Marijuana could be an “exit drug”

Via New Mexico Independent An often heard assertion about marijuana is that it’s a “gateway drug,” one that leads young people into using more dangerous drugs over time. But new research and programs are now examining its potential as an exit drug.

A recent study of a medical marijuana patients group found that a significant number of them were using the drug as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs

Forty percent have used cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, 26% as a substitute for illicit drugs and 66% as a substitute for prescription drugs. The most common reasons given for substituting were: less adverse side effects (65%), better symptom management (57%), and less withdrawal potential (34%) with cannabis.


The study reported in the Harm Reduction Journal focused more specifically on the use of marijuana as a treatment of alcoholism. A study of 92 medical marijuana patients using the drug as a substitute for alcohol found that marijuana was an effective treatment in 100 percent of the cases:

When addressing the efficacy of cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, all participants reported cannabis substitution as very effective (50%) or effective (50%). Ten percent of the patients reported being abstinent from alcohol for more than a year and attributed their success to cannabis. Twenty one percent of patients had a return of alcoholic symptoms when they stopped using cannabis. Reasons for stopping the cannabis use ranged from entering the armed forces to being arrested for using cannabis.

The use of marijuana as a “harm reduction” strategy in addiction and mental health services is being tested at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, CA., in a program funded by the area’s largest medical marijuana dispensary. Harm Reduction Clinical Consultant Jennifer Janichek explained to the East Bay Express that harm reduction philosophy is that people will engage in risky behavior, so a focus should be on reducing the harm associated with those risks. Examples are needle exchanges, condom disbursements, and seat belt laws. And now, maybe “a little pot over a lot of OxyContin.”

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