The United Nations' World Drug Report for 2011, released Thursday, does not paint a flattering picture of Canada, singling it out as a major player in the global trade in synthetic drugs, such as ecstasy and methamphetamines.

The report found that while the global markets for traditional drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and cannabis have declined or remained stable, the production and abuse of synthetic drugs, such as meth and ecstasy have risen, as have the use of prescription opioid drugs, such as oxycodone.

Canada is where a big amount of the ecstasy manufacturing takes place, the report noted, with a significant share of the Canadian ecstasy production destined for the U.S. market.

"Asian groups with links to China and Southeast Asian countries are mainly involved in the ecstasy production," the report said.

Ecstasy used to be trafficked mostly from western Europe to North America, but now is mostly intra-regional within North American, with deliveries from Canada into the United States.

As for methamphetamine, North America as a whole is where a lot of the world's supply derives.

"Some 99 per cent of all methamphetamine laboratories worldwide (though mostly ‘kitchen labs') are dismantled in North America, notably in the United States," notes the report, which is based on global police and government records. .

The report did note an increased crackdown on these labs in Canada. The country reported the takedown of 23 meth labs and 12 ecstasy laboratories in 2009.

And the seizures of ecstasy pills in Canada have fallen significantly in recent years – from 1 metric ton in 2007 to 715 kg in 2008 and 405 kg in 2009.

But Canada also reported an increased amount of powder ecstasy shipments destined for foreign countries. Among the ecstasy shipments seized in or en route from Canada, most were headed to the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mexico and Jamaica.

The global picture

Globally, some 210 million people, or 4.8 per cent of the population aged 15-64 years, use illicit substances each year, the report estimated. An estimated 200,000 people died in 2009 because of drugs, about half of them from fatal overdoses.

North America as a whole continues to be the world's largest drug market. But the good news is that the market is now smaller in economic terms than a decade or two ago.

The United States continues to be the largest market for cocaine, with an estimated 157 tons of cocaine having been used in that country in 2009. But the U.S. cocaine market has shrunk dramatically in recent years.

Meanwhile in Europe, cocaine use has doubled over the past decade. It is estimated that about 21 tons of cocaine were trafficked via West Africa to Europe in 2009. This represents a decrease since 2007, when that figure was estimated to have reached as much as 47 tons.

Cannabis remains by far the most widely produced and used illicit substance in the world.

In 2009, between 2.8 per cent and 4.5 per cent of the world population aged 15-64 years - between 125 and 203 million people - had used cannabis at least once in the past year.

While marijuana (cannabis herb) production is widespread in North and South America and Africa, hashish (cannabis resin) production continues to be concentrated in Morocco and Afghanistan.

In Canada, the annual prevalence of use of pot was reported at 12.6 per cent, a decrease from 14.1 per cent in 2004. There has also been a decline in the annual prevalence of cannabis use among youth aged 15-24, from 37 per cent in 2004 to 26.3 per cent in 2009.

While there is often a perception that marijuana is a relatively safe drug, compared to heroin or cocaine, the report noted there is growing evidence that intensive exposure to cannabis products with high potency levels increases the risk of psychotic disorders.

As well, the report notes in recent years, an increasing number of people in many regions have entered treatment for problems related solely to cannabis use.