Gateway drug theory discounted — again — in study of teen marijuana use

By Oscar Pascual |

Marijuana has maintained a bad reputation as a gateway drug that leads to further substance abuse in teens, but new research shows that — like nearly everything else in life — future actions depends on the reason for initially using cannabis.

If a teen’s reason for using cannabis is merely “to experiment,” then they are less likely to use other illicit drugs, according to findings published last week in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Researchers from the New York University Langone Medical Center surveyed more than 6,000 U.S. high school seniors who all admitted to using marijuana within the past year. They asked students what their reason for using pot was, as well as whether they used other drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, or hallucinogens.

Students claiming that they used marijuana to experiment were also less likely to say that they used “hallucinogens other than LSD and narcotics other than heroin,” researchers concluded.

On the other side of the spectrum, teens who said they smoked cannabis “to increase the effect of other drugs” unsurprisingly were more likely to use other drugs.

The few teens with the Sagan-like intellectual capacity to say that they smoked weed “for insight or understanding” naturally said they had used other hallucinogens excluding LSD.

The most common teens gave as a reason for smoking pot is putting it bluntly — “to feel good or get high,” according to the study.

The feeling of boredom is a likelier gateway, as students saying they used pot because they were bored were also often to say that used cocaine or hallucinogens other than LSD.

The findings could prove to be important in determining that boredom is a risk factor that could lead to expanded drug use, researchers believe.

“Programs and education efforts, for example, can benefit from knowing that marijuana users who use because they are bored are more likely to use certain other drugs,” said said Joseph Palamar, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of population health at NYU Langone Medical Center, in a statement. “It may be feasible for prevention programs to address ways of coping with factors such as boredom in order to decrease risk.”

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