Closing The ‘Gateway’ To Drug Abuse — With Cannabis

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 23, 2010

    For decades opponents of marijuana law reform policies have falsely argued that marijuana is a ‘gateway’ to drug abuse — a guilt-by-association charge that implies that because tens of millions of people have used cannabis and a minority of these tens of millions have also tried other drugs that somehow it must have been the pot that triggered the hard drug use.

    But while reformers have been consistent — and accurate — to point out that the so-called ‘gateway theory’ lacks any statistical support (for example, the U.S. government contends that more than four in ten Americans have used cannabis, yet fewer than two percent have ever tried heroin), few in our movement have publicized the fact that for many people cannabis can be a powerful ‘exit drug’ for those looking to curb or cease their use of alcohol, opiates, or narcotics. For instance:

    A 2010 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal demonstrating that cannabis-using adults enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs fared equally or better than nonusers in various outcome categories, including treatment completion.

    A 2009 survey published in the Harm Reduction Journal finding that 40 percent of respondents said used marijuana as a substitute for alcohol, and 26 percent used it to replace their former use of more potent illegal drugs.

    A 2009 study published in the American Journal on Addictions reporting that moderate cannabis use and improved retention in naltrexone treatment among opiate-dependent subjects in a New York state inpatient detoxification program.

    A 2009 preclinical study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology demonstrating that oral THC suppressed sensitivity to opiate dependence and conditioning.

    Based on this and other emerging evidence, investigators at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California are now enrolling residents in twelve-step-like classes that use cannabis to quit heroin, pills, cigarettes, alcohol, and other potentially addictive substances.

    Oaklanders Quitting Oxycontin with Cannabis
    via The East Bay Express

    For years, there have been anecdotal reports about people using cannabis to quit harder drugs. The process is called “substitution”, and it’s a tactic that’s beginning to be endorsed by the “harm reduction” philosophy of mental health.

    … So Harborside crafted a program that’s similar to traditional twelve-step programs, but ignores the pot smoking.

    … Janichek is tracking the outcomes of Harborside’s free, cannabis-positive mental health services, with the goal of extrapolating the data into guidelines and replicating the services in other dispensaries.

    It will be interesting to see the results of this program in the coming months — as well as the response (read: outcry) from the traditional drug treatment community.

    One can expect that Harborside’s findings will further undermine the notion that cannabis is an alleged ‘gateway’ to hard drug use, and strengthen the argument that the plant may, in fact, be a useful tool for deterring the initiation or continuation of drug abuse.

    67 responses to “Closing The ‘Gateway’ To Drug Abuse — With Cannabis”

    1. mygrassisblue says:

      I used cannabis to quit smoking cigarettes about a year ago. My theory was “cigarettes are psychologically AND physically addictive; and with pot addiction is all in the mind”. So I curbed withdrawal symptoms by staying high for 2 months straight, and I haven’t touched a cigarette in a year.

      Recently (about 3 or 4 weeks ago) I quit smoking weed all together to be completely substance free. I had no idea my “step down” idea was onto something; or that it could be applied to more than quitting cigs, or that anybody else would try this idea.

      I never published that idea. Damn, somebody else did. I only shared it with 3 or 4 people, because pot in my profession is taboo.

    2. KCMO.420 says:

      I debated this point just yesterday. For many years I was clinically addicted to alcohol and nearly quit cold turkey by just lighting up.

      I’ve lost 60 pounds and have never felt better. Doc has even removed me from two medications while knowing that my new ‘health’ is directly related to marijuana use at a responsible level.

      Marijuana is definitely not a gateway drug anymore than alcohol is.

      I’m thankful to the reporters at Norml who have the boldness to report the truth in this sea of lies.

    3. Grandma420 says:

      The faster we educate people on its proven potential, the more public acceptance growns and grows. Its not partisan anymore.

    4. QueenSativa says:

      Cannabis was my “exit drug” from alcohol, meth, and anti-depressants. It has quite literally saved my life.

    5. Marcus says:

      Being in a small community which recently experienced a loss of a younger man due to an OD or dirty heroin… I wish cops and DEA agents would focus on the problems of REAL drugs rather than a plant which cannot kill someone by just putting its active substance in your body…

      We need to re-focus on this drug “war”. The only harm it is doing is putting people who don’t deserve to be behind bars or by putting them in the ground; and the people who do deserve the above are just evading and running a trade made to win…

    6. mcduffee420 says:

      nope fireweed there isnt.

    7. Rev.sLeezy says:

      Holy Smokes. What will all the little suckling piglets do if the big cash sow dries up? There have always been and always will be, persons, who have a disposition to addiction. It’s a plain fact. But, If MMJ can help them to limit their addiction, to the inhaling smoke from a burning flower ember, there is merit, in allowing the patient his medicine.

      The Rev.sLeezy

    8. Joel F says:

      I used to drink a minimum of 12 oz of vodka everyday. Then one day, one of my friends offered me cannabis, which eventually helped me decide to quit alcohol. It helped balance out the crazy mental fluctuations brought on by ativan, which my doctor prescribed to relieve alcohol withdrawal, and even made me quit cigarettes. I almost died, and know that I definitely would have if I hadn’t known about cannabis.

    9. Rev.sLeezy says:

      Holy Smokes. Remember kids. Heroin can kill you.

      The Rev.sLeezy

    10. Luke says:

      You know, it’s wierd. I am a bartender, and I used to practice my trade in my home 3 or 4 times a week, getting shnockered until I ate my ritualistic balogna sandwaich and crawled up to bed, only to feel like absolute garbage the next day (all day long). But since I have been smoking weed daily for the past 3 months or so, I haven’t wanted booze at all. Sure, ST Patty’s I had about 4 beers (big drinking night for me nowadays), and the occasional mixed drink here and there. But alcohol is actually starting to taste nasty to me, and it does nothing but put me to sleep. What’s even more amazing is, alcoholism runs in my family (uncles and cousins – not my dad, I had a good childhood and Christian upbringing). Cannabis has, in my opinion, saved me from the horrible fate that so many of my loved ones have gone through. I pray over my weed whenever I visit my local farmer to pick up a fresh bag, and usually thank my Lord every single day for his wonderful gift, and for people like NORML and MPP.

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