Is Cannabis a Gateway drug?
What is Cannabis?
The cannabis plant comes in a myriad of strains which fall into three broad groups: Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis (less known and used). The plant contains hundreds of natural chemical substances, better known as cannabinoids. The most frequently mentioned cannabinoid is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis. Another key cannabinoid is Cannabidiol (CBD) and unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and balances some of the psychoactive effects of THC. Click me for further info.
What is the gateway (stepping stone) drug hypothesis?
The Gateway (stepping stone) drug hypothesis explains that most drug use follows a progressive and structured escalation. Starting from tobacco and alcohol, moving to cannabis and then to hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin, drug involvement is explained as an unstoppable activity that it will undoubtedly lead to criminal activity and serious mental and personality disorders. This linear explanation of drugs and criminal activity has its origins in the release of the 1930’s USA film production titled, Reefer Madness. The film, not based on scientific evidence or research, portrays cannabis as the gateway and causational element that irrevocably leads to a life of crime and violence.
Has the link between cannabis and an escalation of drug use or criminal activity been established by the scientific community?
Scientific research has on numerous and sustained occasions debunked this misinterpretation and called for a better analysis of drug use and drug abuse. Innumerable studies explain that the idea of having a sequential, linear and immutable trail of drug abuse and crime ignores the complicated and interwoven network of intra-personal characteristics and external influences such as: genetics, social and neighbouring environments, drug availability, cultural norms, child-hood traumas and psychological wellbeing. Research conducted across different nation states identified different patterns of drug use and experimentation, leading to the conclusion that individual behaviour is governed by a multi-varied package of third variables, and not cannabis.
The anti-gateway effect
A study by Bachhuber et al. (2014) established a possible link between medicinal Cannabis legalization and the decrease of opioid overdoses in the USA. The results highlighted that states with medicinal Cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medicinal Cannabis laws. Recent data from Colorado, USA, indicates that following legalization of recreational cannabis for personal use in 2014, the state registered a considerable drop in the teenage use of cannabis. Furthermore, there are also indications that young adults are gradually shifting from the use of alcohol to cannabis. Although the data is still at an early stage, and practitioners call for a cautious interpretation, many are hailing this news as an important development to promote harm reduction, especially when considering the dangers of alcohol use and opioid abuse.
Want to learn more?
Reefer Madness the Movie (1936) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Sl6a3GmXPA