When people refer to marijuana as a “gateway drug”, they’re saying that people who use it will go on to use other, more dangerous substances. Some have suggested that using marijuana creates neural pathways in the brain which makes a smoker begin to crave stronger drugs. While some people who use marijuana move on to harder drugs, there is currently no evidence to back up claims that marijuana is responsible for increasing one’s habits of substance abuse.
In many parts of the world, including most of the United States, marijuana is comparable to alcohol and nicotine in that it’s generally easier to get and is cheaper than most other substances. This means that people tend to begin with marijuana, whether it's a gateway drug or not. Marijuana’s role in the drug world is a matter of much dispute. Some put it in the same category as cocaine, heroin, and LSD, while others believe it to be the most harmless substance of all.
Is Marijuana Actually Addictive?
Although people who support marijuana legalization continue to claim that the drug isn’t habit-forming, that may not actually be the case. The National Institute of Health reports that marijuana addiction can develop in your brain just like an addiction to any other substance.
If you regularly use marijuana, discontinuing your habit may give you uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like mood swings, cognitive impairment, and a lack of energy. Recent studies suggest that up to 30% of people who use marijuana may have a marijuana use disorder. Addiction isn’t limited to an inability to stop using a substance - anything you put in your body which produces negative side effects upon cessation can qualify as a form of addictive disorder. Nicotine, alcohol, and some legal prescription medicines can all form addictions in this way if misused, and marijuana is no exception.
Can Smoking Marijuana Cause Me Harm?
Some say that marijuana can't be harmful because it's a natural plant. One of the most common misconceptions about food and medicine is that “natural” means “healthy”. Death cap mushrooms, poison ivy, and anthrax are natural. Even if their natural origin were significant, marijuana is usually not regulated enough to trust as clearly safe. Growers and distributors may treat marijuana crops with pesticides or other chemicals.
While many marijuana users claim that it’s impossible to overdose on the drug, this is also not entirely the case. Overconsumption of marijuana might not fit most people’s mental image of overdose in that it won’t kill you, it’s true, but although there are no recorded fatalities from overdosing on marijuana, that doesn't mean that smoking too much of it can’t cause a deeply negative reaction. Smoking too much marijuana can be extremely uncomfortable. You can experience distortion of reality, delusion, nausea, vomiting, paranoia, fear, and increased heart rate.
There is a division between people who think marijuana is harmless and people who think that it may be more dangerous than advertised. Some will downplay the risks, while others will reinforce social stigmas and stereotypes. Regardless of which you choose to believe, it’s wise to do your research thoroughly.
So Is It a Gateway Drug?
In Japan, marijuana is nowhere near as accessible as it is in the United States. A 2012 study showed that 83.2% of Japanese citizens who used recreational substances reported that they didn't use marijuana first.
Some studies do show that marijuana use can be a gateway to the abuse of other legal and illegal substances. Although it may be harder to become addicted to marijuana in the textbook sense, using it will lead you to become addicted to other drugs. A study from the National Epidemiological Study Use and Related Disorders states that adults who use marijuana were more likely to develop problems with alcohol. People who have already been abusing alcohol are at a greater risk of their abuse becoming worse when using marijuana.
Early exposure to marijuana can make a person more vulnerable to addiction to other substances later in life. Some studies suggest that the introduction of THC, the active compound in marijuana, essentially prepares your brain for more intense drugs. Current research leans towards marijuana being a gateway drug. Remember, though, that the majority of marijuana users do not go on to use harder drugs. Things like nicotine and alcohol have shown the same effects of prepping the brain to handle and expect more powerful stimulation.
What Role Does My Environment Play?
Marijuana, nicotine, and alcohol are typically done in some of the same places, with people often consuming a combination of the three. These substances are most commonly used in social settings like parties, clubs, and bars. In many cases, one or more of these substances starts off being used in a social setting, and then forms a habit. If someone chooses to spend time in environments where marijuana, nicotine, and alcohol are being used, they become more likely to indulge. Marijuana can be a gateway drug, and so can nicotine or alcohol. In this way, your environment itself can be a gateway to substance abuse.
Whether it’s marijuana, nicotine, alcohol, or your environment, many things can act as a gateway to drug abuse and addiction if you are not careful. Although substance abuse is never recommended, it is important to do your research on any substance you use, legal or illegal. Marijuana can lead to you using harmful substances or the highly uncomfortable effects of overconsumption. Just because you won't die from a marijuana overdose doesn't mean that using it is healthy. People with an addictive personality are more susceptible to abusing marijuana and other substances. If you or a loved one feels concerned about forming a habit of using marijuana or other substances, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. At START UP RECOVERY, we understand that marijuana can have a detrimental effect on your life, even if it’s safer than other drugs. If you need to hit the reset button on your life and break free from substance use, get the help you need today. Call us at 310-773-3809 to learn more.