Gateway drug theory
The gateway drug theory (also called gateway theory, gateway hypothesis and gateway effect) states that the use of less deleterious drugs can lead to a future risk of using more dangerous hard drugs or crime. It is often attributed to the earlier use of one of several licit substances, including tobacco or alcohol, as well as cannabis.
The reverse gateway theory posits that earlier regular cannabis use predicts later tobacco initiation and/or nicotine dependence in those who did not use tobacco before.
The hypothesis is that the use of a licit substance that progresses to cannabis use leads to other hard drugs via a sequence of stages. This is based on the observation that many consumers who use cocaine or heroin have previously used cannabis, and most have used alcohol or tobacco; the hypothesis is that progression continues from there to other drugs like cocaine or heroin. Some research supports that cannabis use predicts a significantly higher risk for subsequent use of "harder" illicit drugs, while other research does not.
While some research shows that many hard drug users used cannabis or alcohol before moving on to the harder substances, other research shows that some serious drug abusers have not used alcohol or cannabis first. The latter is evident in Japan, were the overwhelming majority of users of illicit drugs do not use cannabis first. The risk factor for using drugs in cannabis users may be higher because few people try hard drugs prior to trying cannabis, not because cannabis users increasingly try hard drugs such as certain substituted amphetamines (e.g., methamphetamine). For example, cannabis is typically available at a significantly earlier age than other illicit drugs. People with a disposition to resort to cannabis use are more likely to live longer and healthier lives than users of other "social drugs" such as alcohol.
Alcohol and tobacco
Alcohol tends to precede cannabis use, and it is rare for those who use hard drugs to not have used alcohol or tobacco first; the the 2005 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in the United States found that, compared with lifetime nondrinkers, adults who have consumed alcohol were statistically much more likely to currently use illicit drugs and/or abuse prescription drugs in the past year. Effects were strongest for cocaine (26 times more likely), cannabis (14 times more likely), and psychedelics (13 times more likely). In addition, lifetime drinkers were also six times more likely to use or be dependent on illicit drugs than lifetime nondrinkers.
According to the NIDA, "People who abuse drugs are also likely to be cigarette smokers. More than two-thirds of drug abusers are regular tobacco smokers, a rate more than triple that of the rest of the population."
Alternative explanations for the correlation between the use of soft drugs (e.g., marijuana) and the use of hard drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin) include, but are not limited to:
- Some individuals are, for whatever reason, willing to try any substance, and the "gateway" drugs are merely the ones that are (usually) available at an earlier age than the harder drugs.[medical citation needed]
- For teenagers, credibility of adults is eroded when the dangers of the "gateway" drugs are exaggerated or made up, leading them to think all anti-drug messages are nonsense.
- The peer environments in which "gateway" drugs are used can sometimes overlap with the ones in which harder drugs are used, especially in societies that prohibit the substances or impose very high age limits.
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- Pudney, Stephen (December 2002). "The road to ruin? Sequences of initiation into drug use and offending by young people in Britain" (PDF). Home Office Research Study 253. (London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate). ISBN 1-84082-928-1. ISSN 0072-6435. Retrieved 2009-04-04.
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- Morgan, John Jacob Brooke; Zimmer, Lynn Etta (1997). Marijuana myths, marijuana facts: a review of the scientific evidence. New York: Lindesmith Center. pp. 32–7. ISBN 978-0-9641568-4-5.
- Illicit Drug Use among Lifetime Nondrinkers and Lifetime Alcohol Users, NSDUH, 2005
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the NIH, a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. – Nicotine Craving and Heavy Smoking May Contribute to Increased Use of Cocaine and Heroin – Patrick Zickler, NIDA NOTES Staff Writer. Retrieved October, 2006.
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- Brecher, Edward M. (1972). "Heroin on the youth drug scene - and in Vietnam". Licit and illicit drugs; the Consumers Union report on narcotics, stimulants, depressants, inhalants, hallucinogens, and marijuana - including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-10717-4.
- Ginzler JA, Cochran BN, Domenech-Rodríguez M, Cauce AM, Whitbeck LB (2003). "Sequential progression of substance use among homeless youth: an empirical investigation of the gateway theory". Subst Use Misuse (Review) 38 (3-6): 725–58. PMID 12747403.
- Kenkel D, Mathios AD, Pacula RL (January 2001). "Economics of youth drug use, addiction and gateway effects". Addiction (Review) 96 (1): 151–64. doi:10.1080/09652140020017021. PMID 11177526.
- The classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Section 4.6 "Does cannabis use lead on to other drug use?")
- How did the marijuana gateway myth get started? Schaffer Library of Drug Policy.