One of the arguments that opponents of marijuana continue to use is the “gateway drug” scare tactic. Not only is this phrase the basis of most of the negative connotations associated with marijuana, it just simply IS NOT TRUE. When the suggestion that using marijuana will lead to the use of “hard drugs” is rationally thought out, several questions arise leaving you (or me at least) wondering how anyone can still use this phrase without sounding like a complete moron. For marijuana to be this horrid “gateway drug” a few things would have to be true. First off, the marijuana seeking person would have to have relatively easy and steady access to marijuana. Secondly, this marijuana seeker would have access to other drugs and at some point choose the “harder” drug over marijuana. Now you might start to wonder – if marijuana is illegal and is purchased from a drug dealer (as is the case in any state that doesn’t have cannabis dispensaries), how is it that the current legislation itself is not thought of as the push into the world of hard drugs? Would this cannabis seeker conduct business with an illegal drug dealer if it could be obtained legally and safely from a medical dispensary?
A patient who visits a cannabis dispensary leaves with cannabis. Someone buying marijuana from a drug dealer may leave with cannabis, but what if the dealer is out of his supply? Selling drugs is his business, so he probably has something else to offer the disappointed customer. What about some Xanax for anxiety? Or possibly a little Oxycontin for pain? It can be safely assumed that the commonly prescribed 0.25mg starting dose of Xanax probably isn’t worth much on the black market, so the unfortunate cannabis seeker buys several 2mg Xanax pills not knowing how strong they are. (For those who aren’t familiar with Xanax, or alprazolam, it is a potent and short-acting benzodiazepine. It has a higher potential for abuse compared to other drugs in this class due to it’s rapid onset and short duration of action – the effects noticeably “come on” and “wear off” resulting in frequent re-dosing and effects that are easily attributed to taking the drug.) Benzodiazepines are schedule 4 drugs – federal law says drugs in this category have a mild potential for abuse. For the most part, they are safe when taken as prescribed. A notable characteristic of benzodiazepines is the possible dangerous withdrawal. Abrupt discontinuation of any benzodiazepine that has been taken long term can result in seizures, which can be life threatening. They must be tapered, and it is not uncommon to hear of patients attempting to “taper off” a drug like this for YEARS. So if the cannabis seeker chooses to buy alprazolam from his drug dealer he could potentially get addicted to something not legally prescribed and then return to the drug dealer to get anything available to ease the withdrawal symptoms.
If the cannabis seeker chooses to purchase Oxycontin instead, serious addiction potentially lies ahead. While Oxycontin is used safely by some patients, it’s popularity comes from it’s unfortunate abuse. Oxycontin has been reformulated in the last year to deter past practices of misuse that involved crushing the tablets and getting the entire 12-hour dose at one time, resulting in an extremely euphoric, heroin-like high. Regardless of the reformulation, it remains a drug that has been the cause of many fatal overdoses.
There isn’t a single death attributed to marijuana use but it remains a Schedule 1 drug. Ridiculous amounts of our tax dollars are spent trying to eliminate marijuana use; meanwhile drug companies generously “donate” funds to political parties. How is it ethical to allow this behavior to continue?
At the very least, stop calling marijuana the “Gateway Drug.”