For years marijuana has been referred to as the ‘gateway drug’ due to beliefs that it led its users to other, more heinous substances. However, recently, a study found this to be untrue.
In fact, what they discovered was that the actual ‘gateway drug’ is completely legal and pretty much in every household in America: alcohol.
Adam E. Barry, a professor at the University of Florida led the study, which was published in the Journal of School Health. In the study, Barry put the old ‘gateway drug’ theory to the test by conducting a secondary analysis of 2008 Monitoring the Future 12th-grade data. The Monitoring the Future data had been collected to find which substances posed the biggest concern for 12th graders.
According to Barry, seniors who used alcohol-even once- were 13 times more likely to try other drugs like cigarettes or cocaine. And students that tried marijuana were more likely to have tried alcohol first.
“I think [these results] have to do with [the] level of access children have to alcohol, and that alcohol is viewed as less harmful than some of these other substances,” Barry says.
Of course, this would blow the marijuana being a ‘gateway drug’ theory out of the water. Why? Because the true gateway drug is socially accepted as the norm.
“By delaying the onset of alcohol initiation, rates of both licit substance abuse like tobacco and illicit substance use like marijuana and other drugs will be positively affected, and they’ll hopefully go down,” Barry explained.
Barry feels as though the notion of marijuana being a ‘gateway drug’ is a ‘Reefer Madness’ era belief that is beyond outdated. In his own words,
“Some of these earlier iterations needed to be fleshed out,” Barry said.
“That’s why we wanted to study this. The latest form of the gateway theory is that it begins with [marijuana] and moves on finally to what laypeople often call ‘harder drugs.’ As you can see from the findings of our study, it confirmed this gateway hypothesis, but it follows progression from licit substances, specifically alcohol, and moves on to illicit substances.”
“So, basically, if we know what someone says with regards to their alcohol use, then we should be able to predict what they respond to with other [drugs],” he explained. “Another way to say it is, if we know someone has done [the least prevalent drug] heroin, then we can assume they have tried all the others.”
Basically, this means that we have it completely backward. Instead of focusing our time and energy on preventing marijuana use, we should be focused on alcohol.
Barry concludes by saying, “This is a time of budget tightening.”
“Many social services are being cut. If you take [our findings] and apply them to a school health setting, we believe that you are going to get the best bang for your buck by focusing on alcohol.”
For more information on this topic, please see the following video.