Cannabis is a plant with many uses, some varieties of which have neuropharmacological effects that are mainly due to one of the approximately 100 cannabinoids present in the plant, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is classified internationally as a narcotic. In France, it is consumed in 3 main forms. Herbal cannabis (dried leaves, stems and flowering tops) and cannabis resin (hashish) are the most common, while cannabis oil and other products (THC concentrated extracts inspired by North American legal markets) are much less frequently observed. Herbal cannabis and hashish are usually smoked in the form of a “joint” (i.e. with tobacco, in the form of a rolled cigarette). Other modes of consumption are observed on the fringes: cannabis can be smoked, in a shisha and other more or less homemade water pipes, vaped, or vaporised (using a portable or fixed vaporiser) to avoid the harmful effects of combustion. More marginally, cannabis can also be ingested, incorporated into food preparations (space-cakes) or drunk (infusions), or used in the form of balms, essential oils or cosmetics.
The French cannabis market is one of the largest in Europe, both in terms of consumption (5 million users per year in France, out of 22 million in the EU) and turnover (€1.2 billion in 2017).
In 2021, herbal cannabis seizures reached one of the highest levels ever recorded, with 39.5 tonnes (after the record year of 2020: 46.3 tonnes). Herbal cannabis now accounts for more than a third of total cannabis seizures (more than 35% in 2021 compared to 6% in 2012). The growing importance of the herbal cannabis market in France is also reflected in the increasing scale of cannabis cultivation, particularly in the overseas territories, as evidenced by the trend towards increased plant seizures. In 2021, 101 771 plants were seized on French territory.
However, the cannabis resin market remains dynamic. After the shock of 2020, marked by the effects of the closure of the borders between Morocco and the European Union, following the COVID-19 epidemic, traffic flows have strongly resumed. In 2021, 72.4 tonnes of resin were seized in France compared to 50.3 tonnes in 2020.
- Spilka S., Legleye S. Cannabis sales revenue in France - A new direct estimate by expenditure. Tendances, OFDT, 2020, no. 137, 6 p.
- OFDT, Addictions in France during lockdown (March 17th - May 11th, 2020). Tendances, OFDT, 2020, no. 139, 8 p.
- Gérome C., New annual review of the TREND scheme on drug use and users in a health crisis content, Press release. OFDT, 2021, 2 p.
Methods of supply of cannabis
In adolescence (at age 17), the majority of cannabis users (67.1%) reported that they obtained their cannabis for free, through gifts or shared use. Next, the network of friends or relatives (56.9%) is the second source of purchase, followed by the use of a dealer, whether a regular intermediary (44.8%) or unknown (30.5%). Home cultivation of cannabis was reported by 7.2% of current users, and purchase over the Internet remained marginal (2.2%).
In 2017, 7.0% of adults who reported using cannabis in the past month (or 6.4% of 18-64-year-olds) reported that they cultivated cannabis at home, with or without additional purchases.
- Gandilhon M., Spilka S., Masson C. Changes in the cannabis market in France. Summary. OFDT, 2020, Théma, 2019, 8 p.
Content and price
The current retail price of a gram of herbal cannabis is, according to the French Anti-Narcotics Office (OFAST), about €10. Between 2010 and 2020, the price per gram of herbal cannabis increased by more than 30% in constant euros (from €7.60 to €10).
The current retail price of cannabis resin is stable at around €8 per gram. However, since 2010, it has increased by 60% in constant euros (from €5 to €8).
The average THC content of cannabis resin more than doubled in ten years, from 12.3% in 2011 to 26.7% in 2020, while the average THC content of herbal cannabis increased by 25% in the same period (from 10.4% in 2011 to 13.0% in 2020).
The varieties and forms of cannabis available are diversifying. Some of them, with a higher concentration of active ingredients than the usual substances on offer (rare varieties of herbal cannabis, resins obtained by special extraction methods, for example with chemical solvents), are sold at a higher price (from €15 to €30 per gram).
In the adolescent population
Among secondary school students
Cannabis is the number one illicit substance used by adolescents. In 2021, less than one in ten (9.1%) ninth-grade students (14-15-year-olds or year 10 in secondary school in the UK) report having ever used cannabis. There is a gap of almost 5 points between girls and boys in ninth grade.
In 2018, the spread of cannabis, which began in middle school, accelerated in high school (33.1% of lifetime users), down significantly from the 2015 level (44.0%). A quarter of pupils in tenth grade (25.1%) had experimented with drugs, and this figure rose to 42.4% for twelfth-grade students, with lifetime use being more widespread among boys (44.0%) than among girls (40.9%). The overuse of high school students also concerned regular use (8.2% vs 4.2%).
- Spilka S., Philippon A., Le Nézet O., Janssen E., Eroukmanoff V., Godeau E. Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use among ninth grade students (14-15-year-olds) in 2021. Tendances, OFDT, 2021, no. 148, 4 p.
- Spilka S., Godeau E., Le Nézet O., Ehlinger V., Janssen E., Brissot A., Philippon A., Chyderiotis S. Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use among French school students in 2018. Tendances, OFDT, 2019, no. 132, 4 p.
In 2017, almost four out of ten 17-year-olds had smoked cannabis in their lifetime (39.1%). This prevalence was the lowest ever recorded since 2000 in the Survey on Health and Use on National Defence and Citizenship Day (ESCAPAD): it was 9 points lower than in 2014 and 11 points lower than in 2002, when half of adolescents reported having used the substance in their lifetime. The higher the frequency of use, the more this concerned boys, particularly the levels of regular use, which vary by a factor of two between girls and boys (4.5% vs 9.7%). This general decline in cannabis use between 2014 and 2017 could be observed among both boys and girls.
- Spilka S., Le Nézet O., Janssen E., Brissot A., Philippon A., Shah J., Chyderiotis S. Drug use in 17-year-olds: analysis of the 2017 ESCAPAD survey. Tendances, OFDT, 2018, no. 123, 8 p.
In the adult population
Cannabis is by far the most widely used illicit substance in France. In 2020, 46.1% of adults aged 18-64 reported that they had used cannabis in their lifetime. Current use (use in the last year), on the other hand, has remained stable, at 11.3% of 18-64-year-olds (15.2% of men and 7.5% of women). With first use occurring mainly between the ages of 18 and 25 and the proportion of lifetime cannabis users peaking between the ages of 26 and 34, regardless of gender, cannabis use remains above all a generational phenomenon. Current use still primarily concerns the youngest adult population (25.8% of 18–25-year-olds). Although it then decreases with age, the profile of consumers is diversifying, with more people in their forties.
- Le Nézet O., Philippon A., Lahaie E., Andler R. Les niveaux d'usage de cannabis en France en 2020. Premiers résultats du Baromètre santé de Santé publique France 2020 relatifs à l'usage de cannabis en population adulte. [Cannabis use levels in France in 2020. First results of the Santé publique France 2020 health barometer on cannabis use in the adult population.] Note 2021-06. Paris, OFDT, 2021, 6 p.
The neuropsychological effects of smoked cannabis appear about 15 to 20 minutes after inhalation in occasional users, somewhat later in regular users. Cannabis use usually leads to moderate euphoria and a feeling of well-being, followed by drowsiness, but also to impaired short-term memory and problems with attention. Depending on the dose and tolerance of the user, cannabis use can lead to increased reaction time, difficulty in completing tasks, and impaired motor coordination that may increase the risks associated with driving. The use of cannabis also potentiates the effects of alcohol.
In the medium term, cannabis use may impair memory and learning abilities. Regular or heavy use can lead to a lack of interest in usual activities, physical and mental fatigue, difficulties in concentrating and remembering, and a depressed mood. Regular cannabis use can also aggravate certain psychiatric disorders. Finally, problematic use and dependence on cannabis are now well documented and the risks are higher the earlier the use. In order to better identify and measure these problematic uses, particularly in adolescence, the OFDT has developed a screening tool: the Cannabis Abuse Screening Test (CAST) based on the main criteria for determining abuse and harmful use from the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition) and the ICD 10 (International Classification of Diseases - 10th version). In 2017, according to the CAST, 7.4% of 17-year-olds are likely to be at high risk of problematic cannabis use, or around 60 000 young people of this age in the general population.
Impact on morbidity and mortality
Studies show the impact of cannabis use on health in several areas: road accidents, certain cancers, certain pathologies of the circulatory and respiratory systems, and certain mental pathologies. The effects can be related either to the active ingredient of cannabis (Δ9-THC) or to the substances resulting from its combustion (tars). In terms of treatment, cannabis users account for most of the patients seen in youth addiction outpatient clinics (CJC). Cannabis accounts for 20% of specialised drug treatment centres (CSAPA) use, i.e. outpatient admissions of more than 61 000 patients in 2019.
- Obradovic I. Dix ans d'activité des « consultations jeunes consommateurs ». [Ten years of activity of the youth addiction outpatient clinics.] Tendances, OFDT, 2015, no. 101, 8 p.
- Palle C. Les personnes accueillies dans les CSAPA : situation en 2019 et évolution sur la période 2015-2019 [People received at the CSAPA. Situation in 2019 and evolution over the period 2015-2019], Tendances, OFDT, 2021, n° 146, 6 p.
Perceptions in the general population
In 2018, almost one French person in two (48% vs 54% in 2013) considered cannabis to be dangerous from the first use. This proportion was significantly lower among those who have used cannabis before (33% vs 57% among those who said that they had already used it).
Opinions on public policy
In 2018, a majority of the population continued to be opposed to the free sale of cannabis (62%), although opinions on the legal status of cannabis differed. Ten years earlier, in 2008, the proportion of negative opinions towards the legalisation of cannabis for non-medical use was much higher (85%). On the other hand, a large majority believed that the use of cannabis could be allowed under certain conditions: 91% of respondents agreed with the principle of prescribing cannabis for certain diseases.
When asked about the criminal justice responses to cannabis use and possession, the French were more likely (82%) to support those that directed people to treatment (compulsory treatment) or that were limited to a reminder of the law. A majority approved of the drug awareness training scheme (54%, compared to 68% in 2013), intended for occasional non-addictive drug users to deter them from re-offending. The possibility of a financial fine in the law continued to split opinion evenly (50%), while support for prison sentences declined (23% vs 36%).
- Spilka S., Le Nézet O., Janssen E., Brissot A., Philippon A., Chyderiotis S. Drugs: perceptions of substances, public policies and users. Tendances, OFDT, 2019, no. 131, 8 p.
Cannabis is a product classified as a narcotic and its use is prohibited, in accordance with the law of 31 December 1970, the provisions of which have been incorporated into the French Penal Code and the French Public Health Code. Buying, using, possessing, giving away, dealing, growing (at home or outside), transporting or driving after using cannabis are all offences against the law and are subject to severe penalties in court, regardless of the amount of cannabis involved. Penalties are doubled when cannabis is sold or given to minors. Drug trafficking is severely penalised. Penalties have become harsher since the late 1980s: they can go up to life imprisonment and a fine of €7.5 million.
Since the law of 3 February 2003, any person who drives after using substances classified as narcotics is liable to a sentence of 2 years' imprisonment and a fine of €4 500. If the person was also under the influence of alcohol (more than 0.5 g per litre in the blood), the penalties are increased to 3 years' imprisonment and a fine of €9 000. Drug testing may be carried out by the police or gendarmerie.
Since 2019, under Article L.3421-1 of the French Public Health Code, the illegal use of narcotics can give rise to a criminal fixed fine (Articles 495-17 to 495-25 of the French Criminal Procedure Code). A person of legal age who is caught using a drug or in possession of small quantities can be issued with a fixed penalty fine of €200 by the police or gendarmes.
Faced with an increase in drug use cases since the 2000s, criminal responses have been systematised and diversified. The criminal treatment of drug users who are apprehended is becoming increasingly rapid and focused on financial sanctions to the detriment of health measures. The generalisation of criminal fine procedures since September 2020 has reinforced the tendency to refocus sanctions on a financial dimension.
Finally, in March 2021, France launched an experiment with the medical use of cannabis. The clinical trial includes five therapeutic indications: neuropathic pain refractory to accessible treatments, certain forms of severe and drug-resistant epilepsy, certain intractable symptoms in oncology, certain palliative situations and painful spasticity accompanying certain central nervous system diseases. This experiment is to last until 2023 and will be evaluated before it can be generalised.
- Obradovic I., Protais C., Le Nézet O. (2021) Fifty years of penal response to drug use (1970-2020). Tendances, OFDT, no. 144, 8 p.
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