How the world gets high

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In New Zealand one gramm of cocaine costs up to 200 Euros. The British like to shop drugs via darknet. How people use drugs worldwide, shows the biggest drug survey.

Read the German version of this article here.

What country has the biggest problem with alcohol abuse? Where do people roll tobacco into their joints and where do they smoke it pure? In which countries do people prefer bongs or pipes? And where do they buy their drugs in the darknet just as they might order electronics on Amazon? In the Global Drug Survey 2015 (GDS), the world’s largest study on drug consumption, almost 100,000 people responded to questions regarding what they like to smoke, snort or swallow.

Read more on drugs and how parents should talk about them with their children (in German)

The numbers of people participating in the study varied significantly from country to country. Whereas more than 32,000 people took part in Germany, there were only 450 in Poland. Demographic data such as age, gender or proximity to the drug scene differed by country. Furthermore, the study is not randomized, which means that those surveyed were not chosen by chance.

Accordingly, the data must be analyzed and compared with care. The following graphics show consumption trends in individual countries.

1 — Alcohol

The consumption of alcohol was a primary focus of this year’s GDS. In many countries, it is problematically high. Many people often get drunker than they want and are not always able to successfully complete periods of abstinence. In many countries alcohol is viewed as a central element of the culture. "We see large differences from country to country in the amount people must drink in order to get drunk," says study leader Adam Winstock.

2 — Cannabis

Hash, weed or highly potent marijuana (known as skunk): The preferences vary from country to country, and differences also exist in how it is consumed. Whether people smoke grass mixed with tobacco or pure is a cultural question, says Winstock. In Europe, many people tend to mix tobacco into their joints where as many in the US tend to smoke cannabis pure.

3 — Prices

Six euros for a gram of illicit cocaine or 200? That depends on the country. In countries where governments pursue hardline drug policies, consumers have to pay more for their drugs. New Zealand and Australia, for example, have tough drug laws and a low population density. "A comprehensive dealing network isn’t worth it because demand isn’t high enough," Winstock says. "The result is that supply is low, and the prices are high." In Brazil, therefore, cocaine prices are low. That is a problem, he says. "Many people there need medical care because of their cocaine consumption."

When consumers have to spend a lot for a drug, they expect effects from it. That is true, for example, for cocaine. The price is high, but the drug is often cut with dubious or inert additives, like strychnine, leftover medications or flour. As a result, participants in GDS report being particularly dissatisfied with the price-performance ratio of cocaine.

4 — Violence

Buying illegal drugs necessarily means interacting with the black market, a space that is closely linked with criminality and violence. Those buying cocaine encounter violence particularly often, according to GDS statistics. Cannabis buyers also report being attacked. In Brazil, for example, an especially high number of participants reported having experienced violence while purchasing drugs. Winstock believes that has to do with higher levels of criminality in poorer countries. But even in Switzerland many respondents reported a high risk of violence when buying drugs. "The violence buyers encounter is related to where they buy their drugs," Winstock says. "If people buy more often from friends and acquaintances instead of dealers they don’t know, then the rate of violent attacks is lower."

5 — Darknet

The online black market is called darknet, where users can surf anonymously and order drugs online for home delivery. It is a way of avoiding a potentially dangerous transaction with a dealer, but it also makes people more willing to experiment, says Winstock. "Many participants said that they tried drugs via darknet that they had never tried before." The fact that people in Scandinavia and Great Britain are particularly likely to buy their drugs via darknet has to do with the geographical position and strict border control. Scandinavia is home to strict drug laws, import and use are immediately penalized. In Great Britain, because it is an island nation, it is more difficult to smuggle illicit substances into the country.


Editorial: Sven Stockrahm
Text: Saskia Gerhard & Jasper Riemann
Graphics: Julian Stahnke & Sascha Venohr
Illustrations: QuickHoney für ZEIT ONLINE
Revision: Meike Dülffer
Proofreading: Fabian Stark