Radical Rant: Marijuana, The Gateway to Harm Reduction

Remember the “Gateway Theory” about marijuana? It’s still bullshit. In fact, marijuana is actually the gateway to harm reduction.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine declared that “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” The scientists found that while “marijuana use typically precedes” other illicit drug use, that’s only because “patterns in progression of drug use from adolescence to adulthood are strikingly regular.” Marijuana’s only considered the “gateway” because it’s the first illegal drug most people try, as “most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana.”

In other words, tequila’s not considered a gateway drug because nobody’s also selling cocaine on the liquor store shelf. That science hasn’t made it to the ears of politicians, though.

Most recently, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the New York Times, “I don’t oppose the use of medical marijuana. I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs.”

Her anointed presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, expressed how “I think the feds should be attuned to the way marijuana is still used as a gateway drug.”

Clinton’s Democratic challenger Martin O’Malley agrees, saying that he was “not much in favor” of legalizing marijuana because it could be “a gateway to even more harmful behavior.”

The Republican side of the presidential race is full of “gateway believers,” too.

Redundantly-named New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told redundantly-named radio host Hugh Hewitt he’d “crack down and not permit” marijuana legalization in the states because “Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told WBZ NewsRadio that “Marijuana is a gateway drug just as opiates are a gateway drug. Of course it is; every study shows that.”

A physician who ought to know better, Dr. Ben Carson, told FOX News that “marijuana is what’s known as a gateway drug. It tends to be a starter drug for people who move onto heavier duty drugs — sometimes legal, sometimes illegal.” He also opined that “Regular exposure to marijuana in the developing brain has been demonstrated definitively to result in decreased IQ.”

Not only are these politicians wrong about marijuana leading to other harder drugs, they’ve got it completely backward. New research is showing that marijuana leads away from other harder drugs.

Philippe Lucas and other researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada surveyed 473 adults who use medical marijuana. They found 87 percent (410 of 473) of the respondents substituted marijuana for harder drugs. Specifically, 80.3 percent switched from prescription drugs to marijuana, 51.7 percent dropped alcohol for marijuana, and 32.6 percent used marijuana to quit other illicit drugs.

This is no surprise. Back in 2009, Dr. Amanda Reiman and colleagues at UC Berkeley surveyed 350 medical marijuana patients from the Berkeley Patients Group. There they found that 66 percent had used cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs, 40 percent as a substitute for alcohol, and 26 percent as a substitute for illicit drugs.

So can somebody please fill the presidential candidates in on the fact that marijuana is not the gateway drug, it is the exit drug? And tell Dr. Carson that the latest research affirms that “adolescent cannabis use is not associated with IQ or educational performance” and “modest cannabis use in teenagers may have less cognitive impact than… previously suggested.”

If we can get them to recognize that simple scientific fact, maybe next we can start educating them about how marijuana doesn’t lead to stoned mayhem on the freeways. In fact, marijuana doesn’t even mess up your ability to ride a bicycle. While politicians debate the need for a precise THC level to determine motor vehicle driving impairment, a recent study from Germany shows “A defined THC concentration that leads to an inability to ride a bicycle cannot be presented.”



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