Marijuana is not a “gateway drug” for teens at all, says new study

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In a recently completed study, scientists at New York University Langone Medical Center’s department of population health have concluded that marijuana is not a gateway drug for teens.

Looking at high school seniors over the course of 11 years — seniors who had reported using marijuana in the past 12 months — the researchers found that although many teens did use other drugs, evidence showed that this was not due to using marijuana first.

“Most teens who use marijuana don’t progress to use of other drugs, and we believe this is evidenced in part by the fact that nearly two-thirds of these marijuana-using teens did not report use of any of the other illicit drugs we examined,” said lead author Joseph Palamar.

“The majority of adults in the U.S. have at least tried marijuana, and we know the majority has never gone on to use another drug, yet we tend to treat all drug use as pathological,” he added.

So what does cause teens to use drugs?

Two significant causes found by the study were boredom and a desire to expand consciousness.

Almost one-third of the teens in the study cited boredom as the reason they used drugs. This group was 43 percent more likely to use cocaine and 56 percent more likely to try a hallucinogen other than LSD.

Around one-fifth reported a desire to achieve insight or understanding. These teens were 51 percent more likely to try a hallucinogen other than LSD.

The drug-experimenter group actually had a decreased risk of using any of the other eight drugs asked about in the study.

But boredom and the quest for greater understanding don’t explain all drug users, the researchers stated, and Palamar stressed the importance of finding out the real reasons people use mind-altering substances.

Marcia Lee Taylor, president and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, agreed. “No matter what drug we’re talking about, motivations are really important,” she said. “We need to understand what is motivating a teen to use if we want to know how to prevent it.”

“Science has consistently shown that environmental factors, such as ready access to other illicit substances, and personal traits, such as a propensity toward risk-seeking behavior, are associated with the decision to move from marijuana to other illicit substances,” commented Paul Armentano, deputy director of the pro-marijuana group NORML. “But marijuana’s drug chemistry likely does not play a significant role, if any role, in this decision.”

By Sid Douglas