”While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified.” – RAND’s Public Safety and Justice unit, 2002
One of the longest standing marijuana myths is that of the “gateway theory.” This is the theory that marijuana is considered a “gateway drug” which means its use will lead users, unintentionally and irrevocably, into the clutches of harder and more dangerous drugs. The reality is that this theory has been, time and again, disproven by just about every legitimate study conducted on the topic. It would seem that this concept is only alive today, due to its relentless revitalization by those intent on continuing marijuana prohibition. Yet, many continue to be swayed by its proclaimer’s continued focus on the only valid point in the argument: the correlation between marijuana use and harder drug use later in life… now stay with me here, and I will explain why this is a fallacy.
Myth #5 – Marijuana Leads to harder drugs – “Gateway Theory”
The problem with using this correlation as the sole foundation on the argument of the “gateway theory” is that correlation is not causation. A great example given in Time Magazine elaborates on that statement:
“Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang members are probably 104 times more likely (comparing to an earlier reference) to have ridden a bicycle as a kid than those who don’t become Hell’s Angels, but that doesn’t mean that riding a two-wheeler is a “gateway” to joining a motorcycle gang. It simply means that most people ride bikes and the kind of people who don’t are highly unlikely to ever ride a motorcycle.”
Marijuana is the most commonly used “drug” in the United States. The most recent poll showed that 52% of people in America have tried marijuana. With that fact in mind, consider for a moment how easy it would be to show a correlation between any common practice and marijuana use. Most illicit drug users will likely have used marijuana in the course of their abuse simply because of the prevalence of marijuana. However, a study by the National Household Survey indicated that 79% of regular marijuana users do not use any other illicit drug. Nearly 85% of everybody in this country that uses any form of illicit substance whatsoever, uses solely marijuana. According to The National Cannabis Coalition:
“There are about 16.1 million monthly users of marijuana and only 287,000 monthly users of heroin. Not only do most people who try marijuana never move on to heroin, the vast majority of them don’t even continue smoking marijuana.”
This is the same conclusion that every legitimate study comes to when evaluating the validity of the “gateway theory.” Despite the fact that most illicit drug users have smoked marijuana, the vast majority of marijuana users have never used another illicit substance. Scientists long ago abandoned the idea that marijuana causes users to try other drugs. In a report commissioned by Congress to investigate the possible dangers of medical marijuana, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences wrote:
“Patterns in progression of drug use from adolescence to adulthood are strikingly regular. Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana — usually before they are of legal age.”
Research is beginning to suggest that focusing on marijuana as the key to preventing future drug abuse is like “closing the doors after the horses have already left the barn.” Marijuana use among adolescents appears to be a symptom of problem behavior, not a cause.
“There seems to be this idea that we can prevent later drug problems by making sure kids never smoke pot, but whether marijuana smokers go on to use other illicit drugs depends more on social factors like being exposed to stress and being unemployed – not so much whether they smoked a joint in the eighth grade.” -Dr. Karen Van Gundy, associate professor of sociology
People make their choices day-to-day based on a combination of reaction, desire and necessity. It is becoming clear that the usual precursor of potential drug use in adolescence is in fact instability, stress and violence in their life. These, along with alcohol and cigarettes, have been shown to be the true “gateway” into future illicit drug use, if any such concept even truly exists. However, the idea that any one interaction can set a person on an irreversible path of drug abuse, may be possible, but a little far-fetched. It is interesting how the correlation between alcohol or cigarettes, and illicit drug use, is a much higher number than that of marijuana. Alcohol and cigarettes can cause much more damage to the body, yet it is marijuana that takes the focus, ask yourself why that is. Seventy one percent of illicit drug users smoke cigarettes and 17.6 million people, or one in every 12, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S.
The idea of a “gateway theory” in and of itself is a concept with little factual stability that refuses to die, lingering from the days of “Reefer Madness” and sensationalist claims when there was no Internet to quickly dispel them. It is a way for people to place the blame of their poor decisions onto a substance that cannot answer back. To place the guilt on the evil plant that “made them do it.” Despite the years of factual evidence disproving the idea of this theory, government officials continue to make claims to the evils of the “gateway” drug, marijuana. These myths will only dissipate if the public educates themselves and chooses to speak out against the unfounded claims. One can hope, that as more studies draw attention to the archaic and misguided ideas once held about this plant, that the truth will find its way into the minds of even the most dedicated anti-marijuana crusaders. One more myth: DEBUNKED.
Originally published October 25, 2015
Myth #1 – Marijuana is More Harmful Than Alcohol, Tobacco and Prescription Drugs
Myth #2 – Marijuana is Addictive
Myth #3 – Marijuana Causes Schizophrenia
Myth #4 – Marijuana Has no Proven Medical Benefits
Myth #5 – Marijuana Use Leads to Harder Drugs – “Gateway Theory”
Myth #6 – Marijuana Causes Memory Loss and a General Reduction in Logic
Myth #7 – Marijuana Contains Over 400 Chemicals
Myth #8 – Marijuana Has Yet to be Subjected to Adequate Scientific Study
Myth #9 – The Marijuana Movement is Just an Excuse for People to get High
Myth #10 – Opposition to Marijuana Legalization is Driven Entirely by Cautious Prudence
Sources: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/marijuana-a-gateway-drug-scientists-call-theory-half-baked/, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-09/uonh-rom083110.php, http://www.theweedblog.com/debunking-the-marijuana-is-a-gateway-drug-theory/,http://healthland.time.com/2010/10/29/marijuna-as-a-gateway-drug-the-myth-that-will-not-die/, http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ccp/68/1/19/