Pitt study rejects idea that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’

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  • Sarah Boden/WESA


(Pittsburgh) — As Congressional Democrats push for cannabis legalization at the federal level, a brand new College of Pittsburgh study additional throws water on the notion that marijuana is a so-called “gateway” drug.

For many years, public health education programs and anti-legalization advocates have warned that marijuana use leads folks to experiment with different extra lethal and addictive substances, comparable to opioids. This speaking level has important public well being implications as a result of ongoing overdose epidemic.

“We don’t discover any proof to assist the idea that hashish features as a gateway drug … if something, we discover that leisure hashish legalization decreases opioid-related emergency division visits,” mentioned lead writer Coleman Drake, an assistant professor specializing in well being coverage and administration at Pitt’s Graduate College of Public Well being.

Drake and his group checked out state-level mixture information from California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, which all legalized marijuana firstly of 2017. For half of 2017, these states noticed a 7.6 p.c decline in opioid-related visits when in comparison with states the place leisure use was illicit. After six months, the speed of the opioid-related ER visits reverted again in the direction of the extent it was at previous to legalization.

Whereas the discount in opioid-related ER visits was momentary, Drake argues that it’s nonetheless substantial. As a result of researchers had entry to just one 12 months of knowledge, he plans to return to the subject to see how the results of legalization play out over an extended time period.

The research makes no definitive conclusions as to why legalization has this impact, nor why it was momentary. However Drake famous that some folks begin utilizing opioids attributable to persistent ache, after which change into addicted.

“Hashish is an alternative choice to ache reduction, however it’s not a therapy for opioid use dysfunction,” mentioned Drake. “Folks may be discovering that hashish does assist deal with ache for opioid use dysfunction, however in the end isn’t treating different signs of the situation.”

That causes folks to return to opioids.

The findings point out a attainable want for extra strong entry to habit therapy choices that use medicines, comparable to methadone and buprenorphine, to blunt opioid cravings. Abstinence-only restoration applications typically oppose the usage of these medicines, regardless of a growing body of evidence that reveals medicated-assisted therapy improves outcomes.

It’s exhausting to attract too many conclusions from this research, cautioned Alice Bell of Prevention Level Pittsburgh, a nonprofit specializing in drug person well being and hurt discount.

“This information hopefully as soon as and for all places a nail within the coffin that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug,’” mentioned Bell. “It might be helpful to do qualitative analysis and ask individuals who use medicine what they’re truly doing.”

Drake agreed that this is able to be an excellent path of inquiry. Nonetheless, he hopes that his findings will construct on the general public’s understanding of the results of legalization, which is a comparatively new phenomenon.

“The kicker with lots of leisure hashish analysis at this cut-off date is that we’re beginning to discover issues,” he mentioned, “however we haven’t had sufficient but high-quality research the place we’re capable of put all of the items collectively positively.”


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