For decades, cannabis has been branded as a gateway drug. This description presumes that individuals who decide to use cannabis have an increased likelihood of developing a substance abuse problem. Some claims even state that the use of dangerous illegal drugs is nearly inevitable once a person uses cannabis.
However, a 12-year study from the University of Pittsburgh concludes that this label is contrary to actual facts. The study goes further by emphasizing environment plays a larger role in substance abuse than which substance a person uses. The study finds that weed is not a gateway drug and classifying it as such more likely stems from emotionally-charged rhetoric than analysis of fact.
Study Regarding Gateway Drug Claim
The research conducted was headed by Ralph Tarter, Ph.D., and was created to determine if any correlation existed between initial weed use and future substance abuse and addiction.
Researchers followed a group of males age 10-12 who would all eventually use legal or illegal drugs. When they reached age 22, the individuals were split into three groups: those who used only alcohol and tobacco, those who used alcohol and tobacco first then moved into marijuana usage, and finally people who used weed first followed by alcohol and tobacco. The investigation concluded that none of the subsets had any higher chance of developing a substance abuse problem.
However, there were better indicators of higher risk outside of drug choice. They examined 35 additional factors in the participants’ lives and found 3 to be significant in determining higher substance abuse probabilities. Those factors included living in poorer neighborhoods, growing up in areas with higher drug exposure, and being raised in households with little parental involvement. All of these factors imply that environment plays a more substantial role in substance abuse likelihood than any sort of gateway drug.
Common Sense Vindicated
I have long suspected underlying personal and environmental issues create drug abuse problems rather than the drugs themselves, and this study justifies my suspicions. Substance abuse is merely a symptom of deeper problems, and the drugs themselves are only filling that void (at least until addiction takes hold).
To label marijuana as a gateway drug and declare it an outright enemy is a path of ineffectiveness. If communities want to prevent addiction to harmful drugs, they need to attack the root of the problem. The real enemy is a crumbling environment, and solving the problem is carried out by raising awareness about the true causes of drug abuse and helping to strengthen the bonds and environment that young people grow up in.