Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

Research against gateway hypothesis
Curiously enough, the studies refuting the gateway effect are even more impressive in number. Firstly, in 1999 the Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Health at the Institute of Medicine conducted a study “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base” and demonstrated the absence of correlation between the use of marijuana and the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs (at least on the basis of its physiological effect).

Later, in 2002, the British Journal of Addiction published a study on a mathematical model simulating adolescent drug use. Survey data gathered from representative samples of youths from different corners of the United States were matched in the model of national rates of cannabis and hard drug use. It has stated the gateway effect to be not the best explanation for the link between marijuana use and the use of harder drugs. “While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified,” Andrew Morral, the associate director of RAND’s Public Safety and Justice Unit and the leading author of the study shared (as cited in Tarter et al. 2006, 2134).

Two years later, in 2004, there was an interesting comparative analysis of the marijuana users in San Francisco and in Amsterdam. It is common knowledge that in the Netherlands marijuana is legalized and there everyone who has reached the age of 18 can easily go to the special (actually quasi-legal) “coffee bar” and enjoy cannabis alone or with his friends. It is a normal way to spend time, to relax and to entertain oneself there, and it has been surprisingly found out that in this country the levels of drug addiction have fallen after decriminalization of the hemp. The study on drug use patterns has revealed that San-Francisco cannabis users were essentially more likely to get addicted to cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, ecstasy, and other hard drugs. Thus, it can be concluded that not the cannabis, but being involved to the black market and to the underground industries is the factor of risk for those who get there. “The black market itself acts as a gateway to harder drugs, as opposed to the effects of cannabis per se,” Reinarman (2004, 841) suggests.

Speaking about the animal experiments, it would be rational to refer to the study of 3-4 month old rats, in which the individuals treated with vehicle only showed more reinforcing potential of cocaine than those who received THC (Tarter et al. 2006, 2133).

Apart from that, there was a study on the American adolescents finished in 2006. It took 12 years to explore the drug-related behavior of the 214 boys, initially aged from 10 to 12 years. In this study it was shown that the youth who used cannabis before using other drug substances, including alcohol and tobacco, were not likely to develop a substance abuse disorder. Ralph E. Tarter, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, stated that the gateway progression may be the most common pattern, but it’s certainly not the only order of drug use (Tarter 2006, 2136). The American Psychology Association provides even more evidence that very often the youth appear to use drugs just to protest the adults, and the louder the anti-drug messages, the stronger the protest. In addition, the inclination for harder drugs has been linked more confidently with the negative factors of neighborhood, poor physical environments, and lack of parental involvement on childhood. As Fritz & Rick Cusick (2010, 226) point explain, “Motivational externalism posits that situations motivate us to behave independently of our own judgment, and sometimes against our better judgment. On this account, using cannabis weakens resolve because of the situations cannabis consumption requires, not because the drug itself weakens resolve.”

After all, it has been stated that the word addiction is too fungible in modern American society. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a legalization advocacy group, has attracted public’s attention to the fact that marijuana does not cause the conventional symptoms of addiction like inability to cease using the drug, an unruly obsession with it and increased tolerance. On the contrary, the everyday use of marijuana is claimed to be as innocent as taking some wine in the evening. “Cannabis consumption does not lead to the sort of high that is pursued through the use of heroin or cocaine,” Fritz & Rick Cusick (2010, 232) point out. The points listed above all are widely considered to contribute to the legalization argumentation.

Marijuana is often referred to as a stepping stone to serious drug addiction. Sometimes the psychotic episodes associated with the marijuana habitual use are really daunting, but the gateway hypothesis is still challenged and there is no conclusive evidence to support the theory. While all the studies listed above make a stress on the gateway effect of taking cannabis, there are numerous works demonstrating the reverse effect, when, for example, more serious drugs have been widely used before turning to cannabis or alcohol. When the direct link is still noticeable, it is concluded that there are easier pieces of explanation why people tend to use light drugs before turning to harder drugs. The matter is, cannabis is usually more available at earlier age than other illicit drugs. And in that case the use of any substance become only the question of person’s will and desires, existing independently on spread drug patterns. What is more, the effects of marijuana are often compared with the outcomes of alcohol use, and the first is proved to be much less dangerous. The users of marijuana have proved to live longer and healthier lives than their alcohol addicted peers.

On the other hand, the really warning factor is the early exposure to the black market which itself can become the gateway to hell, that is to say to the world of serious drug addiction and crime. The matter is, the distributors of illicit drugs tend to be very careful with new clients, and thus marijuana is easier to require. Then, when one becomes a “patron”, he receives credit and can get access to more serious drugs. That is the true logical chain. Moreover, this client can get under the dangerous influence of the dealer even without a wish to proceed to other substances. But for dealer it turns out to be profitable to sell more expensive drugs, and thus he is interested to attract and to motivate the client. All in all, behavior modification is proved to be more effective prevention tactic than currently promoted anti-drug initiatives. Finally, it is a rational advice to determine creatively what is worthwhile in one’s own life and to follow that path in order to get away from hard drugs and to get toward them.

Agrawal, Arpana, Neale, Michael C., Prescott, Carol A., & Kendler, Kenneth S. (2004). A twin study of early cannabis use and subsequent use and abuse/dependence of other illicit drugs. Psychological Medicine, 34 (7), 1227”“1237.
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Ellgren, Maria, Spano, Sabrina M, & Hurd, Yasmin L (2006). Adolescent Cannabis Exposure Alters Opiate Intake and Opioid Limbic Neuronal Populations in Adult Rats. Neuropsychopharmacology, 32 (3), 607”“615.
Fritz, Dale Jacquette & Rick Cusick, Allhoff (2010). Cannabis ”“ philosophy for everyone: What were we just talking about. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Kershaw, Sarah & Cathcart, Rebecca (2009, July 17). Marijuana Is Gateway Drug for Two Debates. Media Awareness Project.
Nahas, G. (1976). Keep Off the Grass. Minneapolis: Reader’s Digest Press, distributed by Crowell.
Reinarman, C., Cohen, P. D. A., & Kaal, H. L. (2004). The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and in

San Francisco. American Journal of Public Health, 94 (5), 836”“42.

Tarter, R. E.; Vanyukov, M.; Kirisci, L.; Reynolds, M.; Clark, D. B. (2006). Predictors of Marijuana Use in Adolescents Before and After Licit Drug Use: Examination of the Gateway Hypothesis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163 (12), 2134”“2140.

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