This ongoing study, in a journal of the Public Library of Science, surveyed more than 85,000 people in 17 countries and is part of a larger project through the World Health Organization's World Mental Health Survey Initiative:
Despite tougher drug policies in the U.S., Americans were twice as likely to have tried marijuana than the Dutch, according to the survey. In fact, Americans were more likely to have tried marijuana or cocaine than people in any of the 16 other countries, including France, Spain, South Africa, Mexico and Colombia, that the survey covered.
Researchers found that 42% of people surveyed in the U.S. had tried marijuana at least once, and 16% had tried cocaine. About 20% of residents surveyed in the Netherlands, by contrast, reported having tried pot; in Asian countries, such as Japan and China, marijuana use was virtually "non-existent," the study found. New Zealand was the only other country to claim roughly the same percentage of pot smokers as the U.S., but no other nation came close to the proportion of Americans who reported trying cocaine.
The survey also found that more Americans not only experimented with drugs, but also tended to try pot and cocaine for the first time at a younger age compared with people in other countries. Just over 20% of Americans reported trying pot by age 15 and nearly 3% had tried cocaine by the same age. Those percentages jumped to 54% and 16%, respectively, by age 21.
"One of the questions raised by research of this type is whether Americans will want to continue supporting the incarceration of young people who use small amounts of marijuana." -Jim Anthony, chair of the department of epidemiology at Michigan State University and an author of the study
Though current findings may not provide enough context to judge existing drug policy, Anthony says they do highlight some valid issues, especially since stringent laws don't appear to impact whether kids experiment with drugs.