When marijuana was first legalized in California, one of the biggest concerns was whether or not marijuana is a “gateway drug” that could lead to the use of “harder” drugs like cocaine, heroin, or diverted prescription medications.
The Evidence Already Exists
“It’s a red flag. It sort of highlights that there’s a potential association that’s important here.”
~ Dr. Lynn Fiellin, Associate Professor of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine
But according to science, that question has already been answered by a 2012 study. Researchers with the Yale University School of Medicine discovered a definite link between marijuana use and misuse of prescription medications, especially among young adults ages of 18 through 25. Of special relevance, there are gender-related differences:
- Among men in that age demographic, cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana are each associated with a higher risk of medication abuse.
- Among young adult women, however, only marijuana increased the likelihood of prescription drug misuse.
Marijuana and Prescription Abuse
In total, young adults who use cannabis are two-and-a-half times more likely to misuse prescription drugs than their peers who abstain from marijuana use.
This study agrees with an earlier survey concluding that pot smokers:
- More than twice as likely to have Substance Use Disorder involving opioid painkillers.
- 6 times more likely to start misusing pain meds by:
- Taking painkillers without a prescription
- Using more than is prescribed
- Taking opioids longer than is necessary
- Using painkillers for non-medical reasons—i.e., to get high
Heavy marijuana use also triggers negative emotional states such as alienation, depression, and anxiety. Anxiety disorders are usually treated with prescription tranquilizers – benzodiazepine medications such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.
This is significant, because “benzo” drugs are extremely addictive, even when taken exactly as prescribed. Up to 50% of patients become drug-dependent.
Marijuana and Illicit Drugs
Other research has shown that gateway drugs like marijuana lead to illicit drug abuse:
- The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia concluded that adolescents and teenagers who drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or use marijuana are 266 times more likely to also abuse cocaine. Adults who use those same substances have a likelihood of cocaine use that is 323 times higher.
- The established link between marijuana and prescription opioids is very is very significant. 80% of heroin users started out by misusing pain meds. They later move to heroin because it is much cheaper and easier to obtain.
Orange County’s Powerful Marijuana
It is also important to keep in mind that when we compare the potency of today’s marijuana with the strains that were available years ago when these surveys and studies were conducted, there is even more reason for concern.
Twenty ago, the average THC concentration in typical marijuana strains was “only” about 4%. But today’s strains has an average potency of over 20% THC. Worse, ultra-potent marijuana “wax” contains up to 99.7% THC.
Marijuana this powerful has a tremendous impact on the still-maturing brains of teenagers and young adults, which continue to develop into the mid-20s. An October 2018 study concluded that marijuana is more dangerous to teen brains than alcohol. In fact, cannabis use before age 17 results in risk of a subsequent Substance Use Disorder that is over five times greater than those who waited until they were 18 or older.
What Does This Mean to YOU?
Because medical and recreational marijuana are both legal in Orange County, it is a virtual certainty that you or someone you care about has used it at some point. And if that marijuana use has further led to the abuse of other harder and more dangerous substances, then specialized professional help may be needed.
And if you live in Southern California, Chapman House Treatment Centers has provided premium addiction recovery services in Orange County since 1978. If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addictive disorder involving marijuana, alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medications, Chapman House can help.
To start your sober journey, contact Chapman House TODAY.
by Albert Fontenot