Foreign Policy Blogs

Marijuana, the anti-gateway drug

Marijuana March (Porto Alegre, 2009)

One of the most widely believed myths about the harms of marijuana is that it leads to the use of more dangerous drugs. Drug policy experts have debunked this claim and time again, but the “gateway theory” still holds a certain amount of traction, not least because of the misinformation peddled by drug war proponents.

According to a new study carried out by the Federal University of Sao Paulo (UNIFESP), the gateway theory may be even more spurious than previously thought. In a radical experiment, UNIFESP psychiatrists treated 50 crack addicts with marijuana. (The patients also received counseling.) Among the trial group, 68% of the crack users switched to marijuana. Even more extraordinary, three years later the researchers found that of those users who had made the switch, not a single one was still using illegal drugs of any kind.

One would think that Brazil’s public health officials, encouraged by the success of the experiment, would have ordered follow-up trials. However, since marijuana is banned for medical use in Brazil, UNIFESP researchers had to pull the plug on the study.

We still don’t know whether or not this kind of treatment would have proven to be an effective, or even pragmatic, treatment for crack addiction, which has become an epidemic in Brazil. Due to the country’s senseless ban on medical marijuana, we may never find out.

Photo: Flickr user João Menna Barreto