U.S.: Yet Another Scientific Study Debunks Marijuana Gateway Theory
By Steve Elliott
Yet another scientific study has been added to the mountain of evidence debunking to so-called "gateway theory," which maintains that marijuana use leads to harder drugs.
Teens instead smoke cannabis for very specific reasons, researchers report in the new study, and it is those same reasons which sometimes prompt them to try other drugs, reports Dennis Thompson at HealthDay News.
Youths who use marijuana because they are bored, for example, are more likely to also use cocaine, while kids using weed to achieve insight or understanding are more likely to try psilocybin mushrooms, according to the findings, recently published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
"We found that marijuana use within itself wasn't a risk factor for use of other drugs," said lead author Joseph Palamar, assistant professor in the department of population health at New York University's Langone Medical Center. "People do generally use marijuana before other drugs, but that doesn't marijuana is a cause of [using] those other drugs."
The researchers based their conclusions on data gathered from Monitoring the Future, on ongoing study of the behaviors of American high school students. About 15,000 high school seniors are questioned each year.
This analysis focused on high school seniors surveyed between 2000 and 201 who had reported using cannabis within the past year. Researchers also reported the teens' self-reported use of eight other illegal drugs, including powder cocaine, crack, heroin, LSD, other psychedelics, amphetamines, tranquilizers and other narcotics.
Nearly a third of the teens said they use marijuana to address boredom. Those teens were 43 percent more likely to try cocaine and 56 percent more likely to try a psychedelic drug other than LSD, the researchers found.
About one-fifth said they used cannabis to achieve insight or understanding, and this reason correlated with being 51 percent more likely to try a psychedelic other than LSD.
Teens who said they used cannabis "to experiment" actually had a decreased risk of using any of the eight other drugs, researchers found.
Palamar said this indicates that teens who say they're trying cannabis just to try it, rather than to meet some other need, are often at low risk for moving on to other substances.
"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," he said.
"We need to address the reasons why people use, the drives that lead people to use," Palamar 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."
"No matter what drug we're talking about, motivations are really important," agreed Marcia Lee Taylor, president and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. "We need to understand what is motivating a teen to use if we want to know how to prevent it."
The study results aren't surprising, according to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Science has consistently shown that environmental factors, such as ready access to other illicit substances, and personal traits, such as a propensity toward risk-seeking behavior, are associated with the decision to move from marijuana to other illicit substances.
"But marijuana's drug chemistry likely does not play a significant role, if any role, in this decision," Armentano said.