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How do drugs impact the environment?

How do drugs impact the environment?

Places that have legalized cannabis appear to have increased its regular use, while COVID lockdowns had a similar effect, increasing the risk of depression and suicide, a UN report said on Monday.

Drug use has an obvious impact on health, but according to a new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it also has an impact on the environment. A UN report warns that drug cultivation and production can cause deforestation, polluted water, water scarcity and crop damage. The data on the water and carbon footprint of cannabis or cocaine leave no room for doubt

Young people are using more drugs

According to the document, around 284 million people aged 15 to 64 used some drug worldwide in 2020, an increase of 26 per cent over the previous decade. Young people are using more drugs, with levels of use today in many countries higher than in the previous generation. In Africa and Latin America, people under the age of 35 represent the majority of people receiving treatment for drug use disorders.

Globally, the report estimates that 11.2 million people worldwide inject drugs. About half of this number were living with hepatitis C, 1.4 million were living with HIV, and 1.2 million were living with both.

“Manufacture and seizure figures for many illicit drugs are reaching record levels, even as global emergencies are deepening vulnerabilities. At the same time, misperceptions about the scale of the problem and associated harms are depriving people of attention and treatment and pushing young people into harmful behaviour We need to devote the necessary resources and attention to addressing all aspects of the world drug problem, including providing evidence-based care to all who need it, and we need to improve the of knowledge about how illicit drugs relate to other pressing challenges, such as conflict and environmental degradation,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.

The impact of cannabis

The illicit cultivation of plant-based drugs, as with other agricultural crops, can affect soil and water. The study concluded that the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis cultivation is considerably higher than that of outdoor cultivation (from 16 to 100 times higher). An important determinant of the carbon footprint can be deforestation or other forms of land-use change.

For indoor cannabis cultivation, the carbon footprint is determined especially by the use of energy, including HVAC equipment to maintain the temperature, humidity and lights that the cultivation requires. Together, these climate control measures account for more than 80% of the carbon footprint of cannabis.

Its final production, including chemical processing and waste, can also affect the air. This is because the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides can have negative effects on the environment and on organisms that live in the water and soil. Certain types of irrigation can accelerate soil salinization, that is, the excessive accumulation of salts in the soil.

Drugs impact on environment

Illicit drug markets, according to the 2022 World Drug Report, can have impacts on the environment at the local, community or individual level. Key findings include that the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis is between 16 and 100 times that of outdoor cannabis on average and that the footprint of 1 kilogram of cocaine is 30 times that of cocoa beans. The footprint is mainly determined by coca bush cultivation (60%), alkaloid extraction (24%) and waste disposal (14%).

New research covering the western Amazon region shows that illicit coca bush cultivation drives deforestation. Based on data from two regions of Colombia, illegal coca bush cultivation could directly cause or be indirectly associated with 43 to 58% of all deforestation in those regions.

The UNODC warns that illicit drug cultivation can also trigger deforestation by providing the resources to expand human settlements and other agricultural activities. Drug trafficking can also indirectly lead to deforestation when its profits are laundered through ranching and other activities that require large tracts of land.

Other environmental impacts include the substantial deforestation associated with illicit coca cultivation, the waste generated during the manufacture of synthetic drugs that can be 5 to 30 times the volume of the final product, and the dumping of waste that can directly affect the soil, water and air, as well as organisms, animals and the food chain indirectly.

In relation to the gender perspective, women remain a minority among drug users worldwide, but they tend to increase their rate of drug use and progress towards drug use disorders more quickly than men. Currently, women represent between 45 and 49 per cent of amphetamine users and non-medical users of pharmaceutical stimulants, pharmaceutical opioids, sedatives, and tranquillizers.

The 2022 World Drug Report also highlights the wide range of roles women play in the global cocaine economy, including growing coca, transporting small quantities of drugs, selling to consumers, and smuggling into prisons.

Continued growth of drug production and trafficking

Cocaine manufacture reached an all-time high in 2020, growing 11% from 2019 to 1,982 tons. Cocaine seizures also increased, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, to a record 1,424 tons in 2020. Almost 90% of the cocaine seized globally in 2021 was trafficked in containers and/or by sea. Seizure data suggest that cocaine trafficking is expanding to other regions outside of the main markets of North America and Europe, with higher levels of trafficking to Africa and Asia.

Methamphetamine trafficking continues to expand geographically, with 117 countries reporting methamphetamine seizures in 2016-2020 compared to 84 in 2006-2010. Meanwhile, the amounts of methamphetamine seized quintupled between 2010 and 2020.

Worldwide opium production grew by seven per cent between 2020 and 2021 to 7,930 tons, mainly due to an increase in production in Afghanistan. However, the global area under opium poppy cultivation fell by 16% to 246,800 ha in the same period.

At the same time, women remain a minority among drug users worldwide, but they tend to increase their rate of drug use and progress to drug use disorders more rapidly than men. Currently, women represent between 45% and 49% of amphetamine users and non-medical users of pharmaceutical stimulants, pharmaceutical opioids, sedatives, and tranquillizers.

The treatment gap remains large for women around the world. Although women account for nearly one in two amphetamine users, they make up only one in five people in treatment for amphetamine use disorders.

The 2022 World Drug Report also highlights the wide range of roles women play in the global cocaine economy, including growing coca, transporting small quantities of drugs, selling to consumers, and smuggling into prisons.

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