Is Marijuana A Gateway To Harder Drugs

Many experts believe that marijuana use can lead to the use of harder drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and LSD. However, no conclusive evidence supports this direct cause-and-effect relationship. Studies in several countries, including the United States, indicate that most marijuana users never progress to other drugs. Teenagers who do go on to use other illegal drugs typically use tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana first. In fact, it has been shown that most teens use tobacco cigarettes and alcohol—before they are of legal age—before ever using marijuana. Also, many more teens use tobacco and alcohol than use marijuana. Thus, tobacco and alcohol may be "gateways" to marijuana use, although it is still not clear whether one drug can cause an individual to start using other drugs. Also, experts point out that psychological and behavioral problems, poor relationships with parents, or drug-taking peers who approve of drug use all are much more reliable predictors of a teen's progression to harder drugs than is the use of marijuana.

family, the more likely he or she is to progress to harder drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and LSD.

The 2001 MTF survey supports these findings. When asked, "Do you disapprove of people who try marijuana once or twice, smoke marijuana occasionally, or smoke marijuana regularly," here is what teens had to say:

• Across all three categories, within the past 10 years, reports from 12th graders showed a consistent decline in the number who disapproved of marijuana use.

• In 2001, about half of the 12th graders surveyed said they disapproved of people who try marijuana once or twice.

• About 63 percent disapproved of smoking marijuana occasionally, and about 80 percent said they disapproved of smoking the drug regularly. These percentages are substantially lower than those from the previous 10 years and highlight the evidence that the number of teens who disapprove of marijuana is decreasing.

It is interesting that there has been little change in the percentages of 10th graders who disapprove of marijuana use (across all three categories); yet their numbers are very similar to those of the 12th graders. For instance, in 2001, about half of the 10th graders disapproved of trying marijuana; 66 percent disapproved of smoking it occasionally; and 78 percent disapproved of smoking it regularly. Indeed, over the past five years, these numbers have shown relatively no increase or decline. This indicates that the number of 10th graders who disapprove of smoking marijuana has remained stable.

Also, a recent NHSDA reports that:

• Teens with friends who "would not be very upset" if they tried marijuana are 16 times more likely to try marijuana than those whose friends would be "very upset."

• Teens with friends who use marijuana are 39 times more likely to use marijuana themselves.

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