Marijuana Isn't Gateway Drug to Heroin, Cocaine, Other Substances, Study Finds

Brandon Marshall
A new analysis finds that while marijuana legalization has led to higher rates of cannabis consumption in Colorado and other states with similar laws, there's no evidence that it's fueling abuse of more addictive drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

That's the conclusion of a just-issued report from LiveStories, which specializes in the analysis of civic data. LiveStories founder Adnan Mahmud summarizes the results like so: "We haven't found any strong correlation that suggests increased marijuana use leads to increases in other substance abuse."

Mahmud stresses, "We weren't looking for causation," as a scientific study might. "We were looking for a correlation. And we didn't find that was the case."

LiveStories is "the Bloomberg for civic data," Mahmud maintains. "We collect data about how people live: everything from the unemployment rate to income to rents to cancer rates to graduation rates — all the data we can find about quality of life. Then we bring it together and analyze it in connection to different topics. Last year, we did a massive analysis of the gender-pay gap around the country in different cities and looked at the opioid epidemic. And for this report, we decided to take a deep dive into marijuana legalization."

Specifically, the analysis looked at data from Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, all of which have legalized limited recreational marijuana sales, and then compared it to national averages. Data for the states was drawn from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Heath, and other sources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the report graphics reproduced here is this one, showing marijuana use in the past month for the previously mentioned four states.

As Mahmud points out, "We do see a spike in marijuana use in Colorado and other other states that's above the national average. But we're not seeing it replicated in other charts."

Take the number of heroin deaths in Colorado. It's a subject of great concern within the state, but Mahmud notes that the rate here is actually below the national average.

The same goes for the rate of opioid deaths in Colorado, as seen here.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

Latest Stories