Gateway Drug Hypothesis | Drug War Facts

The stepping stone theory is really a stepping stone hypothesis. And it’s one for which there is a lack of evidence that any such sequence is causal. The public widely believes the theory. But most research scientists don’t. That’s because of the lack of evidence supporting any causal relationship.

The Gateway Theory: Marijuana Use and Other Drug ..

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The Gateway Hypothesis of substance abuse: …

In sum, an objective reading of the literature examining the MGH and considering the findings from the research presented above leads to the conclusion that marijuana is not really a gateway drug. For the MGH to hold water, there should be more consistent and stronger associations to harder drug use. There is strong support for sequencing, however sequencing is not causal. Moreover, the most rigorous empirical evidence shows little to no causal gateway effects. As such, any public policy that prohibits the use of marijuana in an attempt to curb hard drug use is unlikely to succeed. Additionally, policymakers should consider the negative and unintended consequences of making a criminal out of an otherwise law abiding pot smoker, such as difficulty securing employment and an increased risk of committing future crimes. Former President Carter once said, “the penalty for drug possession should not be more harmful to an individual than the use of the drug itself.” This is certainly true for marijuana.

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Throughout the discussions conducted by Kandel, Johnston, and their colleagues social rather than biological factors dominate the analysis. The connection between marijuana use and other drug use is a function of set and setting, not a function of the pharmacological properties of the drug. As Brady pointed out in section 5, if you want to influence decisions about the use of some drugs, circumstances can be arranged. The paramount issue is whether or not the pharmacological properties of the drug outweigh the influence of set and setting. This is certainly not the case with marijuana, and this will be discussed in more detail in section 7. The addictive qualities of nicotine, by contrast, are a factor that outweighs or at least rivals the influence of set and setting -- note the persistence of cigarette use found in Chen and Kandel's 1995 report.

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The development of the gateway drug hypothesis can be traced ..

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In a related article, Yamaguchi and Kandel conclude that "the probability that individuals who never use marijuana will initiate the use of other illicit drugs is very low."(17) They conclude that teenagers are especially at risk to drug abuse if they begin to use marijuana. The dangers have less to do with marijuana itself than with use of marijuana by adolescents.

The gateway hypothesis of substance abuse ..

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That said, there have been a number of peer reviewed studies published in scientific journals that have used proper methods and data analytics to investigate the MGH and found support for the argument. For example, Wayne Hall and Michael Lynskey suggested that in animal studies heavy cannabis use primes the brain to be pharmacologically receptive to other illicit drugs, thereby increasing the likelihood of harder drug use. However, alcohol and tobacco have similar priming effects. Additionally, David Fergusson and colleagues employed a sophisticated statistical method to test the MGH and found an association between heavy marijuana use and a marginal increased risk of subsequent illicit drug use. The study did find support for sequencing, but the authors concluded they could not establish causality. More recently, Monica Deza also found strong support for sequencing concluding that marijuana was a common “stepping stone” to harder drugs. However, the study also found that alcohol was the “stepping stone” to marijuana use. In a the National Institute on Drug Abuse concluded there is strong evidence for sequencing, i.e., that marijuana use precedes hard drug use. The report also concluded that sequencing goes farther back. That is, alcohol use precedes marijuana use and tobacco use precedes alcohol use. What is more, drinking caffeinated beverages precedes tobacco use. It can be seen that the sequencing to hard, illicit drug use begins much earlier in the substance use timeline. Yet, it is uncommon to hear the claim that caffeine is a gateway to tobacco, or that alcohol is a gateway to marijuana. The studies above do show strong support for sequencing and association, but these studies cannot support the previously mentioned causality requirement of the gateway model.

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"[In one study] delinquency and youthful sexual activity tended to precede the use of marijuana and hard liquor. . . The early use of so-called gateway drugs, such as beer and cigarettes, may contribute to later problem behaviors, while the later use of marijuana, hard liquor, and other illicit substances may be more the result of extended participation in problem behaviors."(14)