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Marijuana is the Opposite of a 'Gateway' Drug

Marijuana legalization linked to fall in alcohol, tobacco, and pain medication consumption.

Cannabis was made illegal in America when the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was adopted by Congress. To this day cannabis is illegal at the federal level, but most U.S. states have legalized the use and sale of medical marijuana, and around half of these states went all the way and legalized recreational use.

While the notion that marijuana is a ‘gateway’ drug to the use of other, potentially more dangerous controlled substances like opium and cocaine has been thoroughly debunked by many studies, many feared that legalization would cause an uptick in the use of other drugs. But, if anything, the reverse seems to be true.

In a recent study, scientists at the University of Washington assessed the trends in the use of alcohol, nicotine, and non-prescription pain medication in Washington State following cannabis legalization. The study involved 12,500 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

According to the results, the prevalence of alcohol use within the past month, heavy episodic drinking, cigarette use, and past-year pain reliever misuse decreased. “Contrary to concerns about spillover effects, implementation of legalized non-medical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse,” the researchers said.

The notion that marijuana can help people drink less is supported by other research. A 2021 study involving nearly 100 individuals undergoing alcohol treatment found using cannabis helped the patients consume 30 percent fewer drinks and reduced their risk of binge-drinking episodes by a factor of two. In 2022, researchers at Cornell University used data from Medicaid reporting on prescription drugs from 2011 to 2019, finding marijuana legalization was associated with decreased use of prescription medication for treating anxiety, sleep, pain, and seizures. And in 2019, researchers found that states that have legalized marijuana have experienced a decrease in opioid prescriptions as a result.


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