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.
Visualizing Which Countries Drink the Most Beer
Which countries drink the most beer? China ranks number one due to its sheer size, and the Czech Republic comes out on top, per capita.
Visualizing Which Countries Drink the Most Beer
Humans have been drinking beer for thousands of years—and since it’s still one of the most popular beverages worldwide, it seems we haven’t gotten sick of it yet. The latest available data shows that beer consumption exceeded 177 million kiloliters around the world in 2020.
Beer consumption occurs all over the world, but the amount varies greatly depending on the location. So, which countries drink the most beer?
This graphic uses data from Kirin Holdings to compare global beer consumption by country. Kirin is a Japanese company that has been tracking beer consumption around the world since 1975.
Which Countries Drink the Most Beer?
When it comes to total beer consumption, China ranks number one.
In 2020, the country’s consumption reached 36 million kiloliters—that’s enough beer to fill more than 14,000 Olympic-sized pools. The country accounts for a whopping one-fifth of total beer consumption worldwide. Archaeological evidence also suggests that China has a beer producing history that goes back thousands of years.
Here’s a look at the top 25 countries for beer consumption, and their global market share:
|Ranking 2020||Country||Total Consumption |
|2||🇺🇸 United States of America||24,105||13.60%|
|8||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||4,088||2.30%|
|12||🇿🇦 South Africa||3,284||1.90%|
|16||🇨🇿 Czech Republic||1,946||1.10%|
|17||🇰🇷 South Korea||1,936||1.10%|
|Rest of the World||31,563||17.78%|
China is the most populous country in the world, accounting for about 18% of the global population. Of course, a large population doesn’t necessarily translate to high beer consumption at the individual level. For instance, India, which has the second highest population in the world, ranks 23rd on the list for beer consumption, and only accounts for 1% of what foamy liquid gets guzzled down each year.
The U.S. comes second on the list, with more than 24 million kiloliters of beer consumed throughout the country in 2020. Americans don’t just drink a lot of beer—they brew a lot of beer, too. The U.S. is the second-largest beer producer worldwide (after China).
Beer Consumption Per Capita
Things look a bit different when you look at beer consumption per capita, rather than total beer consumption. The Czech Republic comes in first when it comes to beer consumption per capita.
In 2020, the average Czech drank more than 181 liters of beer.
International Beer Day
While consumption levels vary across the world, beer is an integral part of many countries’ cultures. In fact, the beverage is so popular, that it’s been given its own day. International Beer Day is celebrated on the first Friday of every August in over 200 cities across the globe.
Cheers, and happy sipping!
Visualized: The Top 25 U.S. Newspapers by Daily Circulation
Extra, extra read all about it—these 25 popular U.S. newspapers are trending downwards in their daily print circulation year-over-year.
Visualized: The Top 25 U.S. Newspapers by Daily Circulation
Most people today—more than 8 in 10 Americans—get their news via digital devices, doing their reading on apps, listening to podcasts, or scrolling through social media feeds.
It’s no surprise then that over the last year, only one U.S. newspaper of the top 25 most popular in the country saw positive growth in their daily print circulations.
Based on data from Press Gazette, this visual stacks up the amount of daily newspapers different U.S. publications dole out and how that’s changed year-over-year.
Extra, Extra – Read All About It
The most widely circulated physical newspaper is the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by a long shot—sending out almost 700,000 copies a day. But it is important to note that this number is an 11% decrease since 2021.
Here’s a closer look at the data.
|Rank||Newspaper||Average Daily Print Circulation||Year-Over-Year Change|
|#1||Wall Street Journal||697,493||−11%|
|#2||New York Times||329,781||−9%|
|#5||New York Post||146,649||−2%|
|#6||Los Angeles Times||142,382||−14%|
|#9||Tampa Bay Times||102,266||−26%|
|#15||Dallas Morning News||65,369||−10%|
|#18||San Francisco Chronicle||60,098||−12%|
|#21||The Buffalo News||56,005||−15%|
|#23||Villages Daily Sun||49,183||3%|
|#24||St. Louis Post-Dispatch||48,246||−11%|
|#25||Milwaukee Journal Sentinel||47,832||−13%|
These papers, although experiencing negative growth when it comes to print, are still extremely popular and widely-read publications digitally—not only in the U.S., but worldwide. For example, the New York Times reported having reached 9 million subscribers globally earlier this year.
The one paper with increased print circulation was The Villages Daily Sun, which operates out of a retirement community in Florida. Elderly people tend to be the most avid readers of print papers. Another Florida newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, was the worst performer at -26%.
In total, 2,500 U.S. newspapers have shut down since 2005. One-third of American newspapers are expected to be shuttered by 2025. This particularly impacts small communities and leaves many across America in ‘news deserts.’
Print vs. Digital Newspapers
Regardless of print’s downturn, digital subscriptions remain much higher for most of these papers. As one example, The Washington Post has over 3 million online subscribers, compared to their 159,000 print readers.
To put things in perspective, around 24 million print papers now circulate throughout the U.S. on any given day. But looking back at the industry’s peak in the 1980s, almost 64 million were distributed on any given weekday.
And digital is not done growing. Newsroom hires have been ramping up for “digital-native” news sites—publications that started online and never had a print version. On the flipside, employment at traditional papers has more than halved since 2008.
Problems with Media
American news media can be extremely divisive. Many newsrooms across the country play into fear, sensationalism, and partisan politics.
Digital news only makes this worse, utilizing algorithms designed to keep a person’s eyes on the page longer, pushing stories with narratives a person shows interest in, and often taking them down a rabbit hole of fringe information—sometimes towards the extremes.
Additionally, the business of journalism is an increasingly less lucrative industry. Most revenue comes from digital ads running on news sites—so rather than selling the news to consumers, it’s the time and attention of consumers that is being sold to advertisers. Furthermore, some of the best quality content is locked up behind subscription-based paywalls.
Print may actually be one way to avoid some of the more obvious issues, particularly because there’s no way to track the data on which stories you read. But all publications still have inherent bias, of course, and it’s clear that print papers are not bouncing back any time soon.