Drug use in the Netherlands: less cannabis, more tobacco

Drug use in the Netherlands: less cannabis, more tobacco

The largest survey of drug use across the world ever conducted has revealed that on average the Dutch smoke less cannabis than other nationalities, despite the drug being freely available in the Netherlands.

The 2014 Global Drug Survey had more than 78.000 respondents from 17 countries in Europe, North and South America and Australasia. Nearly 3.000 people participated in the Netherlands, revealing trends in drug use across a section of the population.

The researchers were careful to note that their sample is not representative of the countries’ populations, as respondents were all volunteers (i.e. not a random sample). They were also predominantly highly educated and aged between 20 and 30, half of whom went clubbing at least four times a year.

Drug use in the Netherlands

The researchers found that in the last 12 months, 96 per cent of the Dutch people surveyed had drunk alcohol, 66 per cent had smoked tobacco, 50 per cent had taken MDMA in some form, while 46 per cent had smoked cannabis.

The averages around the world were naturally a little different: 90 per cent had drunk alcohol, 56 per cent had smoked tobacco, 48 per cent had smoked cannabis and 23 per cent had taken MDMA.

The idea that the Netherlands is the place to smoke cannabis seems to be more for tourists, and less for the people who live here. The Dutch respondents clearly preferred MDMA: they had the highest score out of any nation surveyed and more than twice the average rates of use.

They also had the highest rates for use of amphetamines, again twice the average, and the highest level of alcohol use, although only slightly. Levels of cocaine and ketamine use were also very high, although not the highest.

Drug use around the world

The heaviest smokers were in France, with 74 per cent saying they had smoked in the last 12 months, 20 per cent higher than the average. By contrast, in Australia and New Zealand only 36 and 33 per cent of people respectively admitted to smoking.

Cannabis use was the highest in Mexico, with 77 per cent owning up to smoking it, with the US and Brazil in second place with 69 per cent. All three countries had higher rates of cannabis than tobacco use.

The highest usage of cocaine was found in the UK (England, Wales, Northern Ireland), where 33 per cent claimed to have taken it in the last 12 months, over twice the average.

Lower but still higher than average figures were found in Scotland and Ireland. Interestingly, five per cent of Belgians, four per cent of Germans and three per cent of Swiss reported taking nutmeg to get high.

Illegal drugs policy

The Global Drug Survey found that overwhelming a reduction in criminal penalties would not encourage "hordes of non-drug users to try drugs or for current drug users to increase their use."

Rather, that fewer criminal repercussions would help drug takers be more open with their family and friends and more like to seek help or advice about drug use and associated health issues.

They said that drug policy should not focus on the debate about legalisation, but rather treat people who take drugs as rational adults who wish to be informed, have a strong desire to preserve their health and happiness, and contribute to society as much as the next person.


Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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