Study Debunks “Gateway Theory” About Marijuana

By Veronica Morgan

The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse have published a report that vindicates marijuana as a gateway drug.

Joseph Palamar, the lead author of the study, is an assistant professor at New York University Langone Medical Center’s Depart of Population Health. Palamar explained, “We found that marijuana use within itself wasn’t a risk factor for use of other drugs.” He further clarified, “People do generally use marijuana before other drugs, but that doesn’t mean marijuana is a cause of [using] those other drugs.”

Researchers found that teenagers smoke pot for very different reasons. Some are looking strictly for a high, or smoke out of boredom. Those teens were more likely to experiment with cocaine. High school students who were seeking enlightenment or spirituality are more inclined to progress to magic mushrooms.

The research analysis was based on data collected from Monitoring the Future, which polls high school seniors nationwide. This data was collected between 2000 and 2011 based on approximately 15,000 high school seniors who claimed to have smoked pot during the 12-month period prior to their assessment.

Research showed teen use of eight illegal drugs, which were self-reported. Those drugs include amphetamines, cocaine, crack, heroin, LSD (and other psychedelics), tranquilizers and other narcotics not prescribed to them.

  • Those teens that self-identified as “experimental” pot smokers had a decreased risk for using any of the eight drugs others self reported.
  • Those who claimed to use marijuana to relieve boredom amounted to approximately 1/3 of the focus group. These students were more likely to try cocaine in 43% of cases.
  • A majority of 51% were likely to try hallucinogens like LSD.
  • One in ten teens reported they used cannabis to enhance the effects of other drugs. The finding showed no preference for which drug(s) they might try.
  • Nearly 1/5 of students said they were seeking enlightenment. Of those, 51% said they were open to trying other hallucinogens, other than LSD.

“Most teens who use marijuana don’t progress to use of other drugs, and we believe this is evidenced in part by the fact that nearly two-thirds of these marijuana-using teens did not report use of any of the other illicit drugs we examined,” Palamar noted. He cautioned, saying that experimentation does not mean kids will be immune to trying other drugs, but there is no direct correlation that proves cannabis is a gateway drug.

“We need to address the reasons why people use, the drives that lead people to use,” he said. “The majority of adults in the U.S. have at least tried marijuana, and we know the majority has never gone on to use another drug, yet we tend to treat all drug use as pathological.”

Marcia Lee Taylor is the president and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids concurred. “No matter what drug we’re talking about, motivations are really important. We need to understand what is motivating a teen to use if we want to know how to prevent it.”

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