Both alcohol and tobacco tend to precede cannabis use, and it is rare for those who use hard drugs to not have used alcohol and tobacco first” Golub A. Johnson, American Journal of Public Health, 2001

The main argument against the decriminalization of cannabis is that it is a gateway drug and introduces people to other, more lethal drugs, the most notably heroin and cocaine.

That argument is seriously flawed.

A recreational drug is any substance that when inserted in the body alters the mood and behavior of the user in a way he considers desirable. Thus, while cannabis is a drug, so are alcohol, tobacco and coffee.

The issue here is the way we use language in everyday life. We call alcohol, tobacco and coffee by their own name, rather than “drugs”. That doesn’t mean they are not mind altering substances. In other words – drugs.

[Before I carry on I’d like to make a distinction between alcohol and tobacco or coffee. The level of mind altering in tobacco and coffee is very mild. Alcohol on the other hand had a very significant effect, as everyone who’ve seen someone drunk, or got drunk at least once in his life, knows. Thus while for the purpose of this article I will be comparing cannabis with alcohol, this doesn’t mean the others are not drugs as well.]

Most surveys given to drug addicts in trying to identify patterns on how they started abusing drugs till they became full blown addicts were conducted in the way most surveys are – through a questionnaire.

And here is the mistake. Since in everyday language we don’t refer to alcohol as a drug, when asked “What is the first drug you ever used?” most respondents replied with “cannabis” even if, in the absolute majority of cases, drinking alcohol preceded it.

So, what makes something a gateway drug?

When people use a substance that significantly alters their mood they learn a lesson. The lesson is simply that a short cut exists to arrive to the desired state of mind, if only for a while. As an example, while working on your self esteem and assertiveness is likely to take a long time and hard work, one can temporarily overcome shyness by drinking a few units of alcohol.

Most people just stop there. Others start using alcohol in most areas in their life and in turn become alcoholics. Others will try harder drugs, many of whom end up full blown drug addicts.

So, is cannabis a gateway drug?

There is no such think that makes any particular chemical a gateway drug. The “gateway drug” is nothing more than the first mind altering substance the addict had used. It can be anything, but most of the time it’s alcohol.

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