Marijuana isn’t a gateway drug and doesn’t increase aggression

In a recent Daily Caller article entitled “Why  we shouldn’t legalize marijuana,” The Heritage Foundation’s Charles Stimson  urges voters to avoid ending cannabis prohibition. However, Stimson has been  badly misinformed and his arguments are based on a serious misreading of the  scientific evidence. His first sentence suggests that cannabis is an addictive  gateway drug. Real research, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journals  mentioned below, says otherwise. In fact, numerous polls of scientists and  extensive research on humans and animals reveal that the plant’s addictive  potential is less than that of caffeine. (See Nutt et al., 2007 in the respected  medical journal Lancet and Gore and Earleywine’s chapter in the Oxford  University Press book Pot Politics). No study has ever  suggested that 30% of those who try it become dependent.

The notion that cannabis is a gateway drug has been so roundly disputed that  modern scientific journals rarely publish work on this issue anymore. Most  people who try the plant not only do not go on to use hard drugs, they do not  even go on to use the plant regularly. Many who use hard drugs do so before they  try cannabis, and the vast majority of those who try cannabis have never even  seen hard drugs. (See Blaze-Temple and Lo, 1992, in The British Journal of  Addiction as one of many, many examples.) In fact, a study  published in the August issue of The Journal of School Health asserts  that it is actually alcohol use that is a predictor for progression to harder  drugs.

The thought that marijuana increases aggression is also in error, as has been  established for decades. Laboratory research shows that those who have recently  ingested the plant are no more aggressive than those who ingested a placebo,  even when they are provoked. (See Myerscough and Taylor, 1985, in The  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Taylor et al., 1976 in  the journal Aggressive Behavior.) Once the legal drug alcohol is taken  into account, there is no link between cannabis and hostility. (See Denson and  Earleywine, 2008 in The Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment &  Trauma.)

Stimson’s other misstatements and half-truths also lack empirical support,  but I’m sure you get the idea. I have occasionally admired The Heritage  Foundation’s support for free markets, individual liberties and smaller  government. Surely these people do not want to jail citizens for owning a plant.  An educated voter is the best kind. Let’s make sure no one is misinformed before  casting a ballot on this, or any, issue.

Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the State  University of New York at Albany

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