Study Suggests Marijuana Is Not a Gateway Drug

A marijuana and hemp dispensary in TorontoFor decades, anti-drug campaigns have labeled marijuana a gateway drug, telling parents that children who use the drug are more likely to later try drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Now that marijuana is legal for medical use in 23 states and for recreational use in four states, this claim seems less plausible.

Nearly half of all Americans (49%) report having tried marijuana at least once, but only a small portion of these users go on to try harder drugs. Now, a study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse argues that, contrary to popular claims, marijuana is not a gateway drug.

Motivation for Using Drugs May Affect Future Use

Addiction experts have long known that many drug users use marijuana before trying other drugs, and this knowledge has led to the conclusion that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” But, the authors of the latest study caution, this correlation does not mean marijuana is causing subsequent drug use.

To explore the correlation between marijuana and subsequent drug use, researchers gathered data from the Monitoring the Future study. This ongoing study assesses the values and behaviors of about 15,000 high school seniors each year.

Researchers looked at drug use among teens who reported using marijuana within the last 12 months between 2000 and 2011. They then looked at respondents’ subsequent use of eight different drugs, including powdered cocaine, heroin, crack, amphetamines, tranquilizers, and LSD.

One-third of the surveyed teens said they used marijuana to escape boredom, and this appeared to make them 43% more likely to try cocaine and 56% more likely to try a hallucinogenic drug. One-fifth of teens said they relied on marijuana to increase insight, a motivation that made them 51% more likely to try a hallucinogenic drug such as mushrooms.

Researchers were most interested in teens who said they used marijuana to “experiment,” since the gateway drug theory is built upon the belief that experimentation with marijuana increases interest in experimenting with other drugs. Those teens, though, actually showed a decreased risk of using other drugs.

This, the study’s lead author says, does not mean that marijuana protects against use of other drugs. Instead, it indicates that those who use marijuana for the experience are not relying on this drug to treat some other need, which makes them less likely to try other drugs.

Overall, two-thirds of teens who used marijuana did not report any other drug use. Because the reason for using marijuana can affect subsequent drug use, the study’s authors suggest that focusing on motivations for drug use might be one way to curb abuse of illicit substances among teens.


  1. 6 facts about marijuana. (2015, April 14). Retrieved from
  2. State marijuana laws map. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Thompson, D. (2011, July 10). Marijuana study counters ‘gateway’ theory. Retrieved from

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  • Nicolas

    July 14th, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    So now we have to do a 180 degree turn from what we have always been taught?

  • Kris

    July 14th, 2015 at 4:17 PM

    So I think that I can be like most every other person out there and admit that I have smoked pot, but never once did doing that make me think that maybe my next stop should be cocaine or whatever. We smoked pot as kids, because, well you know, we just wanted to get goofy and high. That was it. We never took it beyond that level and as far as I know me and all of the other guys I smoked with? Fine citizens today, not an addiction or conviction case among any of us.

  • joshua

    July 16th, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    I really don’t care if it is a gateway to other things or not, I still don’t want my kids using. I think that any sane parent would not want this for our kids and I think that we are setting a pretty dangerous precedent by making it legal and so accessible to kids who have no real idea about the damage that doing drugs can do to their minds and bodies. So what if it does not lead to increased drug use for some kids. What is it doing to all of the other ones that are not being taken into consideration? If the tendency to be an addict is there then that is a very dangerous think to be allowing.

  • Jake

    July 17th, 2015 at 2:24 PM

    Seriously? because i bet that you ask any drug addict out there what the first drug that they took was, and I would be positive that most of them will say that it was pot.

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