Pot is Not a Gateway to Other Drugs

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Marijuana is thought by some to be a gateway drug among young people who eventually go on to try stronger substances however, a new study shows that pot is not a gateway to other drugs.

Sociology professors Karen Van Gundy and Cesar Rebellon determined other factors, like not having a job, psychological stress, and race, lead to more dangerous substances like cocaine and heroin. Their study, "A Life-Course Perspective on the 'Gateway Hypothesis,'" appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire looked at data from a random group of 1,286 children, teens and young adults who were in Miami-Dade public schools in the 1990s. Among the study participants, 26% were African American, 44% were Hispanic, and 30% were non-Hispanic white.

The discovered that the correlation between marijuana and harder drugs fades once young adults get a job. They also discovered that white youths used harder drugs the most, followed by Hispanics and African-Americans.

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"While marijuana use may serve as a gateway to other illicit drug use in adolescence, our results indicate that the effect may be short-lived," the researchers said. "Interestingly, age emerges as a protective status above and beyond the other life statuses and conditions considered here.

"We find that respondents 'age out' of marijuana's gateway effect regardless of early teen stress exposure or education, work, or family statuses," Van Gundy said.The researchers suggested soft penalties for youths busted for marijuana possession, as convictions that stay on their record could prevent them from getting a job in the future.

"Employment in young adulthood can protect people by 'closing' the marijuana gateway, so over-criminalizing youth marijuana use might create more serious problems if it interferes with later employment opportunities," the researchers argued. "We urge U.S. drug control policymakers to consider stress and life-course approaches in their pursuit of solutions to the drug problem."

"This study really doesn't answer the question," said Dr. Richard D. Blondell, director of addictions research at the University at Buffalo (UB), who was not involved in the new study. "As the authors point out, there are a lot of factors at play here. There is no one single answer to why somebody develops addiction."

In a study published recently in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, Blondell and colleagues at UB reported that new research suggests that many people first get addicted to drugs while using prescription painkillers. For now, this current study is showing that pot is not a gateway to other drugs.

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