In the past few years, the black market cannabis market in Europe, especially in the Netherlands and the UK, has evolved and changed a lot. We’ve seen an increase in the number of new products and strains with higher THC content. What’s more, the quality of the products has increased dramatically too.

Cannabis is used for a large range of medical and non-medical purposes. However, the global cannabis market is highly regulated. The demand for cannabis is rising rapidly. The demand for both legal and illegal cannabis is increasing at a rapid pace. The current cannabis market is worth over US$27.3 Billion.

The EMCDDA’s European Drug Report 2021 reports a significant increase in the THC content of cannabis in Europe, as well as widespread cannabis use among Europeans and an increase in home cultivation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannabis resin sold in Europe is more potent than ever, European officials warn. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reports that the THC content of cannabis resin now averages between 20 and 28 percent, almost twice that of cannabis flower. However, the THC content of cannabis flowers remains as high as before. Cannabis products with a high THC content are now available in Europe, as well as new forms with added synthetic cannabinoids sold on the illegal market. They exist alongside a range of products that contain cannabis extracts but have a low HCT content and are commercially available. word-image-3737 This data is included in EMCDDA’s European Medicines Report 2021, which expresses concern about the increasing number of reports of cannabis contaminated with artificial cannabinoids. The cause of this trend is unknown, but may be due to both the shortage of cannabis associated with the pandemic and, in some countries, the availability of low-THC cannabis products that are difficult to distinguish from cannabis sold on the drug market, the report said.

New illegal distribution channels

The EMCDDA has been monitoring the drugs situation in Europe for more than 25 years. The annual report on trends and developments is based on information provided by the EU Member States, Turkey and Norway, and provides a high-level overview of the drugs issue in Europe, covering all aspects from supply to use, public health issues and drugs policy and control. However, the UK is not included in the analysis of the 2021 report because it left the EU on 1 January. February last year. The report shows that coronavirus-related travel restrictions and border closures have not curbed the activities of smugglers worldwide. Illegal producers and suppliers quickly adapted to the pandemic controls by moving their operations to the Internet and finding new supply and distribution channels. The 60-page document states: Efforts to maintain social distance may have hurt the retail drug trade, but they seem to have led to a wider adoption of new technologies to facilitate drug distribution, which may have accelerated the trend in recent years toward an increasingly digital marketplace. The report notes that in 2020, cannabis cultivation and the production of synthetic drugs in the European Union have remained at pre-pandemic levels, with ever larger quantities of drugs being transported by sea to avoid the closure of land borders, which – along with heroin – has led to large seizures at European ports.

COVID-19 and consumption

Cannabis herb and cannabis resin accounted for the majority of reported drug seizures in the EU in 2019, at 37% and 36% respectively. For comparison, 11% for cocaine, 5% for amphetamines, 4% for other substances, 3% for heroin and MDMA and 1% for cannabis plants. The report notes a trend toward local cannabis production, in part due to anti-establishment measures. Based on data from 26 countries that conducted the survey between 2015 and 2020, it is estimated that cannabis use last year averaged 15.4 percent among EU citizens aged 15 to 34, ranging from 3.4 percent in Hungary to 21.8 percent in France. When only young people aged 15 to 24 were considered, the prevalence of cannabis use was higher: 19.2% (9.1 million) had used in the past year and 10.3% (4.9 million) in the past month. word-image-3738 However, cannabis use among 15- to 16-year-olds has declined, the report said. Among the 24 EU Member States participating in the 2019 European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), the prevalence of cannabis use among 15- and 16-year-old school students ranged from 7% to 23%, with a weighted average of 17.3%. This is down from a peak of 20.4% in 2011. In 2019, EU Member States reported 326,000 cannabis resin seizures, or 465 tonnes, and 313,000 cannabis herb seizures, or 148 tonnes. Turkey also reported 6,200 seizures of 28 tons of cannabis resin and 64,000 seizures of 63 tons of cannabis herb.

New findings relating to psychoactive substances

The EMCDDA report also shows that traffickers and manufacturers are not just selling the traditional basic drugs – cannabis, cocaine and heroin. Approximately 400 new psychoactive drugs were discovered on the market in 2019. New powerful synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic opioids continue to emerge and pose a threat to health and society, the report said. Reports of cannabis adulterated with new synthetic cannabinoids such as MDMB-4in-PINACA being sold to unsuspecting users point to the new and potentially increasing risks of unintended use of these potent substances. New dosage forms of synthetic cannabinoids, including e-liquids and impregnated cigarette papers, are increasingly appearing on the drug market. Worryingly, they are more common among 15- and 16-year-olds.

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