The Real Gateway Drug: Alcohol, Not Cannabis
First the joint, then the needle. Such is the path of the drug user, we are told. But that's not what research is uncovering.
If you listen to mainstream media, you know it all starts with that one puff. We are repeatedly lead to believe that cannabis leads us down the path of hard drugs and addiction. But is that the real culprit? A recent study shows that alcohol is not only consumed prior to any cannabis use, but also the main pillar of later polydrug use.
Research collated by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research looks at the use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in American youth. Using this data, the American School Health Association determined that only 30% of sixth-twelfth graders had never consumed alcohol when compared with 54% never using cannabis. In the candidates that reported alcohol use, every grade superseded cannabis use, with 644 respondents reporting alcohol use before that of marijuana.
When breaking down the data, it becomes apparent that those initiating alcohol use in sixth grade would then go on to use greater amounts of illicit drugs than if alcohol was consumed in ninth grade onwards. They were also more frequent in their illicit drug use, which would imply that more needs to be done in elementary/ middle school to prevent alcohol abuse help to prevent this spiral into harder drug use later in life.
These finding fly right in the face of politicians and lawmakers opposed to cannabis reform. It further highlights the misguided and detrimental approach of the current policies, which are leading to increased use of hard drugs - quite the opposite of the stated goals.
With statistics clearly pointing towards alcohol leading to long-term drug abuse, a study conducted by RAND highlights another aspect altogether. Their study found that the likelihood of later hard drug use has as much to do with an individual's opportunities and propensity to use drugs, as it does with the drug they initially use. Considering alcohol is available in nearly every home and store across the world this supports the notion that alcohol could, in fact, be the real gateway to harder drug use.
The data is not without its limitations, though. In this case, the sample provided did not include high school dropouts where illicit drug use is typically higher. Another factor being that the survey was cast retrospectively asking the 18-year-old candidates to recall the first time they used alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. Given this may not be wholly accurate there is a margin for error when determining what age alcohol use has the biggest impact on later polydrug use.
Cannabis: The exit-drug?
Further supporting these finding is a previous study on cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs. They found that three-quarters of medical cannabis users surveyed were using it as a substitute for prescription drugs, alcohol, and other illicit substances. This refutes the idea that cannabis leads to harder drugs, but also shows it actually achieves the reverse, giving harder drug users a much safer and beneficial way out. If anything, that makes cannabis an exit-drug.
Written by: Lucas
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