Monday, July 17, 2006

Daily Mail Science Proves Cannabis is a Gateway to Harder Drugs

This article from the Daily Mail, published on the 14th July 2006, reports the results of a study published in Neuropsychopharmocology which concludes that cannabis damages the adolescent brain, making it more susceptible to hard drug use later in life. Rats given THC in adolescent years were more likely to self-administer large quantities of heroin than rats which were not given THC during adolescence. The research also found "disturbances" of the endogenous opiod system or reward system of the brain. The conclusion of the study provides unfortunate ammunition to anti-drugs campaigner by focusing narrowly on the detrimental physiological effects of the drug. This type of narrow, editorial focus all too often blinds opinion-formers to the wider social, political AND physiological harms caused by prohibition.
This article, from 6th July 2006 in Science Now Magazine ( quotes the researchers of the above study stating "both groups of animals took the same amount of time to start taking heroin, suggesting THC use doesn't start them on the path to hedonism, but the THC-primed rats got more into it, suggesting it paves the way for increased use." This would therefore seem to refute the case pressed by the Daily Mail that THC consumption is a gateway to harder drugs.


daksya said...

Rats given THC in adolescent years were more likely to self-administer large quantities of heroin than rats which were not given THC during adolescence.

Actually, this study neither proves the gateway, nor 'increased use' either.

Both group of rates took the same amount of time to get started on heroin. The control group were more sensitive to heroin i.e. got similarly high with a smaller dose. Both groups became equally addicted, but the THC group stablilized on a higher maintenance dose as they were less sensitive, hence "more likely to self-administer large quantities of heroin".

Here's an interview with the lead author in ScienceNOW.

This image shows what happened when the rats were disconnected from the lever:


The control group was more eager to get the drug source back!

Mark Pawelek said...

You could take this as anti-pot propaganda. Much of that would be in the interpretation of the research by editors and journalists.

However Yasmin Hurd has an interest in furthering such propaganda as it gives her new department (she is the big honcho there) more publicity. See: Mt. Sinai School of Medicine regarding her new role.

If her research is misinterpreted she's partly responsible. She should be writing furious emails and letters claiming that her research has been misinterpreted!

What's wrong with these ideas?

The original gateway theory was that people who smoked pot would be more likely to try heroin. Having tried heroin they'd become instant addicts; because as we're all told - just one fix of smack gets you addicted for life.

The research shows that rats sensitized to pot will like heroin even more when they finally get it. But there are several problems here:

a) Rats given heroin like it anyway (whether or not they've been previously sensitized with pot). They're rats - they don't know what's happening. They don't know that taking heroin regularly eventually leads to a habit. The poor rats don't even know what a habit is.

b) Most pot smokers probably don't ever try heroin and those that do will OR will not develop their heroin habits entirely independently of prior sensitization; depending upon whether they have the common sense to avoid heavy use of a drug known to be about as addictive as drugs come. Our common sense, telling us to moderate our drug use, is far more important than any prior-sensitisation acting upon our instincts.

Prohibitionists have redefined the very meaning of their gateway theory but they're still using the same term. This has a dual purpose. It implies that the original gateway theory from the 1960s is valid and it gives spurious validity to the new research by associating it with a now, rejuvenated, gateway theory.

Anonymous said...

If the rats accustomed to THC required larger doses of heroin to be satisfied than controls, does that not imply that cannabis increases tolerance to heroin?

If cannabis increases tolerance to heroin, then, pharmacologically, cannabis users are less likely to become heroin addicts than
non-cannabis users, yes?