Death to the Gateway Theory

With all of the progress made in pot politics over the last two decades, electing a President with a Stone Age view of cannabis would be a disaster on many fronts — especially in light of a study conducted by the University of Victoria (Canada) and published in Drug and Alcohol Review. It further confirms what is already known to anyone willing to examine the current research: marijuana is not a gateway drug, and can actually serve as a "reverse gateway,” an agent to be utilized as treatment for alcoholism and hard/prescription drug addiction.

This study analyzed data from a national survey of Canadian pot patients. Of the 473 adults questioned, 87 percent reported using weed as a substitute for alcohol, prescriptions and illegal hard drugs. Specifically, 80 percent subbed pot for Rx medication, 52 percent for booze and 33 percent for illicit drugs. These numbers substantiate a 2009 US study of Berkeley Patients Group members that likewise found a majority of medical marijuana patients used cannabis as an alternative to unhealthy, addictive substances.  

After cannabis was wrongly classified as a Schedule I drug in 1970, anti-pot warriors began characterizing the plant as the ultimate entryway to hard drug use: if you smoke pot now, you’ll eventually shoot heroin. The allegation had no factual basis, but became the foundation for the Reagan-era "Just Say No" campaign. However, the gradual use and acceptance of medicinal cannabis — initially to save the lives of AIDS patients and eventually legalized in various states to treat a variety of maladies — shifted the perspective on pot.  

In 1999 a Congress-commissioned report conducted by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences found "no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs."

To elaborate, causation is not correlation; in this context, a correlation between individuals who are drawn to the psychoactive effects of marijuana and seek out different highs from other intoxicants is not the equivalent of pot use specifically causing the eventual use of other drugs.

The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the federal government, casts more doubt on the gateway theory; 44 percent of Americans age 12 and older admitted to trying marijuana at least once in their lives, yet less than 15 percent ultimately did cocaine, while not even 2 percent dabbled in heroin. If the gateway theory actually had credence, it would stand to reason coke and smack percentages would be significantly higher, given the widespread prevalence of pot use. 

A 2012 study conducted at Yale University and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that of young adults (age 18-25) with a history of prescription opioid abuse, their previous prime substance of choice alcohol (57 percent). A virtual identical 56 percent consumed tobacco, yet only 34 percent had puffed pot.  

Years from now — not too many, we hope — our culture will view this era of criminalized cannabis harshly. In time, marijuana’s efficacy as a "reverse gateway” drug will be embraced. To wit: a 2009 Columbia University study found that pot users were more likely to comply with naltrexone treatment for opioid addiction. Also, research conducted by the Laboratory for Physiopathology of Diseases of the Central Nervous System in 2009 reported that THC injections flat-out eliminated opioid dependence in test animals.  

Now that the gateway myth has been deconstructed, pot proponents will be able to reclaim the high ground — so to speak — and label it correctly, based upon its actual, therapeutic properties. Cannabis will soon be hailed as a “positive gateway,” providing an alternative to tobacco and alcohol, as well as hard drugs and harmful prescriptions.

Ultimately, it will be seen as a path to health and wellness. That puts us on the threshold of a much saner and benevolent society. 

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