For decades cannabis opponents have tried to push cannabis as a ‘gateway drug.’
The premise of the argument is that if someone consumes cannabis, even once, it will likely lead to that person going on to consume harder drugs.
Cannabis opponents make it sound like once someone consumes cannabis, they will seek out a stronger ‘high’ and therefore be consuming progressively stronger substances until they overdose.
That is of course absurd, and leaves cannabis consumers wondering how someone could ever believe such reefer madness, let alone perpetuate it in conversations and debates.
The gateway drug argument is not used as often as it used to be, but it is a talking point that is still used by more people than you might realize.
A recent example of that would be U.S. Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, who used the gateway drug argument during a speech on the Senate floor to try to justify greater enforcement of federal drug laws.
As a cannabis consumer, it is important to always be prepared with talking points that refute the gateway drug claim.
Below are five good ones that we came up with here at Green Flower, five reasons why cannabis is not a gateway drug:
#1) Correlation does not equal causation
People who believe in the gateway drug theory will point to longtime drug users and highlight the fact that the person used cannabis before they used harder drugs.
But just because hard drug users have previously used cannabis does not mean that cannabis contributed to future hard drug use.
If it were true, and cannabis really was a gateway drug, all cannabis users would consume harder drugs. However, whereas over 31 million Americans regularly consume cannabis, only 1.5 million Americans regularly consume cocaine. The math simply doesn’t add up.
People that consume hard drugs have likely consumed a variety of different substances prior to moving on to hard drugs. Just because someone consumed sugar and caffeine before consuming heroin does not mean that one led to the other. The same is true for cannabis.
#2) What really contributes to future hard drug use?
Studies show that other factors are much more likely to contribute to hard drug use, and is where prevention programs should really be focusing their attention.
Poverty is a very big contributing factor to future drug use, per a study that was conducted in 2013. Socioeconomic factors play a much, much bigger role in contributing to future hard drug use compared to cannabis consumption.
Association with hard drug users is another contributing factor, hence why if a cannabis consumer only hangs out with other cannabis consumers, they tend to only consume cannabis.
Mental illness is another large contributing factor to future hard drug use. One of the saddest parts about the drug war is that it results in people getting arrested and typecast rather than people who desperately need help actually getting the focus and attention they need.
At least one study found that prohibition itself contributes to people going on to use harder drugs because otherwise law-abiding citizens are arrested for cannabis, and have their lives turned upside down. That downward spiral often contributes to substance abuse that would have otherwise not occurred.
#3) Cannabis can actually be an ‘exit drug’
A growing amount of evidence is showing that cannabis can actually be an effective tool for getting people off of harder drugs, especially opioids.
According to a study, the results of which were released last year, “The treatment of chronic pain with medicinal cannabis in this open-label, prospective cohort resulted in improved pain and functional outcomes, and a significant reduction in opioid use.”
The study was not the only one to find that increased access to cannabis resulted in less use of opioids by study participants.
A separate study, the results of which were also released in 2016, found that “Among study participants, medical cannabis use was associated with a 64% decrease in opioid use (n = 118), decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life (45%).”
As these studies clearly demonstrate, cannabis not only doesn’t contribute to future opioid use, it can actually help prevent it.
#4) Other substances are more likely to be used prior to cannabis
As the previously cited studies have shown, there are a number of contributing factors that lead someone to go on to use hard drugs.
Very rarely does someone consume one substance and then go on to use other substances directly because of the first one.
But IF a substance is to be considered a gateway substance, that designation would go to alcohol and/or tobacco, not cannabis.
According to a recent study, students were almost 4 times as likely to have tried alcohol than they were to have consumed cannabis.
Students were more than twice as likely to have tried tobacco than to have tried cannabis. I do not believe in gateway drug theories, but if a substance is to be given that designation, it would be tobacco or alcohol.
#5) The DEA recently deleted the gateway claim from its website
Members of the federal government, especially within the DEA, have been the worst offenders when it comes to perpetuating the false claim that marijuana is a gateway drug.
So it was extremely significant when the DEA removed the gateway drug argument, along with other reefer madness claims, from its website recently.
25 false or misleading statements about cannabis were scrubbed from the DEA website after months of public pressure, as well as a legal challenge by Americans for Safe Access.
If the DEA itself has moved off of the belief that cannabis is a gateway drug, then no cannabis opponent should feel empowered to continue to use the gateway drug argument. If you hear of anyone trying to perpetuate it, point out that the DEA removed it from its website because it was so blatantly false!