Is Medical Cannabis
Really A Gateway Drug?

By The Sacred Plant Research Team

One of the biggest challenges to medical cannabis is the myths that surround it and convincing people to put those stigmas aside to see the healing benefits of the plant.

Recently, a damaging claim was revisited in the sports world by the former 1980s Major League Baseball (MLB) star, Darryl Strawberry. In an early 2019 interview, Strawberry told the interviewer1, “Most young people start off with marijuana … it’s a gateway. I started with marijuana when I was young — 14, 15 years old — and it led me to everything else.”

While it's understandable that the former Major League Baseball star could think this is true about cannabis, claiming that the sacred plant is a gateway to harder drugs is an incorrect assertion. Along with his sports career, Strawberry is also known for his struggles with addiction — something he attributes to using cannabis recreationally as a teenager as we can see in his most recent comments to the media.

An Elaborate Lie to Further Cannabis Prohibition

The researchers who push this theory believe the psychoactive properties in an illegal substance (in this case cannabis) increase a person's likelihood of taking other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and meth. The term gateway drug was used sparingly between the 1930s and 1970s to push cannabis prohibition along with other defamatory language like marijuana and scare tactics like the 1936 propaganda film, Reefer Madness.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Denise Kandel, who spearheaded the first scientific study on Cannabis as a gateway drug, received funding for her research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Even though Kandel was supposed to focus only on cannabis, she included tobacco and alcohol use in the study as well. On April 18, 20152, more than 40-years after the initial research, she explained to NPR,

“When I did the analysis, I found that there was a certain sequence that young people seem to be following when they got involved in drugs. They did not start with marijuana, but they started with drugs that are legal for adults in the society, such as beer and wine and cigarettes, other forms of alcohol.”

In 2014, she completed another study3 with her husband, neurologist and Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Eric Kandel, which gave definitive proof that nicotine, NOT cannabis, is the gateway drug. Their findings are available in the New England Journal of Medicine for anyone to read. In conclusion, the study found,

“This observation is consistent with epidemiologic data that show that most people start using cocaine while using nicotine, a state that may enhance the physiological effects of cocaine. We found evidence that there is a specific biologic mechanism that explains the sequence from cigarettes to cocaine in the population.”

Despite Dr. Kandel's initial findings in the 19754 study that alcohol and tobacco played a role in adolescent drug use, the term gateway drug would be associated with cannabis because of its illicit nature in comparison to the other substances which are legal.

The term “gateway” exploded in popular culture following the success of a publication, Getting Tough on Gateway Drugs: A Guide for the Family, by Robert Dupont who was also the second White House Drug Czar5 and the first Director of the NIDA from 1973 to 1978. Dupont, his book, and the term gateway drugs became the backbone of Reagan's' War on Drugs and the well-known slogan, “Just Say No,” which continued in popularity through the 1980s and early 1990s.

The gateway theory is also called the escalation hypothesis, the stepping-stone theory, and most recently, New York Senator Jim Tedisco used the term,6 “bridge drug” when discussing his opposition to legalizing adult-only, recreational use in his state.

Other Studies Show The Gateway Theory is False

Through the research, we show that gateway allegations are incorrect. Outside of the findings from the original researcher, there are plenty of other cases that disprove the theory.

Decades before Dr. Denise Kandel's first report on the gateway theory, the 1944 LaGuardia Report7 by the New York Academy of Medicine found that “The use of marijuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction . . .”

A recent study8 of 364 Philadelphia adolescents found no evidence that cannabis was a gateway drug. The researchers followed the participant's use of cannabis and other drugs between the ages of 10 to 12, and 18 to19 years old.

While 40 percent did report a mild psychological dependency, they concluded that claims of cannabis being a gateway drug were “exaggerated.”

Fighting Dangerous Lies With Facts About Cannabis

Fortunately, not everyone in the sports community agrees with Strawberry's incorrect claims.

Athletes for CARE9 is an organization that promotes the health, safety, and wellbeing of those who compete in sanctioned sports around the world. One of the founders, Riley Cote, explained to the San Antonio Express-News10, “The comment Mr. Strawberry made about cannabis ‘destroying lives’ is a true indicator of how much work we have left to do . . .”

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