Marijuana is not a gateway to harder drugs like heroin. But cannabis prohibition could lead to abusing dangerous substances, according to a Canadian brain researcher.

"I'd say the whole idea of cannabis being a gateway drug is a debunked thing at this point....I don't think there's any evidence to support that," Dr. Matthew Hill recently said during a cannabis panel at the University of Calgary, where he works as an assistant professor at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

He added that the erroneous 'gateway drug theory' probably arose because people who abuse hard drugs often experiment with alcohol and marijuana before trying other substances. 

"I would say most likely what you see is cannabis is more typically an entry level drug. Most people who start experimenting with substances don't just start with crystal meth or cocaine, for example. They're going to start with a more kind of socially acceptable substance like alcohol or cannabis."

He also suggested that cannabis prohibition, rather than cannabis itself poses a threat to public health. Buying cannabis on the street puts people at risk of coming into contacting with dangerous substances since the dealer who sells dime bags can easily push customers into trying harder drugs.  

"People go to a liquor store to get alcohol because it's a regulated substance," Hill explained. "But cannabis right now, because it's not legal, people turn to illicit means to access it typically, and by doing so, that may actually put them in the realm of access to other drugs they normally wouldn't have access to, or try."

Dr. Hill didn't endorse legalization during the panel. But based on his analysis, it seems clear that to reduce the number of people coming into contact with dangerous drugs, we need to get cannabis out of the back alleys and put it on the shelves of regulated pot shops. 

h/t CBC