U.S.: Number of Illicit Drug Users over the Year, by drug type
Type of drugNo. of people,
in thousands
  • Region: United States
  • Time period: 2022
  • Published: Nov 2023

Data Analysis and Insights

Updated: Mar 28, 2024 | Published by: Statistico

Marijuana leads in illicit drug use

Marijuana significantly stands out as the most used illicit drug, with 61,901 thousand Americans reported using it. This number dwarfs the usage of other substances, indicating a prominent preference or accessibility factor compared to other drugs.

Cocaine ranks as the second most used drug

Following marijuana, cocaine holds the position of the second most utilized illicit drug, with a usage figure reaching 5,274 thousand people. This showcases a considerable gap between the top-used substance and its followers.

Limited spread among less common drugs

Methamphetamine, LSD, and Ecstasy demonstrate a more balanced distribution in terms of usage, with their figures ranging from 2,109 to 2,705 thousand users. These drugs occupy a middle ground, reflecting a varied but significantly lower prevalence than marijuana or cocaine.

Heroin and Crack show the lowest usage numbers

Heroin and Crack exhibit the least usage among the listed drugs, with 1,049 thousand and 918 thousand users, respectively. Their lower figures could point towards higher risks or lower availability compared to other drugs on the list.

Significant disparity in drug preference

The data reveals a substantial disparity in drug preference or availability among Americans. For instance, the number of individuals using marijuana is over 11 times higher than that of those using cocaine, the second most popular drug, emphasizing the stark differences in substance use patterns.

Psychedelics and stimulants occupy the middle tier

Psychedelic drugs like LSD and stimulants such as Ecstasy and Methamphetamine form a middle tier in terms of usage, indicating a specific but less widespread appeal compared to the leading substances, marijuana and cocaine.

Heroin's relatively low usage

Despite its notorious reputation, heroin's usage (1,049 thousand) is significantly lower than that of other drugs, suggesting possible impacts of its perceived danger or efforts at control and intervention.

Implications for public health and policy

The stark contrast in usage numbers, especially between marijuana and other drugs, may have direct implications for public health strategies and drug policy formulation. Tailored interventions might be necessary to address the specific challenges and health risks associated with each drug's consumption pattern.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most used illicit drug in the U.S.?

Marijuana is the most used illicit drug, with 61,901 thousand Americans reportedly using it.

Which illicit drug ranks second in usage?

Cocaine ranks as the second most used drug, with 5,274 thousand people using it.

What illicit drugs show the lowest usage numbers?

Heroin and Crack show the lowest usage, with 1,049 thousand and 918 thousand users, respectively.

Terms and Definitions

Illicit drugs, also known as illegal drugs, are substances whose manufacture, possession, sale, or usage is prohibited by law due to their potentially harmful effects on the user's health. These substances include, but are not limited to, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and certain types of synthetic drugs.

Drug users refer to individuals who consume or administer drugs, mainly for recreational or non-medical reasons. This term could refer to both occasional users and habitual users (addicts).

Cannabis, often known as marijuana, refers to a psychoactive drug sourced from the Cannabis plant, primarily used for medical or recreational purposes. The drug induces a range of experiences such as relaxation, altered state of consciousness, heightened mood or euphoria, among others.

Cocaine is a potent stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. As an illicit drug, it is usually inhaled or injected and can cause various physical and psychological effects, including euphoria, increased energy, and paranoia.

Heroin is a highly addictive illicit drug processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. It's often used recreationally for its euphoric effects.

Synthetic drugs, also known as designer drugs, are chemically-manufactured substances created to imitate the effects of other known illicit drugs. These include synthetic cannabinoids (to imitate cannabis) or synthetic cathinones (commonly known as 'bath salts').

Drug type is a classification based on the effects the substances have on the user's mind and body. Common categories include stimulants (such as cocaine), depressants (like heroin), hallucinogens, and synthetic drugs.
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