The “gateway” or “stepping-stone” theory is all bunk – pot use doesn’t lead to harder drug use

A new study by researchers at the University of Victoria and UBC suggests pot is getting a bad rap as a gateway drug.

The study indicates cannabis can actually be a safer substitute for potentially more dangerous drugs like prescription opiates, alcohol and illicit substances.

“While cannabis is not benign, most research suggests that it’s safer and less addictive than many substances, particularly prescription opiates,” said lead author Philippe Lucas in a written statement.

Lucas, who is also vice-president of patient research and services at Tilray, a federally authorized medical cannabis company, added:

“So research suggesting that cannabis substitution could reduce harms and lessen the public health and safety impact of alcohol and other drugs has significant policy implications.”

Lucas says for some people, it might even be an “exit drug” to addiction.

The study also found that younger drug users were more likely than older ones to substitute marijuana for other substances.

The study is based on data collected from the Cannabis Access for Medical Purposes Survey — the largest Canadian survey of medical cannabis patients to date.

It examined drug use among 473 adults who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Among respondents, 87 per cent said they used marijuana to substitute for alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription drugs.

Marijuana not a gateway drug, says UVic study

Cannabis ‘safer and less addictive than many substances,’ according to research

CBC News Posted: Sep 30, 2015 2:07 PM PT Last Updated: Oct 01, 2015 7:58 AM PT


More than half of American adults have tried cannabis, according to datacompiled by the Centers for Disease Control. Statistically, the overwhelming majority of these individuals never go on to try another illicit substance, an empirical reality that persuaded investigators at the RAND Corporation to conclude, ”[M]arijuana has no causal influence over hard drug initiation.”

Moreover, by the time these individuals reach age 30, most of them have significantly decreased their cannabis use or no longer indulge in the substance at all.

Even more noteworthy is the reality that cannabis appears to act as a substitute or, in some cases, an exit drug for those struggling with drug abuse.

For example, in jurisdictions where marijuana use is legally regulated, researchers have reported year-over-year declines in opioid-related abuse, hospitalizations, and mortality.

According to data published in the esteemed Journal of the American Medical Association, deaths attributable to both prescription opiates and heroin fell by 20 percent within a year following marijuana legalization and by 33 percent within six years.

Overall, the study’s investigators concluded, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

Other studies have reported similar declines in the use of other drugs in jurisdictions where cannabis access is legally permitted.

According to a just-published review of the medical histories of over 1,500 patients residing in medicinal marijuana states, cannabis therapy was associated with significant reductions in subjects’ use of anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids, and anti-depressants. Forty-two percent of study subjects also acknowledged reducing their alcohol intake. The findings are similar to those from Canada, where medical access to marijuana is legal nationwide, and patients report using cannabis in place of opiates, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants, as well as in lieu of alcohol and tobacco.

A 2016 US study assessing prescription drug spending in multiple medical marijuana states over a three-year period similarly determined that “when a medical marijuana law went into effect, prescribing for FDA-approved prescription drugs … fell substantially.”

Writing this month in the journal Addictive Behaviors, investigators at the University of Montreal and the University of British Columbia contend that cannabis use curbs cravings for cocaine. They report: “In this longitudinal study, we observed that a period of self-reported intentional use of cannabis … was associated with subsequent periods of reduced use of crack [cocaine]. … Given the substantial global burden of morbidity and mortality attributable to crack cocaine use disorders alongside a lack of effective pharmacotherapies, we echo calls for rigorous experimental research on cannabinoids as a potential treatment for crack cocaine use disorders.”

Similar data exists for those addicted to opiates. For example, researchers at New York’s Columbia University reported, “[Opioid dependent] participants who smoked marijuana had less difficulty with sleep and anxiety and were more likely to remain in treatment as compared to those who were not using marijuana.”

In light of this scientific evidence, combined with a growing number of Americans’ first-hand experience with cannabis, it is hardly surprising that public confidence in the supposed ‘gateway theory’ is waning.

According to survey data compiled in 2016 by, fewer than one in three US citizens agree with the statement, “[T]he use of marijuana leads to the use of hard drugs.” Among those respondents under the age of 65, fewer than one in four agree.

Public opinion data provided earlier this week by Yahoo News finds even less support, with only 14 percent of adults expressing “significant concern” that cannabis “leads to the use of other drugs.”

In short, both scientific and public opinion reject the contention that marijuana use promotes the use of other drugs. It’s high time that public officials similarly put this myth to rest.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and an adviser for Freedom Leaf. He is the co-author of the book “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” (Cheslea Green, 2013) and author of the book “The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws” (Whitman Press, 2015).


Memo to Homeland Security: Marijuana is not a gateway drug. Science says so.