Is Marijuana Really a Gateway Drug?


One of the most common arguments against legalizing marijuana has always been that it is a “gateway drug,” meaning that using marijuana will eventually lead to using harder and more dangerous drugs. This logic has led to a stigma on the drug, which its users and some experts claim is “safer than alcohol” for decades. The question at hand is whether this argument is valid or if there is truth behind the theory that once you’ve gotten into pot, you’re likely to end up on a lot more.

Marijuana is the most widely used of all illegal drugs in the United States, though not typically believed to be terribly destructive on its own. Most experts agree that the drug does not pose as serious a danger to public health as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine and is not a drug on which someone can overdose. In more recent years, there has been a renewed interest in legalizing the drug now that is has proven legitimate for medicinal purposes and is now legal with a prescription in 13 states. Marijuana (technically cannabis) is most commonly prescribed to ease nausea, stimulate hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients, treat glaucoma by lowering intraocular eye pressure and treat some gastrointestinal illnesses.

Marijuana used today can be up to five times more potent than the pot used in the 1970s, which leads to concerns that modern marijuana may be more addictive than society generally believes. This concern is supported by the fact that the number of individuals seeking treatment for marijuana addiction has gone up by 4 percent over the last ten years while the number seeking treatment for other addictions like alcohol and cocaine has actually declined. There is also fear that marijuana may be causing unknown damage to teenage brains, which are still in a developmental state. Dr. Richard N. Rosenthal, chairman of psychiatry at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, claims that chronic marijuana users do not have the same lives as non-users or casual users, implying a long-term negative effect on quality of life.

So, is marijuana a gateway drug, or isn’t it? Unfortunately, the answer depends on who you ask, or rather which study sways your opinion the furthest. Those who oppose the use of marijuana tend to point toward studies like the one conducted in Australia in 2010. The study recruited 2,000 school children and tracked them over ten years. The study found that children who used cannabis occasionally at the age of 13 and 14 were more likely to use harder drugs, like ecstasy, cocaine or amphetamines, at the age of 24. Even light users were affected since the study showed that 33 percent of teens who used marijuana lightly were taking harder drugs in their twenties, as opposed to just 11 percent for those who had not used cannabis at all during their teens. The research also showed that 15 percent of the light marijuana-using teens became addicted to alcohol by early adulthood, as compared with 9 percent of those who had not used marijuana in their teenage years.

People in favor of legalizing marijuana (or at least lowering the criminal penalties for its possession and use) point to studies like the 12 year study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh. The study intended to determine whether marijuana was truly a gateway drug. The study tracked 214 boys, beginning at the ages of 10 -12, for 12 years, specifically observing the boys’ behavior and drug use (both legal and illegal). The researchers at the University of Pittsburgh reached the conclusion that there was not much evidence to support the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug. The research showed that while some of the boys began using marijuana before tobacco and alcohol, others actually used alcohol and tobacco first, and neither group showed a greater or more reduced likelihood of developing a substance abuse problem or using other illicit drugs. Another piece of data that marijuana supporters believe refutes the “gateway drug” theory comes from actual drug use statistics. In Time, John Cloud asserts that the only significant measured increase in the use of drugs recently ”came from the growing ranks of pot smokers.” He stated that cocaine use had actually gone down, prescription drug abuse ”has been flat since 2007″ and ”the rate at which we use methamphetamine” went “unchanged.” His implication would seem to be that increased marijuana use, if it were a true gateway drug, should lead to increases in other drug use, but apparently it doesn’t.

Whether or not marijuana use is a gateway to the use of other, more damaging drugs is still a subject of much debate and there are plenty of good arguments on both sides. Hopefully, research will give us a more definitive answer in the near future, as this debate continues to intensify.

This post article was written by Gregg Gustafson who is a freelance writer and consultant for Gustafson works with many individuals who suffer from both long and short term drug abuse, in turn; those in great need are referred to some of the most prestige residential drug rehab centers active today.