Study Summary: Is Cannabis a Gateway Drug?

Updated: Jul 10

Welcome to the Higher Learning LV Study Summary series. These articles provide industry professionals with terse summaries of peer-reviewed research studies that help them navigate the rapidly evolving and hyper-competitive cannabis and hemp industries.


A 2018 literature review study entitled "Is Cannabis a Gateway Drug? Key Findings and Literature Review" that was published by the U.S. National Institute of Justice explored the topic of the influence of cannabis on the consumption of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.

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This detailed study observed that no scientific causal link has been identified between cannabis consumption and use of "hard drugs." "The existing statistical research and analysis show mixed results and do not clearly demonstrate scientific support for cannabis use leading to harder illicit drug use...no causal link between cannabis use and the use of other illicit drugs can be claimed at this time," reported the study.


This detailed study observed that no scientific causal link has been identified between cannabis consumption and use of "hard drugs."

The study offered many caveats to making assumptions on either side of this controversial topic. The researchers noted that additional research is necessary to better understand the dynamics of cannabis consumption and how it relates to drug use patterns.

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The study also reported that many of the existing studies on the topic feature significant flaws, one of which is self-reporting by study participants. "Many studies of human cannabis use are based on self-reported data from longitudinal or retrospective studies. This collection method is known to be inaccurate and biased, as subjects often cannot recall the details requested by the researchers or the study participants attempt to provide answers they believe reflect most favorably upon themselves," noted the study.


The study also reported that many of the existing studies on the topic feature significant flaws, one of which is self-reporting by study participants.

Another flaw of some of the past research regarding the cannabis gateway theory is participant bias. Reported the scientists, "Some of the studies derived biased data by sampling from heroin users, street youth, and other at-risk populations. As such, the results can only be applied to narrow sections of the overall population."


View the original study.


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