Can Marijuana Be a Gateway To Other Substances?

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The Gateway Theory

The well-known gateway drug theory has been around for a very long time. The gateway effect refers to the idea that one drug or substance, in this case marijuana, will eventually lead a person to abuse another drug or substance. This is a dangerous pattern that can have very destructive long-term consequences. Whether marijuana is in fact a gateway drug continues to be debated, but it has been shown that, for some, drug use of any kind does in fact lead to more drug use.

There is at least one credible reasons to believe that marijuana use or abuse can lead a person to try other drugs. What it comes down to are the short- and long-term effects marijuana has on the brain and how those effects lead to further bad choices. Marijuana impacts the part of the brain that controls the decision-making process. In neurological terms, marijuana makes it difficult for the frontal cortex to exert its control over behavior.

Marijuana, like most drugs, causes users to be more impulsive. Being impulsive means making decisions quickly, and without using much critical thought. Impulsivity leads to making poor or unsafe decisions and a greater likelihood of making mistakes. One unsafe decision would be using a harder drug, such as cocaine, meth, or heroin. Because marijuana does have this effect on impulsivity, it can be a gateway drug—for some.

But as with any theory or with any topic that is still under debate, nothing is certain. Just because one person decides to try cocaine after using marijuana doesn’t mean every marijuana user will take this same stepping-stone path. But even that understanding doesn’t make marijuana safe to use. Marijuana has become increasingly socially accepted, and this new attitude toward a now legal-in-some-states drug also means fewer concerns with regard to the drug’s potential to cause serious harm to its users. However, potential harm caused by marijuana is a reality. For heavy users, there is the possibility of dependence and addiction to marijuana. Young marijuana users have clear and serious risks for changing the course of their normal brain development and permanently damaging their ability to think clearly, make appropriate decisions, or use their long- and short-term memories properly. And that’s just what happens in the brain; marijuana use also increases rates for significant lung infections and other respiratory conditions. Heavy users of the drug can also potentially develop mental health issues, like short-term symptoms of psychosis.

It’s safe to say that some marijuana users will eventually go on to use other drugs. Many critics still debunk the notion of marijuana as a gateway drug, and part of this objection may stem from a perception that the use of marijuana causes a person to get involved in other forms of substance use. Whether or not marijuana is the cause, there is an undeniable connection. Marijuana use—although not known to cause further drug use—could make a person less able to make thoughtful choices and therefore lead to the abuse of other substances.