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Is marijuana really a gateway drug?

Posted on 05-29-15 in Addiction, Alcohol Abuse

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Many people have argued over the idea that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” meaning it can put someone on the fast track to abusing harder drugs. However, results from numerous studies show that there are valid points to the other side of this debate. These studies researched how drug and alcohol users progressed to other drugs.

The 2012 National Survey on Drug and Health showed that 60 percent of weed smokers go on to experiment with other drugs, which, when seen alone, would imply that it is a gateway drug. On the other hand, 88 percent of the drug users participating in the study started using substances with alcohol. One could argue that marijuana normally precedes other hard drug use, which in most cases, would be a correct assumption, but there are two sides to the story. Marijuana use does typically precede hard drug abuse, but it has not shown to be the actual cause of it. A publication featured in the Institute of Medicine titled “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Base Science” suggested that marijuana does normally precede other illegal drug use, but it is not in fact the first actual drug that users try in most cases. The study states “there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effect of marijuana is causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

Olga Khazan of The Atlantic notes that roughly half of alcohol drinkers do not use any other substances beyond booze. Additionally, 40 percent of marijuana smokers stop at marijuana. Khazan also notes that alcohol shows to be fairly effective in shifting drinkers towards using marijuana, with roughly a third of drinkers choosing to try marijuana after trying alcohol.

Another contributor to this pattern could perhaps be cultural. A publication in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2010, researched drug use patterns across 17 countries. It showed that different countries had different patterns of drug use along the “gateway” path. For example, participants from Japan reported using harder drugs before trying marijuana. The author also suggested that limiting access to marijuana might not have any effect on heroin and cocaine experimentation. Another study researching heroin users in Japan found that marijuana was used by only 4.5 percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 29 years old.

One report from the Rand Drug Policy Research Center titled “What Can We Learn from the Dutch Cannabis Coffeeshop Experience?” looked into how the Dutch community reacted to marijuana use in relation to trying other illicit drugs. The report found that only 15 out of 100 Dutch cannabis smokers had tried cocaine. This rate was lower than that of other countries where marijuana is illegal.

Continuing the discussion

Marijuana’s role as the “gateway drug” can be debated along many lines. As prevalent as it is, it still has shown little proof of being the actual cause of further drug experimentation or even drug addiction. Studies like the 2012 National Survey on Drug and Health would suggest that alcohol could be considered the actual gateway to using hard drugs.

Gateway drug or not, the presence of marijuana still has a role in the progression of drug abuse in the United States. Whether or not it sparks up the urge to try harder drugs is still up for debate. Drug addiction is a complex disease comprising numerous biological, psychological and social factors that contribute to its development.

Sovereign Health Group is among the premier drug addiction treatment centers in the country and offers various inpatient and outpatient programs for patients struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. If you know someone who is struggling with drug addiction and is in need of treatment, please contact us at 866-754-3385. One of our treatment specialists will assist you in finding the right treatment options for you.