Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

young woman looking at camera

Family members often ask our marijuana addiction treatment center in Lehigh Valley if marijuana is likely to precede other illicit substances. For example, one study from the National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol Use found that adults who reported marijuana use were more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder than those who didn’t use the drug. 

Now that marijuana is legal in many states, many people admit having a hard time enforcing and reinforcing the dangers of the drug. As this article points out, society is becoming more accepting of marijuana, but parents still don’t want their kids using the drug. Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to balance societal norms with personal norms. 

Let’s look closer at the reasons why marijuana is sometimes considered a gateway drug, and why there may be more to the theory than the substance itself. 

The Gateway Drug Theory

The gateway drug theory suggests that using marijuana could potentially lead individuals to experiment with harder, more dangerous substances. This theory gained prominence during the 20th century and became a foundation for anti-marijuana campaigns. However, it’s essential to scrutinize this theory in the light of modern research.

Numerous scientific studies have attempted to establish a link between marijuana use and subsequent drug use. While some early studies seemed to support the gateway drug theory, more recent and comprehensive research has challenged these assumptions. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that the majority of marijuana users do not go on to use harder drugs. 

Additionally, factors like genetics, environment and mental health play significant roles in an individual's susceptibility to drug use. Poverty, lack of education and limited access to healthcare also play a role, as they can create an environment where individuals are more likely to experiment with drugs, regardless of whether they have used marijuana before. 

Do Marijuana Users Crave Other Drugs? 

Researchers use animal studies to gather critical information on human behavior. One rodent study found that using marijuana at an early age can dull the brain’s reward center. This tolerance can increase the chance of developing other addictions. Another animal study explains how using one substance can enhance the response to another substance (cross-sensitization). 

However, we do not know how things look for humans. And while it’s true that marijuana correlates with harder drug use, it also correlates with alcohol and tobacco. What this likely indicates is that the factors that lead people to use marijuana can easily drive them to use another substance as well.

Real Risks of Marijuana Use 

While the gateway theory cannot be proven, other effects from the drug can. Marijuana use is increasing, so it’s important to be aware of the real risks, especially for teens:

  • Lower IQ scores and grades in school 
  • More likely to develop depression or anxiety 
  • Reduced resiliency in young adulthood 
  • Lower initiative 
  • Higher risk of developing a marijuana addiction 
  • Impaired driving 
  • Greater risk for temporary psychosis 

Marijuana Addiction Treatment Center in Lehigh Valley 

Connections are present between marijuana use and the later use of harder drugs, but this relationship is complex and may not be causal. Connections and causations are not the same, and most people who use marijuana do not go on to use harder drugs. However, there are real risks associated with marijuana use, including problems with memory and learning, problems with school and social life and the potential for addiction. 

If you or a loved one is using marijuana, it’s important to take it seriously. Chances are, this drug is being used as a way to cope or numb painful emotions, which can ultimately lead to greater substance use. Contact Recovery Cove at 484-549-COVE to learn more about our approach to treating marijuana addiction and stopping the cycle of drug and alcohol use.