Does Marijuana Lead to the Use of Other Drugs?

Man Lighting Marijuana Cigarette
Is Marijuana Really a Gateway Drug?. © Getty Images

As more and more states around the U.S. decriminalize marijuana or approve the drug for medical or recreational use, it raises many questions by scientists. Like, how safe is it? Does it lead to harder drug use?

The truth is many young people who smoke pot never progress to using other drugs, but there are some who do.

Research shows that the vast majority of high school students who do use other drugs used marijuana first.

Why Do Some People Who Try Marijuana Also Try Other Drugs?

The National Institute for Drug Abuse has three theories why some people who use marijuana go on to use other drugs while some do not.

  • When people begin using marijuana while their young brains are still developing, which can be into their early 20s, it can change the reward system of their brains. Other drugs may become more appealing. Animal research found that early exposure to marijuana makes using opiate drugs more pleasurable.
  • Those who use marijuana are more likely to be around others who use and sell other drugs, increasing the temptation to try those drugs.
  • Young people who are at high risk of becoming substance abusers may use marijuana first because it is easier to get than other drugs. The same is true for cigarettes and alcohol.

Is It a Gateway Drug?

The question about marijuana being a gateway drug has circulated around the scientific community for what seems forever. The fact is the drug has been in use since ancient times. The earliest recorded use as a drug was 2737 BC in China. The drug made its entry to the New World in 1545 when the Spanish brought it and produced it as a commercial crop to make hemp fibers.

Of the usual gateway drugs, marijuana is mentioned along with the other two major ones, alcohol and tobacco. There is research that shows that when children use all three, the risk of progressing to harder drugs increases immensely.

A study by The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia found that children who used marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco were 266 times more likely to use cocaine than children who used none of the gateway drugs.

Children who used all three of the gateway drugs were 77 times more likely to end up using cocaine than children who used only one of them.

The same is true for adults. Adults who use alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana were 323 times more likely to use cocaine than adults who used none of the gateway drugs. Adults who used all three were 104 times more likely to use cocaine than adults who used only one gateway drug.

Has Marijuana Become a Problem?

For some, smoking weed is an occasional thing. For others, it can become a daily habit that drags a person down. There is a marijuana screening quiz that might help you figure out if marijuana is adversely affecting your life. 

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Article Sources

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  • Columbia University Record. "National Study Shows "Gateway" Drugs Lead to Cocaine Use." Office of Communications and Public Affairs November 1994

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Marijuana." DrugFacts January 2014

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Marijuana." Research Report Series July 2012

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Want to Know More? - Some FAQs about Marijuana." Marijuana: Facts for Teens October 2013

  • The Partnership at "Marijuana." Drug Guide. April 2014.

  • Narconon. "History of Marijuana. 2017