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Study Demonstrates That Cannabis Is An ‘Exit Drug’ Not A ‘Gateway Drug’

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Arguably the most popular talking point among cannabis opponents is the false claim that ‘cannabis is a gateway drug.’ Cannabis opponents have gone to great lengths and dedicated enormous resources to spreading that false narrative.

The fact of the matter is that cannabis is not a gateway drug. Numerous studies have found that people often use other substances before they ever use cannabis including alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and the misuse of everyday household items such as aerosols.

Furthermore, a vast majority of cannabis consumers do not go on to use more harmful substances. All someone has to do is look at the cannabis consumption rate in a given jurisdiction and compare it to the usage rates for more harmful substances and it’s blatantly obvious that cannabis is not a gateway drug.

A growing body of evidence is actually finding that cannabis is an ‘exit drug,’ meaning that consumers of more harmful substances are successfully incorporating cannabis into their harm-reduction strategies. Below is information about a recent study in Canada that highlights the research surrounding this topic via a news release from NORML:

Vancouver, Canada: Polydrug users frequently engage in the use of cannabis in order to decrease their consumption of stimulants like crystal methamphetamine, according to data published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Canadian researchers surveyed a cohort of 297 polydrug users who engaged in the use of cannabis and unregulated stimulants. Nearly half (45 percent) of those surveyed reported having consumed cannabis to manage their stimulant cravings. Of those, 78 percent “reported decreasing their stimulant use during periods of cannabis use.”

Investigators reported that cannabis was frequently associated with reductions among those who used methamphetamine. They reported no decrease in use among those who engaged in the daily use of cocaine.

Prior studies have reported inconsistent findings with respect to the use of cannabinoids as a substitute for cocaine. For example, a pair of longitudinal trials from Brazil and Canada reported that the use of cannabis is associated with the decreased use of crack cocaine in dependent subjects. By contrast, a 2021 study reported that the daily administration of CBD failed to reduce cocaine cravings any better than placebo in subjects with a history of moderate to severe cocaine abuse.

The study’s authors concluded: “These findings indicate that cannabis use to manage stimulant cravings is a common harm reduction strategy and suggest that this may be an effective strategy to reduce stimulant use among some PWUD [people who use unregulated drugs]. … In the absence of established pharmacotherapies for the treatment of stimulant use disorders, further investigation of the harm reduction and therapeutic applications of cannabis use is warranted to address the harms of stimulant use.”
Numerous other studies have previously reported that cannabis consumers often substitute it in place of other substances, including alcohol, tobacco, and prescription opioids.

Full text of the study, “Cannabis use to manage stimulant cravings among people who use unregulated drugs,” appears in Addictive Behaviors.