In other words, will using weed lead to harder drugs?
That’s a question many people are asking now that dagga is legal for private use in South Africa. There were a lot of funny memes doing the rounds on social media when the news broke in September 2018 but the bigger debate is, “is South Africa courting the devil”?
Marijuana, weed, cannabis, dope, dagga… whatever you call it, tends to be used as a social drug and it’s seen as a ‘soft drug’. Supposedly, it’s harmless and not addictive, and certainly less harmful than hardtack alcohol and less addictive than cigarettes.
Or is it a gateway drug that leads to harder and more destructive drug addiction?
What is the gateway drug theory?
The Gateway drug theory claims that so-called ‘soft drugs’ like weed set naïve users on a path to experimenting with other drugs such as cocaine, meth, heroin and opiates. Most people who develop an addiction to these drugs say they started off smoking weed.
Weed provides a safe ‘high’ experience which lures users into a false sense of security when it comes to trying other drugs. If they hadn’t started with a soft drug like weed, the thinking is they may not have progressed onto harder drugs.
This is based on the notion people who use illegal substances progress along a linear path from “socially acceptable and legal substances” like alcohol and nicotine; to soft drugs like weed; and then onto harder illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin.
What’s the reason for this?
Firstly, experimenting with weed increases the taste and perceived pleasure for other drugs. And secondly, there’s an increased likelihood you’ll be exposed to harder drugs if you hang out with people that have a free association with drugs in general.
Gateway drug or not?
The science people say that weed isn’t any more or less of a gateway drug than alcohol and nicotine is when it comes to kickstarting a drug-taking habit. If you have a genetic predisposition (the addiction gene) to drug use, the springboard could be booze, cigarettes or dope. In fact, regular cigarettes are far more addictive than weed.
It’s impossible to say that someone who experiments with weed is likely to go on and experiment with harder drugs, mainly because the vast majority don’t get addicted. The latest research stats show that between 10 to 30% of regular users will develop a dependency on weed, while only 9% develop a serious addiction.
A study by The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia found that children who used marijuana, alcohol and tobacco were 266 times more likely to use cocaine than children who used none of the gateway drugs.
The same was true for adults. Adults who used marijuana, alcohol and tobacco were 323 times more likely to use cocaine than adults who used none of the gateway drugs. Adults who used all three were 104 times more likely to use cocaine than adults who used only one gateway drug.
The problem with weed
The fact is marijuana has been around since ancient times. The earliest recorded use as a drug was 2 737 BC in China. It made its entry to the New World in 1545 when the Spanish brought it and produced it as a commercial crop to make hemp fibers.
Marijuana is not necessarily the problem; the habit is. In other words, smoking weed can lead to a drug-taking habit. This is where a person enjoys the experience, feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug and seeks out the drug to relieve the cravings; repeat!
It’s known as ‘marijuana use disorder’ and it becomes addiction if you cannot stop using weed even when it starts having a negative effect on your life. Marijuana dependence occurs when your brain adapts to large amounts of the drug.
Marijuana often makes you irritable and moody, affects your sleep pattern and decreases your appetite. About 1 in 10 frequent marijuana users experience anxiety, hostility, insomnia and depression after the intoxicating effects of weed wear off.
If and when you try to quit, you’ll battle with mild to strong cravings, restlessness and different forms of physical discomfort. This is proof weed is not completely harmless and is addictive in the same way people become addicted to the habit of smoking cigarettes as well as the actual nicotine.
The big problem with weed today is its potency. It’s been steadily increasing over the past few decades. In other words, the weed you smoke in 2019 is a lot stronger than the weed your folks smoked 20 years ago. And the scariest problem with smoking weed in South Africa is it’s not always pure and clean. In other words, there’s a good chance it’s laced with something like Tic or Mandrax.
The verdict is still out whether weed is a gateway drug or not. One side says it’s a scare tactic and the other side says it is a gateway drug.
What we know for sure is; if you have a genetic predisposition to drug use, the springboard could be booze, cigarettes or dagga. If you develop an addiction, you can’t say for sure whether weed was the main culprit or whether there were other factors at play. If you have the addiction gene, something will ignite it.
NEED HELP WITH AN ADDICTION?
If you or a family member need help with drug or alcohol addiction, all you need to do is call us. You’re not on your own.
White River Manor works closely with medical practitioners such as psychologists and psychiatrists who have years of experience in dealing with alcohol and drug addiction as well as a team of highly experienced counsellors who understand the intervention process and are strong counsellors.