the international illegal drug market, not including commonly legal substances like caffeine and alcohol.
Drugs are grouped by class and type, with six main types of drugs found as the most prevalent drugs worldwide.
- Cannabis*: Drugs derived from cannabis, including hemp. This category includes marijuana (dried flowers), hashish (resin), and other for various other parts of the plant or derived oils.
- Cocaine: Drugs derived from the leaves of coca plants. Labeled as either cocaine salts for powder form or crack for cocaine processed with baking soda and water into rock form.
- Opioids: Includes opiates which are derived directly from the opium poppy plant, including morphine, codeine, and heroin, as well as synthetic alkaloids.
- Amphetamine-type Stimulants (ATS): Amphetamine and drugs derived from amphetamine, including meth (also known as speed), MDMA, and ecstasy.
- Sedatives and Tranquilizers: Includes other drugs whose main purpose is to reduce energy, excitement, or anxiety, as well as drugs used primarily to initiate or help with sleep (also called hypnotics).
- Solvents and Inhalants: Gases or chemicals that can cause intoxication but are not intended to be drugs, including fuels, glues, and other industrial substances.
The report also tracked the prevalence of hallucinogens—psychoactive drugs which strongly affect the mind and cause a “trip”—but no hallucinogens ranked as the most prevalent drug in any one country.
*Editor’s note: Recreational cannabis is legal in five countries, and some non-federal jurisdictions (i.e. states). However, in the context of this report, it was included because it is still widely illicit in most countries globally.
The Most Prevalent Drug in Each Country
According to the report, 275 million people used drugs worldwide in 2020. Between the ages of 15–64, around 5.5% of the global population used drugs at least once.
Many countries grouped different types of the same drug class together, and a few like Saudi Arabia and North Macedonia had multiple different drug types listed as the most prevalent.
But across the board, cannabis was the most commonly prevalent drug used in 107 listed countries and territories:
|Country or territory||Most Prevalent Drug(s)|
|Albania||Sedatives and tranquillizers (general)|
|Burkina Faso||Cannabis (general)|
|Central African Republic||Cannabis (herb)|
|Costa Rica||Cannabis (herb)|
|Côte d'Ivoire||Cannabis (herb)|
|Dominican Republic||Cocaine (powder)|
|El Salvador||Cannabis (herb)|
|Greece||Solvents and inhalants (general)|
|Hong Kong||Heroin, opium, opioids|
|Lithuania||Sedatives and tranquillizers (general)|
|New Zealand||Methamphetamine, solvent and inhalants|
|North Macedonia||Multiple types|
|Saudi Arabia||Multiple types|
|South Africa||Cannabis (general)|
|Sri Lanka||Cannabis (herb)|
|Syrian Arab Republic||Cannabis (hashish)|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Cocaine (crack)|
How prevalent is cannabis worldwide? 72 locations or more than two-thirds of those reporting listed cannabis as the most prevalent drug.
Unsurprisingly these include countries that have legalized recreational cannabis: Canada, Georgia, Mexico, South Africa, and Uruguay.
How Common Are Opioids and Other Drugs?
Though the global prevalence of cannabis is unsurprising, especially as it becomes legalized and accepted in more countries, other drugs also have strong footholds.
Opioids (14 locations) were the most prevalent drugs in the Middle-East, South and Central Asia, including in India and Iran. Notably, Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, supplying more than 90% of illicit heroin globally.
Amphetamine-type drugs (9 locations) were the third-most common drugs overall, mainly in East Asia. Methamphetamine was the reported most prevalent drug in China, South Korea, and Japan, while amphetamine was only the most common drug in Bangladesh.
However, it’s important to note that illicit drug usage is tough to track. Asian countries where cannabis is less frequently found (or reported) might understate its usage. At the same time, the opioid epidemic in the U.S. and Canada reflects high opioid usage in the West.
As some drugs become more widespread and others face a renewed “war,” the landscape is certain to shift over the next few years.
10 Travel Destinations for Post-Pandemic Life
Excited to get back to travelling the world? This infographic highlights the 10 most popular tourist destinations.
10 Travel Destinations for Post-Pandemic Life
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization formally classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. The resulting travel bans decimated the tourism industry, and international air travel initially fell by as much as 98%.
Almost two years later, travel is finally back on the table, though there are many restrictions to consider. Regardless, a survey conducted in September 2021 found that, as things revert to normalcy, 82% of Americans are looking forward to international travel more than anything else.
To give inspiration for your next vacation (whenever that may be), this infographic lists the 10 most visited countries in 2019, as well as three of their top attractions according to Google Maps.
Here were the 10 most popular travel destinations in 2019, measured by their number of international arrivals.
|Country||Number of international arrivals in 2019 (millions)|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||39.4|
*Estimate | Source: World Bank
France was the most popular travel destination by a significant margin, and it’s easy to see why. The country is home to many of the world’s most renowned sights, including the Arc de Triomphe and Louvre Museum.
The Arc de Triomphe was built in the early 1800s, and honors those who died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. In 1944, Allied soldiers marched through the monument after Paris was liberated from the Nazis.
The Louvre Museum, on the other hand, is often recognized by its giant glass pyramid. The museum houses over 480,000 works of art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Art isn’t the only thing that France has to offer. The country has a reputation for culinary excellence, and is home to 632 Michelin-starred restaurants, the most out of any country. Japan comes in at second, with 413.
While You’re There…
After seeing the sights in Paris, you may want to consider a visit to Spain. The country is the southern neighbor of France and is known for its beautiful villages and beaches.
One of its most impressive sights is the Sagrada Familia, a massive 440,000 square feet church which began construction in 1882, and is still being worked on today (139 years in the making). The video below shows the structure’s striking evolution.
At a height of 172 meters, the Sagrada Familia is approximately 52 stories tall.
Another popular spot is Ibiza, an island off the coast of Spain that is famous for its robust nightlife scene. The island is frequently mentioned in pop culture—Netflix released an adventure/romance movie titled Ibiza in 2018, and the remix of Mike Posner’s song I Took a Pill in Ibiza has over 1.4 billion views on YouTube.
If you’re looking for something outside of Europe, consider Mexico or Thailand, which are the 7th and 8th most popular travel destinations. Both offer hot weather and an abundance of white sand beaches.
If you need even more convincing, check out these links:
- The 13 Best Beaches in Mexico
- The Best Resorts in Mexico: 2021 Reader’s Choice
- The Best Night Markets in Bangkok, Thailand
- The Best Rooftop Bars in Bangkok
Under normal circumstances, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year by international tourists. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTCC), this spending accounted for an impressive 10.4% of global GDP in 2019.
Travel restrictions introduced in 2020 dealt a serious blow to the industry, reducing its share of global GDP to 5.5%, and wiping out an estimated 62 million jobs. While the WTCC believes these jobs could return by 2022, the emerging Omicron variant has already prompted many countries to tighten restrictions once again.
To avoid headaches in the future, make sure you fully understand the rules and restrictions of where you’re heading.
Which Values Children Should Be Encouraged to Learn, By Country
Which qualities do people think are most important for children to learn? The answer differs from country to country.
Many of the values we prioritize as adults were instilled in us during our childhood days.
They’re called our formative years for a reason—from when we’re born up until we’re about eight years old, our brains are easily molded and remain highly sensitive to external influences and environments. But depending on where you grew up, you may have been exposed to different values during your childhood compared to someone from another place.
These visualizations by Anders Sundell illustrate the most important values people think children should learn at home, across more than 80 different countries.
Sundell used data from the World Values Survey, an international survey that interviews hundreds of thousands of participants from across the globe. Respondents were asked to pick up to five qualities they believe are the most desirable for children to have:
- Good manners
- Hard work
- Feeling of responsibility
- Tolerance and respect for other people
- Thrift, saving money
- Determination and perseverance
- Religious faith
Sundell took the survey data and calculated the proportion of people in each country that selected each quality. From there, he took the top qualities and created three separate plot graphs to show the contrast between them.
Let’s look at the importance that countries placed on different values, including (1) independence and obedience, (2) unselfishness and religious faith, and (3) hard work and imagination.
1. Independence vs Obedience
Nordic countries value independence greatly, and find obedience to be a less important quality to instill in children.
View the full-size infographic
Other available data also supports that adults in Nordic countries value independence. According to Eurostat, the most common age to leave home in Sweden is between 17 and 18—nearly a decade sooner than the average age across the EU (26 years old).
Denmark’s average age to leave home is also below the European average, at 21 years old.
On the other end of the spectrum, countries like Iraq and Egypt believe obedience is much more important for children to learn.
2. Unselfishness vs Religious Faith
Bangladesh, Egypt, and Jordan all place a strong emphasis on faith, and fall on the far right of this graph.
View the full-size infographic
Islam is a strong influence in all three of these countries. In Bangladesh and Jordan, it’s the official state religion. And while Egypt is a secular country, a majority of citizens identify as Muslim—about 90% of the population.
Interestingly, places like the U.S. and Hong Kong fall right in the between, placing relatively equal importance on religion and unselfishness.
3. Hard Work vs Imagination
Left-leaning Nordic countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland think imagination is more important for children to learn than hard work.
View the full-size infographic
Interestingly, Japan also scored high for imagination, seeing it was a more important value to teach children than hard work. This is despite the fact that the country has an international reputation for being a hardworking country, where even taking an extended vacation can be frowned upon. Then again, Japan has a reputation for producing wildly creative works of art that are popular internationally (anime, for instance).
As expected, countries and cultures contain multitudes, and can often seem paradoxical and complex to those who try to codify them.
What qualities do you think are most important, and what countries surprised you with their placements?
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