The Gateway To Nowhere

The common belief that marijuana is a gateway drug is the myth that will not die. It literally makes no sense when you actually think about it. Is it true that many drug addicts smoked weed early on in their lives? Yes, absolutely. But most of them also drank before that, because alcohol is available in most American homes and weed is not. If there is such a thing as a gateway drug, it’s alcohol, not marijuana. Let’s not forget that alcohol is actually drug.

What about harmless medications like ibuprofen and antibiotics and cough syrup? Do these drugs not make us accustomed to using a substance to solve a problem from a very early age? Think about it. When you’re a kid and you’re sick, you parents take you to the doctor and they give you some medicine to make you feel better. This sends the earliest message that drugs are a solution to the problem of feeling sick.

So what happens when you become a teenager and you feel sick, mentally? You don’t fit in, or you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re bored? Maybe you’ve got a good case of mental illness going on, some early depression or bipolar disorder, like I had. You are feeling unwell, sick, and just plain wrong. Again, your parents might take you to the doctor, who prescribes more medication to make you feel better.

At this point you understand that substances can change the way we feel. So when you start to stumble across different substances, you inherently want to try to use them to change whatever feelings you have that are making you uncomfortable.

The reason alcohol and marijuana are the first illicit drugs kids often try is simply because they are the most readily available and easiest to access. People don’t move on from marijuana because marijuana made them an addict and now they want more. Studies show that only about 9% of marijuana users because addicted to the drug.

The vast majority of marijuana users never move past weed. Qualification is not causation. Saying marijuana is a gateway to heroin is like saying bicycles are a gateway to motorcycle gangs. It’s very likely that every member of a motorcycle gang started by riding a bicycle first, but not every kid who learns to ride a bike becomes a gangster. The same is true with marijuana use. The vast majority of smokers never move on to hard drugs, despite the fact that most hard drug users did use marijuana early on in their addictions.

What causes people to move on from marijuana to harder drugs is the fact that something is still broken and they are trying to fix it. Just like when your doctor gives you a medication, but you’re still feeling sick, they give you something else to try. If I’m still mentally ill, still lost, confused, alone, depressed, and uncomfortable in myself, I might go looking for a stronger medication to fix my problems.

The scary thing now is the prescription pills themselves, particularly painkillers and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, are becoming the true “gateway drug”, meaning the first drug someone picks up. They’re in medicine cabinets or mom’s purse. Easier to get than alcohol or marijuana. Much more discreet and simple to hide. Kids are skipping right over marijuana and doing the whole process in reverse. I’ve met heroin addicts who didn’t try marijuana until after they were already addicted to painkillers.

For many years, heroin addicts have used marijuana as a way to treat their addiction. They are often uninsured and cannot afford to be on a Methadone or Suboxone program, or they simply don’t want to use opioids to treat and opioid addiction. So they turn to weed as a drug that works to reduce cravings, relax the mind and body, and fill that gaping hole left by heroin. This has been going on since the beginning of heroin addictions and became popular in the sixties and seventies as an alternative to Methadone treatment. To this day, many Methadone clients still use marijuana to help regulate themselves. I believe as Medical Marijuana gains more of a foothold, it will eventually be used to treat opioid addiction legally. It will exist in medical maintenance programs the same way we treat Methadone and Suboxone today, I guarantee it. When it happens, remember that you heard it here first.

For many people in recovery from heroin addiction, marijuana was not some evil gateway drug, but actually helps to keep them off the hard stuff as they come full circle. Some studies suggest that half of all adults in America have tried weed at least once, and we all know that half of Americans are not drug addicts. If it truly were a gateway drug in the sense that it directly leads to harder drug use, then way more people in this country would be using hard drugs. The vast majority of people who use marijuana whether recreationally or medically are NOT drug addicts, just like the vast majority of people who drink socially are NOT alcoholics.

The question becomes, what do you do if your kid is smoking weed? My suggestion is to treat it the same way you treat drinking. If you don’t think drinking is a big deal, then you shouldn’t think marijuana is a big deal either. If you don’t want your kid drinking underage, then you should discourage them from smoking weed until they’re an adult. While I don’t believe weed will turn your kid into a drug addict, there is some science that illustrates that drinking and smoking weed while the brain is still developing can be harmful. What the true repercussions for that are, we really don’t know. I bet half of you reading this blog right now have smoked weed before and you’re not a drug addict, and it didn’t ruin your life.

We need to keep our concern on opioids, because you don’t need to use weed to become an opioid addict. It’s not like if we stop kids from smoking weed that by default we will stop more serious addictions. It just doesn’t work that way. Marijuana is just a distraction from what is really important, and that is preventing the misuse and over prescribing of prescription painkillers.

If your kid gets a prescription for a narcotic, that’s what you should be worried about. I’ve met countless addicts who got injured playing sports and wound up on pain pills, later becoming addicted.

You may think about locking up your liquor cabinet when your kids are teenagers. That’s all well and good. But if you’re trying to reduce access to harmful drugs in your own home, don’t forget to lock your medicine cabinet, too. The real dangers are in plain sight right next to the Tylenol and you don’t notice because you’re too busy worrying about whether your kid is drinking or smoking weed, two drugs that are the least likely to cause an addiction and that most people use with little to no consequence.

Now for some people, marijuana is a problem, just like alcohol is for alcoholics. That small number of people who are negatively affected by marijuana need help, just like those of us who are addicted to other more dangerous drugs. I’m not trying to say that it’s 100% harmless to everybody and that we all should be lighting up every day.

What I’m saying is, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

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