Pot is a slippery slope that will only lead to a path of drugs and failure… Or at least that’s what they used to tell us. But is marijuana really a gateway drug?
The short answer: No.
At the forefront of this misguided assumption was the school program D.A.R.E. which told kids to “just say no.” The problem with D.A.R.E. was that, in its desperation to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol, it painted a picture that all drugs were equally horrible. And it warned that marijuana was the gateway to a path of failure and self-harm.
This approach may have seemed effective at the time, but by the late 90’s, studies were showing that the program was ineffective and possibly even counterproductive.
How could such a program with seemingly good intentions be counterproductive? Well think about it. Think of all the kids who grew up believing that marijuana would give them flashbacks, or that they would be hopelessly addicted with the first try? Imagine one of these kids growing up with that belief, and then as a teen actually trying marijuana and thinking, this is it?? This is what they made a big deal about? This is bullshit!
And therein lies the problem. Soon that teen will wonder what other substances D.A.R.E. lied about, or at least exaggerated. And that betrayal of information could lead the teen to believe that all of the other drugs are harmless as well. In this way, one could argue that D.A.R.E. contributed to marijuana’s so called ‘gateway drug’ properties.
If the program would have been honest with children, and taught them the difference between each substance – and the varying degrees of addiction and other negative side-effects they can cause – perhaps the current heroin problem would have been somewhat reduced. But instead, they lumped every substance into one category of life-ruining substances. ‘Just say no!’
Now that D.A.R.E. is more or less defunct, we can direct our attention to the other source of misinformation – prohibition. One could argue that main driving factor that causes marijuana to have ‘gateway drug’ properties is the fact that its illegal.
Check out this interactive graphic created by the folks behind Treatment4Addiction. It was created using information from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health to see what drugs people tried after they started using another given drug. (Click the boxes at the left to highlight a drug. The diagonal lines leading up to it show the percentage of people who tried a given substance immediately before that drug. The lines to the right show the drugs they tried right after.)
Marijuana does, at first, appear to be somewhat of a gateway drug: It pops up relatively early in a drug user’s experience and is often chased by other substances. A fifth of weed smokers had never tried a different drug before, and two-thirds of them had only ever drank. Sixty percent of pot smokers go on to try another drug right afterward. (Still, for 17 percent of them, that drug is alcohol.)
However this information is a perfect example of the phrase “correlation does not imply causation.”
Olga Khazan touches on this graphic in her article in The Atlantic:
Let’s say 11 percent of pot smokers start using cocaine, as this graphic shows. That doesn’t mean one drug led to the other. As Miriam Boeri, an association professor of sociology at Bentley University points out, poverty, mental illness, and friend groups are all much stronger predictors of drug use. 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.
Mark Kleiman, the University of California, Los Angeles, marijuana-policy expert and Washington’s “pot czar,” once told PBS that marijuana might be a type of gateway because it introduces kids to illegal behavior. “It can get them into illicit drugs because it gets them to know people who sell illicit drugs, who might be prepared to sell them things other than cannabis,” he said. But, as Kleiman notes, proponents of legalization see this as another reason why buying and selling pot shouldn’t be against the law. Somehow I don’t think that’s quite what D.A.R.E. had in mind.
I think we can agree with that statement.
Thoughts? Opinions? Leave your comments below!