Is Cannabis the Gateway Drug?
Cannabis has commonly been referred to as the "gateway drug", or the drug that when used, leads to more drug use from "harder drugs". This is commonly accepted, but is it true?
The basic "gateway theory" classifies certain drugs as "hard" and "soft". Cananbis is seen as a "soft" drug that leads its users to experiment with an become dependent on the harder drugs. Cannabis is classified as a DEA Category 1 substance along with "hard" drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The two prevailing theories are that using cannabis will expose the users to a social circle who use Harder drugs and that cannabis' effects lead to an interest in experimenting for a more powerful "high".
According to the United States NIH, cannabis is chemically correlated with a decrease in dopamine brain reaction to drugs. However, most users of cananbis have never and will never use harder drugs. Testing on animals shows that chemical dependence on drugs may occur due to a desensitization related to dopamine or pleasure uptake in the brain that is influenced with a low first age of exposure. But, there is more to the story than brain chemicals and influence if most cannabis users do not progress to the "next step".
Is cannabis a gataway drug? According to Psychology Today, 95% of cannabis users have not had opioid issues. Most users of cannabis will not become entangled with other drugs. According to the the Drug Policy Alliance, cannabis is the most commonly used drug in America, and is most likely the only drug a cannabis user will ever use aside from alcohol. In fact, alcohol is a likely precursor to hard drug usage as well.
Correlation is not causation. In order to understand how one moves up the "ladder" from one drug to the next, one must examine supervision, exposure to drugs from co-located social groups, genetic predisposition to risk-seeking behavior and more. Drug addiction and use is a highly-complex issue. One's social circle and internal brain chemistry that leads to further risk-seeking behavior may be more of a "gateway" to hard drug use than cannabis. If you are concerned about cannabis usage and legalization leading to a massive abuse of hard drugs in America, consider the fact that cananbis may be an alternative to opioid misuse that killed 47,000 Americans in 2017. If cannabis could be used in lieu of opioids, we could save tens of thousands of lives. It would be a "gateway" drug to pain management that would help millions.