Trauma is a Gateway Drug

Alcohol, Cannabis, trauma?

Cannabis, or marijuana, has been deemed the “gateway” drug for years, carrying the stigma that its use is a pathway for potential abuse/use of “harder drugs”. Although the studies have shown that alcohol as the actual gateway drug Cannabis is still attributed to drug use.

What is hardly mentioned is the fact that trauma, sustained over long periods of time, actually alters the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for risk taking behaviors, moral judgement and reasoning.

If drug use is a risk-taking behavior, and we know that trauma is an indicator for premature risk taking, how can we start to change the direction of conversation to healing trauma as a preventative measure for drug use?

The war on drugs was a strategic move to control communities of color and the social environment. The casualties caused by the war on drugs is tragic. Annually we spend $51 billion incarcerating former drug offenders and another $600 billion on drug treatment caused by drug prohibitions which leads to development of the illegal market (I.e. cartels, gangs etc) and henceforth, distribution.

To summarize a long story, if we understand that:

1.) systemic trauma is real

2.) trauma is a precursor to drug use

3.) drug use is mainly a result of trauma

4.) communities hit with systemic marginalization are more likely to experience trauma

5.) prohibition creates the illegal market

…then it is safe to say that systemic racism and oppression are a drain on resources, perpetuate drug use/abuse and the illegal market.

The war on drugs and the multifaceted disenfranchisement that concurred set the stage for concentric cycles of trauma to set in and shape the lives of these people lost in a land unfit for them. The 40-year drug war is not only a strategic goal to control communities of color. It set the tone for mass incarceration, the foster care system and the current state of our failed education system.

What direct services providers should understand is that trauma does have racial influence, drug use does have traumatic influence and programs should be designed around these factors. What lawmakers should understand before they continue to criminalize drug use is that the drug war is propaganda, and prohibition is expensive and does not lead anywhere. Drug use/abuse should be looked at as a public health concern and not an issue of moral inferiority.

Daisy Ozim is the Director of Resilient Wellness, an alternative health cooperative designed to provide health services to marginalized communities and the social justice practitioners that serve them.