Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

Marijuana has long been called a gateway drug, meaning that its use often leads to abusing other drugs. It’s been one of the arguments against cannabis use for decades, but is there any truth to it? There certainly have been plenty of people who are addicted to harder and more dangerous drugs who started out smoking marijuana with their friends, but there are also just as many people who smoke pot but will never try anything harder.

What is a Gateway Drug?

If we really want to decide whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug, we should first define what a gateway drug is. Basically, a gateway drug is any substance that is easy to get and is perceived to be less dangerous than other drugs. According to the gateway drug theory, you would start out by using seemingly safe substances such as marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco and become more comfortable with drug use. As you start to feel like drug use isn’t that bad, you might start to experiment with other substances.

Eventually, you become addicted to those harder substances. You’re now a drug addict, and it all started when you took one puff of marijuana. That’s how the theory goes, anyway. It’s based on research that dates back at least to 1975 and is still used as one of the main arguments against marijuana use. When we look at the evidence, there may be some truth to the theory.

After all, a young person who has never tried any illicit substances is far more likely to start out smoking pot or drinking alcohol than they are to use cocaine or crystal meth. Marijuana is legal to use in parts of the country, and it’s still seen as relatively harmless even where it hasn’t been legalized. It’s also relatively easy to obtain, making it even more likely to be someone’s first drug.

And yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that marijuana is a gateway drug for everyone. It is possible that it can prime young brains and bodies to be willing to accept harder substances, but there are likely more factors at play for people who do move on to other drugs. For example, if someone has to resort to buying marijuana from a drug dealer, they might know other dealers who might offer them harder substances.

They might also have friends who use harder drugs and who might encourage them to experiment as well. In this case, the harder drug use has less to do with marijuana being a gateway drug and more to do with that person’s peer group. Other factors such as genetics and mental health issues may also be at play when it comes to harder drug use and addiction. Someone with these issues might start out with marijuana, but it’s likely other factors that drive them to more dangerous substances.

Not a Proven Theory

While there is certainly evidence that marijuana is a gateway drug, there’s not enough to prove the theory true. After all, most people who use marijuana never progress to using anything more dangerous, and the states where marijuana use is legal have had fewer instances of accidental drug overdose in recent years. It is possible that marijuana use will lead to an addiction to something harder in some people, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Everyone is unique, and those who abuse drugs have their own reasons for doing so regardless of how much pot they smoke.

In some cases, marijuana might be a gateway drug, but you don’t have to assume that all young people who smoke pot will move on to meth or cocaine before long. It is certainly something to monitor, though. If you suspect that someone you know has a drug problem, encourage them to reach out to us and seek treatment. They might never do anything more than smoke marijuana with friends on occasion, but know that there is help available to them if they develop a more serious problem. Call us at 833-497-3812.