The headlong rush to legalize and normalize the use of extremely potent cannabis in the United States appears to have previously unconfirmed dangers: A new study reported by MailOnline suggests pot is a gateway drug that increases users’ sensitivity to harder illegal substances like cocaine.
U.S. scientists found adolescent rats that had been pre-exposed to cannabis had a magnified reaction to their first dose of cocaine.
Exposure to psychoactive cannabinoids during adolescence was found to “prime” the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
Applied to humans, that means smoking lots of weed as a teenager makes one more sensitive to cocaine and can spur continued use and addiction.
That is, pot use during adolescence can intensify a person’s initial positive experience with a different drug, such as cocaine, leading to sustained use.
“This study suggests that teenagers who use cannabis may have a favourable initial reaction to cocaine,” explained study co-author Denise Kandel of Columbia University.
“[This will] increase their likelihood of engaging in its repeated use so that they eventually become addicted, especially if they carry additional environmental or genetic vulnerabilities.”
The researchers monitored the brains of adolescent and adult rats after giving them WIN – a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics the psychoactive effects of cannabis – followed by cocaine. Adolescent rats who had already been given cannabis had an enhanced reaction to their first exposure to cocaine, they found.
Cannabinoids targeted the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the area involved in decision making, self-control and moderating social behaviour.