Closing The ‘Gateway’ To Drug Abuse — With Cannabis

For decades opponents of marijuana law reform policies have falsely argued that marijuana is a ‘gateway’ to drug abuse — a guilt-by-association charge that implies that because tens of millions of people have used cannabis and a minority of these tens of millions have also tried other drugs that somehow it must have been the pot that triggered the hard drug use.

But while reformers have been consistent — and accurate — to point out that the so-called ‘gateway theory’ lacks any statistical support (for example, the U.S. government contends that more than four in ten Americans have used cannabis, yet fewer than two percent have ever tried heroin), few in our movement have publicized the fact that for many people cannabis can be a powerful ‘exit drug’ for those looking to curb or cease their use of alcohol, opiates, or narcotics. For instance:

A 2010 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal demonstrating that cannabis-using adults enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs fared equally or better than nonusers in various outcome categories, including treatment completion.

A 2009 survey published in the Harm Reduction Journal finding that 40 percent of respondents said used marijuana as a substitute for alcohol, and 26 percent used it to replace their former use of more potent illegal drugs.

A 2009 study published in the American Journal on Addictions reporting that moderate cannabis use and improved retention in naltrexone treatment among opiate-dependent subjects in a New York state inpatient detoxification program.

A 2009 preclinical study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology demonstrating that oral THC suppressed sensitivity to opiate dependence and conditioning.

Based on this and other emerging evidence, investigators at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California are now enrolling residents in twelve-step-like classes that use cannabis to quit heroin, pills, cigarettes, alcohol, and other potentially addictive substances.

Oaklanders Quitting Oxycontin with Cannabis
via The East Bay Express

For years, there have been anecdotal reports about people using cannabis to quit harder drugs. The process is called “substitution”, and it’s a tactic that’s beginning to be endorsed by the “harm reduction” philosophy of mental health.

… So Harborside crafted a program that’s similar to traditional twelve-step programs, but ignores the pot smoking.

… Janichek is tracking the outcomes of Harborside’s free, cannabis-positive mental health services, with the goal of extrapolating the data into guidelines and replicating the services in other dispensaries.

It will be interesting to see the results of this program in the coming months — as well as the response (read: outcry) from the traditional drug treatment community.

One can expect that Harborside’s findings will further undermine the notion that cannabis is an alleged ‘gateway’ to hard drug use, and strengthen the argument that the plant may, in fact, be a useful tool for deterring the initiation or continuation of drug abuse.

67 thoughts


  2. Wonder if it works as a substitute for alcoholics? If so it could explain some of why the alcohol lobby has been against legalizing mj for so long – it might take away too many of their currently regularly big-spending customers who unfortunately don’t get to live long either.

  3. Good to see an article supporting the truthful wonders rather than uninformed lies and misconceptions.

  4. Very cool, safer than suboxone or subutex(sorry I spelling these incorrectly and didn’t use Cannabis should work for hard drug users and I hope it does indeed. I stopped cannabis and Paxil in the past and Paxil is a very very difficult drug to quit. Cannabis was easy and Paxil is legal and much more painful. Go Weed!!!!

  5. Cannabis is simply a gateway to black markets NOT to hard drug use. Regardless its time to close move this gateway to a regulated adult environment like alchohol.

  6. I used cannabis to quit smoking cigarettes about a year ago. My theory was “cigarettes are psychologically AND physically addictive; and with pot addiction is all in the mind”. So I curbed withdrawal symptoms by staying high for 2 months straight, and I haven’t touched a cigarette in a year.

    Recently (about 3 or 4 weeks ago) I quit smoking weed all together to be completely substance free. I had no idea my “step down” idea was onto something; or that it could be applied to more than quitting cigs, or that anybody else would try this idea.

    I never published that idea. Damn, somebody else did. I only shared it with 3 or 4 people, because pot in my profession is taboo.

  7. I debated this point just yesterday. For many years I was clinically addicted to alcohol and nearly quit cold turkey by just lighting up.

    I’ve lost 60 pounds and have never felt better. Doc has even removed me from two medications while knowing that my new ‘health’ is directly related to marijuana use at a responsible level.

    Marijuana is definitely not a gateway drug anymore than alcohol is.

    I’m thankful to the reporters at Norml who have the boldness to report the truth in this sea of lies.

  8. The faster we educate people on its proven potential, the more public acceptance growns and grows. Its not partisan anymore.

  9. Cannabis was my “exit drug” from alcohol, meth, and anti-depressants. It has quite literally saved my life.

  10. Being in a small community which recently experienced a loss of a younger man due to an OD or dirty heroin… I wish cops and DEA agents would focus on the problems of REAL drugs rather than a plant which cannot kill someone by just putting its active substance in your body…

    We need to re-focus on this drug “war”. The only harm it is doing is putting people who don’t deserve to be behind bars or by putting them in the ground; and the people who do deserve the above are just evading and running a trade made to win…

  11. Holy Smokes. What will all the little suckling piglets do if the big cash sow dries up? There have always been and always will be, persons, who have a disposition to addiction. It’s a plain fact. But, If MMJ can help them to limit their addiction, to the inhaling smoke from a burning flower ember, there is merit, in allowing the patient his medicine.

    The Rev.sLeezy

  12. I used to drink a minimum of 12 oz of vodka everyday. Then one day, one of my friends offered me cannabis, which eventually helped me decide to quit alcohol. It helped balance out the crazy mental fluctuations brought on by ativan, which my doctor prescribed to relieve alcohol withdrawal, and even made me quit cigarettes. I almost died, and know that I definitely would have if I hadn’t known about cannabis.

  13. You know, it’s wierd. I am a bartender, and I used to practice my trade in my home 3 or 4 times a week, getting shnockered until I ate my ritualistic balogna sandwaich and crawled up to bed, only to feel like absolute garbage the next day (all day long). But since I have been smoking weed daily for the past 3 months or so, I haven’t wanted booze at all. Sure, ST Patty’s I had about 4 beers (big drinking night for me nowadays), and the occasional mixed drink here and there. But alcohol is actually starting to taste nasty to me, and it does nothing but put me to sleep. What’s even more amazing is, alcoholism runs in my family (uncles and cousins – not my dad, I had a good childhood and Christian upbringing). Cannabis has, in my opinion, saved me from the horrible fate that so many of my loved ones have gone through. I pray over my weed whenever I visit my local farmer to pick up a fresh bag, and usually thank my Lord every single day for his wonderful gift, and for people like NORML and MPP.

  14. I shook a 23 year addiction to meth with cannabis. Just celebrated 8 years on the 16th. (woo hoo!)
    I tried NA for a while but didn’t find much acceptance there but did find quite a bit if hipocracy going on in the rooms. They go on about being free from mind and/or mood altering substances while gulping down coffee and tobacco like there is no tomorrow. Most of the “success stories” are more addicted to the program than they were the drugs; putting everything else in there lives secondary to their new addiction. Most of them still use and manipulate others (mostly “newcomers”) as much or more than they did as active addicts.
    Don’t get me wrong 12 step programs do come from a good place in the heart but it’s really hard to find truely good folks there.

  15. WOW! I hope these folks have real research folks doing this study? This is a very important TX option to be watched.

    Gene Courter LCSW/DCSW/BCD

  16. I am way ahead of you guys at Norml, I first heard about this way back in 1982 from a Vietnam war vet firend of mine, he said cannabis helped him kick a bad heroin habit. When I first started smokeing marijuana at age 20 in 1975 I dumped several cans of beer on the ground down by the lakeshore one night.I have never had a DUI, Thank you Mary Jane.

  17. while reading this entry, it dawned on me how antiquated the term “gateway drug” has really become. Every time some prohibitionist talking head uses it on television they’re invoking Reagan esque drug attitudes at their worst, and not helping their cause.

  18. I can’t even believe we NEED this study to fend off the notion that Marijuana is a “gateway” drug.

    Anyone with two brain cells shouldn’t even have to waste a second realizing that the whole “gateway” argument is preposterous. By the same logic, brushing your teeth is a gateway behavior to harder drugs.

  19. Going on 39 years of tokin, could someone please tell me where the gateway is? If i have been through it, the gateway sure has’nt led me to harder drugs. What scares the hell out of me is the BIG PHARM DRUGS approved by the FDA. Taxed and regulated by our government and make people more sick than they are and kills people and destroys minds and a bunch of other side effects. MARIJUANA ZERO. NATURE MADE. YOU CAN’T FOOL WITH THE NEW MOTHER NATURE, THE SPLENDED LADY HAS MADE HER CALL. 420 ALL THE WAY1

  20. It never ceases to amaze me that the Prohibitionists, many or most of whom claim to be Disciples of Christ and his wonderful teachings… commit wholesale BLASPHEMY by buying into the ReeferMadnessPropaganda.
    Calling a perfect creation of God “DevilWeed” !?!
    I’ve read the Bible numerous times and have yet to find where Satan the Devil is listed as a co-creator.
    Kould One of the Anti-Kannabis Knuckle-Draggers
    please show me the passage?
    To call a plant, a herb that God declared “Good” –
    a Weed of the Devil is to commit blasphemy.
    Interestingly enough, the ONLY place in the Bible that associates the ‘Devil’ with a ‘Weed’ is the parable of Jesus that illustrates the case of the sower of Wheat who has a trespasser (the Devil) come to his field under the cover of Darkness and broadcast Weed seed, thus contaminating the crop.
    Read the ending and discern the point Jesus was making and you can easily Grok that the “Devil’s Weeds”
    are in reality counterfeit Christians.

  21. Hey!, you reckless word-slinging Prohibitionists – still want to toss around the designation: ‘DevilWeed’ ?

  22. Gateway my azz. How can an object be a gateway??? The blackmarket dealers are the gateway. Hey if they buy my pot maybe they’ll buy my coke or my smack etc. Ignorance and fear make people believe most anything.

  23. This is very interesting and new information for me as I am writing a researched paper for a class. In all of the research I have done, whether it be independent studies or government commissioned, like that of the Institute of Medicine in the Drug Czar McCaffrey’s era, all conclusions point in the same direction – there is no causal relationship between marijuana and hard drugs.

    This new information significantly adds to the rebuttal argument to prohibitionists and alarmists who want to form policy based on false information. When studies are starting to prove that marijuana can possibly be a component in the reversal of hard core drug use and other legal addictions such as alcohol and nicotine,it leaves even less room for a plausible argument. Thanks!

  24. To the anti-cannibis people… I think a quote from John Wayne is appropriate: “Life is tough. It’s even tougher if you’re stupid.”

  25. #3 ebiker: it is not just the alcoholics stopping drinking that scares the alcohol pushers, it is the steady drinker, too. the pot high is way better than that from alcohol. but, i suspect you knew that already

  26. I know this to be true. Was able to shake off Oxycodone VERY QUICKLY In Amsterdam for many months, as quality cannabis is ALWAYS available. Heroin and Opiates almost took my life.
    Thank Shiva for Ganjika!

  27. All of the above drugs, herbs, and alcohol are impairing. I could care less if anyone wants to smoke, snort, or drink themselves to whatever they think they are getting out of it; just don’t drive or make my products while it’s in the system. I’ve personally witnessed a sister and daughter that have allowed marijuana to ruin their lives. I guess it’s all in the eyes of the observer. I’m not condemning or condoning, I’ve just personally observed the negative side of it!

  28. LOL Kuddos to the guy who said he prays for his weed – a bit excessive but I guess that makes sense! I pray my drug dealer doesn’t get caught! LOL.

  29. You want biblical… I got Biblical

    Genesis 1:29. The New American Standard Translation.
    Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.”

  30. Ken sez:
    “I’ve personally witnessed a sister and daughter that have allowed marijuana to ruin their lives. I guess it’s all in the eyes of the observer. I’m not condemning or condoning, I’ve just personally observed the negative side of it!”

    All In The Eyes Of The Beholder . . is Sooo True.
    there are some Pee Party People who would say maryjane that “ruined” a person’s life, when they STOPPED being a Cut-Throat Aggressive Capitalist. Some say cannabis “destroyed” a person’s life if the person stops watch and worshipping Pro Football, and instead takes walks on the greenways admiring nature. Others say ganga “changes” a person negatively if they simply become Kinder and Gentler and “drops out” of the Status Quo dog-eat-dog World we live in.
    Sometimes it is ALL about perspective.
    It is not Yay or Nay, but maybe Gray.

  31. 7. ckdk30

    You can put your faith in Genesis I:11,12…Genesis I:29,30,31, and Genesis IX:3. God bless you and yours.

  32. id rather smoke a little bud then get drunk any day.
    i can still function and keep my wits about me while smoking weed, alcohol makes horrible ideas seem like good ideas yet its perfectly legal while marijuana isnt, whats a crime is our government being so fucking stupid.

  33. HeirloomerBoomer – pee party?
    im not one of them but i agree with them, the federal government isnt supposed to be mad grabbing for power, its supposed to be weaker then the state governments, why dont you figure out what our government was founded on and why and yould see those people are right. you fucking idiot.

  34. Ahh, Master Cody,
    We recall writing:
    “there are some Pee Party People who would say…”
    (emphasis on the word ‘some’)
    so then, there was no Blanket Condemnation,
    just as we do not recall giving a Blanket Endorsement
    to the Federal Government,
    young buck, “Thou Should Look Before Thy Leap”,
    and also please go buy a bar of soap
    and wash out that potty mouth,
    but be careful because as we all know Little Ralphie
    went blind due to ‘soap-poisoning’…
    (stay away from Palmolive)

  35. You just don’t realize until you start talking to people, how many folks will start a conversation on cannabis with, “Marijuana saved my life.”

    I’m one of those.

  36. Nice to know that science has proved what people have known for years. Marijuana just helped a friend of mine back east kick his crack habit. Hard thing to do when the crack corner is right down the street from the Weed spot.

    Take weed of the street and put it in the coffee shop where it belongs!!!!

  37. Truly all I can say I know for a fact is that marijuana is saving my life. I have Cadasil which basically is a match for MS. I have learned as much as I can at the moment concerning Marijuana.Marijuana has allowed me to continue the same life style I had before this nightmare began. The non ending muscle cramps feeling like a fish out of water the headaches which are followed by the death of the small brain vessels carrying less volume of oxygen to the brain making you not only feel out of breath but out of breath in your brain Wooooo that crap sucks. But Marijuana has saved my life as I no longer get those attacks but know that my brain is being protected by this miracle plant.

  38. I can back this claim 100%. It is without a doubt that cannabis helped me quit tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine. I think cannabis should be offered to all recovering addicts, because I guarantee the rate of recurrence is lower in those who have cannabis to fall back on, than those who try to go by sheer will power alone.

    Getting an addict to go cold-turkey on anything is an exercise in extreme frustration and heartbreak. I attribute most all of my previous problems in life to alcohol, and if I hadn’t had cannabis to get me through some of those harder sober days early on, I don’t know that I would have made it.

    And to those who say, “well, isn’t that just trading one addition for another??”… I laugh, because they clearly don’t know the definition of addition — and then I say — yeah — so what? Being addicted to something that makes you happy, lets you retain all of your senses, doesn’t poision you in anyway, and definitely doesn’t hurt anyone else … in fact — it’s probably good for me, and the environment! Where’s the problem?

    Today, cannabis and caffeine are the only substances I take on a regular basis — and life is great! Thank you cannabis — you truly are the miracle plant!

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