A new Swedish study on rats suggests that there is a physiological reality behind the idea that relatively innocuous cannabis may act like a gateway drug, leading on to heavier drugs.
Soon-to-be-graduating doctoral candidate Maria Ellgren of Karolinska Institutitet has documented a significantly greater interest in self-administered heroin among adult rats that were dosed with cannabis in the womb or during adolescence. Their brains exhibited changes in parts linked to pleasure and rewards. However, they were not more interested than non-stoner rats in central stimulants such as amphetamine.
I’m a pro-legalisation non-user (indeed, a tee-totaller), and I find this research interesting although unsurprising. Assuming that the results can be extrapolated to humans, it gives rise to a number of further questions.
- Does alcohol have similar effects on the brain, thus also acting as a gateway drug?
- Most cannabis users do not graduate to heavier drugs. What factors decide? Social or physiological ones, or simply the cannabis dosage involved?
Prohibition era USA with its gangster wars demonstrates that prohibiting a popular recreational drug creates more problems than it solves. There seem to be social mechanisms preventing a truly destructive one such as heroin from becoming popular. I believe that the money spent on enforcing prohibition would be better used in teaching the risks and treating addicts.