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Scientists Debunk Theory That Pot Is a Gateway Drug

Maureen Meehan

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Data from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 60 percent of pot users go on to try other drugs, which might seem to prove the “gateway” theory, except that 88 percent of drug users started with alcohol, according to several studies reported in The Atlantic.

Information published by Treatment4Addiction, which analyzed the government study, showed alcohol is more of a catalyst for trying new psychoactive substances, therefore preceding marijuana at the head of the chain.

“Gateway” is a problematic term in that marijuana use is not a tipping point but rather part of a process; this fact underscores a significant flaw of the gateway theory. Scientists tell us that correlation does not imply causation.

“Marijuana isn’t a ‘gateway’ to harder drugs in the same way that ordering an appetizer isn’t a ‘gateway’ to an entree: One comes before the other, but you’re eating both because you’re already at the restaurant,” The Atlantic explained.

Miriam Boeri, a sociology professor at Bentley University does not believe one type of drug use leads to another. In an article for The Conversation, she pointed out that poverty, mental illness and peer group pressure are all much stronger predictors of drug use.

Scientist Denise Kandel of Columbia University, who coined the term “gateway drug,” told NPR last week that she recently published a new paper on the topic, which shows nicotine is biologically the most potent gateway of all. When rodents were primed with nicotine, then given cocaine, they liked the cocaine much more.

In that case, the fact that e-cigarette use among teenagers has tripled in the past year, according to the Wall Street Journal, should be a much more worrisome trend.

Maureen Meehan is a New York-based writer, who has worked as a foreign correspondent for many years.

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