A study published this week in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed scientific and medical journal, found that for some street youth in Vancouver, cannabis is a “reverse gateway drug.”
The study was conducted over two years, from 2017 to 2019, and focused on 56 “street-involved youth” in Vancouver. Researchers also interviewed youth-focused care providers.
The study found that young people “may use cannabis to reduce the harms caused by other forms of substance use and in order to transition away from more harmful forms of substance use.”
Researchers sought to examine “how young people understood, experienced and engaged with cannabis in the context of drug scene entrenchment and drug use trajectories that included the use of other substances, such as alcohol, fentanyl, heroin and meth.”
The majority of study participants, who had a median age of 21, said they consumed cannabis daily, usually while cycling on or off other drugs, primarily alcohol, opioids and meth.
During periods where the individuals were consuming cannabis, but no other substances, participants referred to themselves as being “sober” and “drug-free,” with all participants describing their cannabis use as a form of mental health and substance use treatment, rather than recreational.
Cannabis was frequently described as a treatment for depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and chronic pain, as well as a means to reduce the use of other drugs. “Many young people described cannabis as a means of intermittently reducing their use of or eliminating these more problematic forms of substance use,” the study notes.