Could marijuana be a gateway to other, more dangerous drugs?
In recent years, the reputation of marijuana has changed dramatically. For decades, experts warned us of the dangers of this smokable, plant-based drug. Pot smoke contains a variety of chemicals that pass through your lungs and into your bloodstream. Who knew what all of these chemicals were doing to our brains and bodies?
Marijuana as a gateway drug.
What we do know is that smoking weed leads to reduced short-term memory and reduced motivation in life. And, it is possible to become addicted to marijuana and its active ingredient, THC. But, does it lead to more dangerous drugs? Could the use of marijuana recreationally lead to cocaine or heroin use later in life?
Why is marijuana legal now in the US?
It turns out that it is not a legal drug. The United States federal government classifies THC as a Schedule I drug. This classification means that our government has determined that THC is a drug with high abuse potential that has no acceptable medical use. Yet, many individual states have decided to make the drug legal. What does this mean? There are already many marijuana growers and dispensaries operating in the US. We never see a dispensary being raided by federal agents in the news. A doctor’s office is more likely to be raided than a marijuana shop.
I am not going to go much further into the legalities of marijuana distribution, because I don’t understand it fully myself. In the United States, the Doctrine of Preemption, or the “Supremacy Clause,” states that the laws of the federal government are the supreme law of the land. However, when it comes to marijuana, federal drug laws are not currently being enforced.
Marijuana has never killed anyone, or has it?
There are humorous memes passed around online that point out that no one has ever died from marijuana. They joke about how ants have killed more humans than cannabis. Yet, we know that there are many deaths caused every year by this drug. All we have to do is look at motor vehicle accidents.
Why is marijuana a gateway drug?
A person driving while intoxicated is always dangerous to others on the road. Distracted driving can be equally dangerous. So, whether a person has consumed alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or is texting on their phone, the risk of a fatal crash is high. While intoxicated driving is not always related to addiction, it often is. Regardless of whether it is drug addiction, technology addiction, or even a food addiction leading to dangerous eating while driving, addiction can cause serious traffic accidents. Marijuana is known to cause a significant number of traffic fatalities every single year. Hence, the drug does have the potential to be a killer, especially if a person is addicted and uses it in a self-harming manner.
While marijuana is a drug that can lead to a tragic death, can it lead to the use of other prescription or street drugs? Is it possible that heroin addiction can start with marijuana use? It turns out that this topic can be as confusing as the other issues surrounding cannabis.
Marijuana is not a gateway drug.
If you look up the topic of marijuana being a gateway drug, it almost seems as if someone has rewritten history. There was a time when we did not doubt that it was a gateway to other drugs. It was evident that smoking pot could easily lead to the use of “harder” drugs. By harder drugs, I mean drugs that can cause more direct harm in your life compared to cannabis. Heroin and cocaine can kill by intoxicated driving as well, but they are also inherently dangerous. These drugs can kill just by taking them, especially heroin. Alcohol is another such hard drug that, when taken in excess, causes significant damage to the body.
Now, when you read through authoritative articles about marijuana being a gateway drug, you will see studies providing substantial evidence that it is not a gateway. If you are looking for a reason to use marijuana recreationally, you will be able to support your use with large bodies of evidence about its safety and many health benefits. It is difficult even to find an article supporting the fact that marijuana is a gateway drug. Yet, I still maintain that it is clear. Cannabis is a gateway to harder drugs.
How are we defining the gateway?
In the many current studies that prove marijuana not to be a gateway drug, they often talk about changes in brain chemistry. How does it change the brain? Does it increase your appetite for other drugs? I agree that it is likely that, if you are a responsible marijuana user, taking it for medical reasons as directed, the THC in your pot is probably not going to trigger cravings for cocaine, meth, or heroin. However, if you use cannabis recreationally in a social setting, you may be at serious risk for moving on to harder prescription and street drugs.
Marijuana is a gateway drug.
Imagine that you are at a party. The music is blasting, and people appear to be having a great time. There are drinking and dancing, and small groups are laughing together throughout the room. You may find this scene to be intimidating. For many people who are not comfortable in social settings, they may turn to alcohol to smooth over social anxieties. A drink or two at a party or club can make the evening more tolerable. However, you know that you must take care to watch your drink if you put it down. Some dangerous people will put a sedative in your glass when you are not looking. If you walk away from your glass or bottle and come back, you could find yourself in a date rape situation.
How is marijuana a gateway drug?
There is a similar risk of using marijuana at a party. When you use marijuana from an unknown source, it may be more potent than you expect. You may take only a few hits and find yourself heavily intoxicated. Or, the joint handed to you to smoke may contain another drug. Slang terms abound for marijuana cigarettes mixed with hard street drugs. If your joint has cocaine in it may be called a “premo,” “banano,” or “Jim Jones.” If it contains heroin, it could be called an “a-bomb” or “bad seed.” And, if someone has added heroin to the joint, it is more likely to be the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl.
Imagine the chain of events that follow after you smoke an adultered marijuana joint at a party. “What was in that stuff? It was great! Much stronger than what I’m used to.” Then, the “friend” tells you that the joint you smoked at the party had heroin/fentanyl added to it. Now that you have tried it and enjoyed it, you justify that it can’t be all that bad. It’s not like you were shooting it up in a back alley like a typical heroin addict. Next thing you know, you are hooked up with a heroin dealer.
Another possible scenario is that you smoke a joint with friends at the party, and you get intoxicated. At some point, someone pulls out a small baggie of powder and lays some out on a glass table. Typically, your defenses would be up, and you would walk away. Now, you are intoxicated, and things are different. In an inebriated state, you may be willing to try something that you would otherwise refuse. In the craziness of a party atmosphere with a mix of peer pressure and the high of marijuana, you might try heroin. Trying heroin one time does not mean that you will be on your way to years of misery in the depths of heroin addiction. Yet, that could happen. If you are addicted to heroin, and your first use occurred this way, then marijuana was the gateway to your heroin addiction.
Following the money will help to make sense of the new status of marijuana.
Marijuana is a massive enterprise, expected to snowball into a multibillion-dollar industry. Already, dispensaries are popping up everywhere throughout the states with legal cannabis. In regions where recreational use is legal, the cannabis business is hugely profitable when there is a lot of money to be made, lobbyists, marketers, psychologists, and more get involved. These experts work together to change public perception. Cannabis experts on the cannabis industry payroll cherry-pick studies and data support the point of view that marijuana is safe and beneficial. Of course, it is possible to write articles with headlines claiming that marijuana is not a gateway drug. And data can be produced to support that claim. It is up to the discriminating reader to scrutinize these articles and come to a conclusion about whether or not they make sense.
Marijuana does have some health benefits.
Scientists and clinicians have known for many years that THC does have health benefits for specific conditions. It helps with chemotherapy-induced nausea. Physical wasting, caused by HIV/AIDS, can be improved with THC, which is a potent appetite stimulant. Marijuana smoking helps with certain types of glaucoma. It also improves functioning for some chronic pain patients. There is no doubt that cannabis has medical use, though we need to separate the plant material from standardized, FDA-approved THC-based drugs. Our healthcare system relies on the standardization of medications and medical devices to maximize safety and efficacy. Marijuana is a drug. Even medicines that provide health benefits always have potential side effects and adverse reactions. No medication is entirely safe. The FDA works hard to adequately inform doctors of the risks of prescribing medications to their patients. Marijuana in plant form must exist outside of the standard FDA approval process because there is no way to know what patients are getting when they smoke cannabis.
Should marijuana be legal?
My main argument against the legalization of marijuana is that many people equate legality with safety. If it is legal, how bad could it be? Children may get the idea that a little bit can’t hurt. While it may not kill the way that heroin and fentanyl can kill, marijuana can have devastating long-term effects on the minds of young children and young adults. On the other hand, when marijuana is legal, the law enforcement and prison industry benefit, and people will be treated unjustly. So, the legalization of cannabis may be the right thing to do in conjunction with substantial efforts to educate children and parents on the risks of recreational marijuana use. Let us not pretend that marijuana has no adverse effects. It can lead to tragic accidents. And, it can cause long-term changes in the human brain. I believe that we must also accept that marijuana can be a gateway to other drugs.
Should the federal government legalize cannabis?
When they categorize a drug as Schedule I, it is defined as having no accepted medical use. Yet, we know that marijuana has medical use. So, maybe the controlled drug scheduling system needs to be overhauled to account for classes of drugs that have a potential medical use. For example, psychedelic drugs, including LCD, Psylocibin, ibogaine, and MDMA, may have enormous benefits in therapy and helping people with depression, anxiety, and even addiction. Yet, these drugs were once fully legal, and the results of unleashing them on the public for unrestricted recreational use were disastrous. There were many psychedelic-caused tragedies in the 1960s. It has taken decades for the US government to ease restrictions on the research of these drugs. Going forward, we must not give the public reason to believe that these drugs are harmless and entirely safe for recreational use. And, we must also not criminalize the use of these drugs and unfairly punish drug users who need our compassion and help. Marijuana is already legal for recreational use in some states. Many more states have legalized it for medical use. The risk of full-scale legalization is that the marijuana industry is promoting the safety of the drug to the public, sometimes inappropriately. No medication is completely safe for all people. In their rush to profit in the cannabis gold rush, corporate executives risk setting back critical drug research even further.