Marijuana Not a Gateway to Dangerous Drugs, Study Finds

The report found no evidence that using marijuana leads to consuming more dangerous and addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, or heroin.

A new study once again disproves the common myth that marijuana leads to the use of more serious drugs. In a new report published by LiveStories, researchers found no connection between marijuana use and eventual use of more dangerous and addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, and heroin.

“We haven’t found any strong correlation that suggests increased marijuana use leads to increases in other substance abuse,” said LiveStories founder Adnan Mahmud. “We weren’t looking for causation. We were looking for a correlation. And we didn’t find that was the case.”

The LiveStories researchers used data from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health to investigate the effects of marijuana legalization.

They specifically looked at trends in the first four U.S. states that legalized recreational marijuanaColorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska – and did an analysis on the rates of marijuana use and whether marijuana increases the risk of using more harmful substances.

The study did reveal that marijuana use increase significantly in the four states following legalization, starting in the first year that ballot measures passed. In Colorado and Oregon, rates of marijuana use continued to rise in 2016, whereas Alaska and Washington saw marijuana use plateau by that year.

Despite the overall increase in marijuana use, the four states did not experience similar trends for more harmful substances, such as cocaine and opioids.

“The hypothesis was that if marijuana is truly a gateway drug, we’d see a spike in the use of other substances in addition to a spike in marijuana use,” Mahmud said. “We should have seen spikes all over the place. But when we looked at the data, the corresponding spikes didn’t exist. And because of that, it led us to the conclusion that there isn’t a strong correlation between marijuana use and the use of other substances.”

The study’s findings also suggest that legalized marijuana may be beneficial for helping address the nation’s opioid crisis. While opioid overdose deaths have increased across the United States, rates in three of the four states — Colorado, Washington, and Oregon — have remained below the national average.

The researchers also found that education and unemployment have either stayed the same or improved since marijuana legalization in the four states.

Previous Reports

While the marijuana gateway theory continues to be used as an anti-legalization argument by opponents, findings indicating the opposite have been well documented.

A report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse concluded that, “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances,” and that factors like biological mechanisms and a person’s social environment play a role in a person’s risk for drug abuse.

The Institute of Medicine has also published a report indicating there is no evidence that marijuana use is linked to the eventual use of other illicit drugs. A prior U.S. Attorney General has even acknowledged that marijuana is not a gateway drug.

Some evidence indicates that cannabis can be actually beneficial for the treatment of addiction by reducing the severity of withdrawals and helping curb cravings.

More Cannabis Studies

You can learn more about what researchers have already discovered about cannabis by visiting our education page, or keep up with the latest studies as they’re published through our news feed.