The Gateway Drug Phenomenon

If you ask people who survived a fentanyl overdose about their journey into drugs, they will invariably mention starting with marijuana at a young age, even 12-13. Marijuana, nicotine, and alcohol are well-known gateway drugs.

The International Academy on the Science and Impact of Cannabis has a medical library translated for a common understanding of the many harms of cannabis or marijuana.

Drug abuse literature and the public press periodically embrace or push back against the “Gateway” phenomenon of drugs like marijuana. The theory behind the notion of a “Gateway” effect has certainly been recognized by parents and addiction treatment professionals since at least the early 1980s.

To understand the gateway effect, it is important to also understand adolescent brain development. While the appetite areas of the brain (essentially the limbic system) develop in the early teen years, the judgment part of the brain (pre-frontal cortex) often lags until the early to mid-twenties. Thus, there is a lag between pleasure responses and the modulation of such choices. Think of it as a powerful engine during adolescence that only has an accelerator and minimal braking ability. Essentially, early drug use “primes the pump” for subsequent addiction.

If we then add ease of access to the drug and frequency of exposure, tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana can be referred to as “gateway” drugs. All three substances are addictive. It is significant that the likelihood of addiction or problems with any of these drugs is dramatically greater if one initiates use in the early teens as compared to initiation in the twenties. This risk not only includes drugs but other stimulating behavior such as gambling, sex, reckless driving, etc. That is not to say, however, that later initiation of use eliminates the risk of addiction.

This brings up the third major risk, and that is availability. Powerful drugs like heroin or cocaine could be strong gateway drugs, but generally, their availability to young adolescents is limited. In populations where such drugs are available, they appear to be abused as much or even more than that classic “Gateway” drugs.

The takeaway message is this: young people must not be introduced to drugs, tobacco, or alcohol preferably at all, but certainly not prior to the ages in the mid-twenties. One might ask how this applies in today’s world, and the answer is simple. The legalization and medicalization of marijuana increase the availability of marijuana. The use of marijuana among teens is generally more prevalent in states that have such policies, and along with it, addiction, emotional difficulties, psychiatric complications, vehicular accidents, etc. Let’s help protect young people by reducing the availability of the gateway drug marijuana, as well as other gateway drugs.

For more information on Gateway drugs see:

Learn more about the risk of marijuana on the IASIC website.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Related Posts

IASIC Speaker Series Presents: Impacts of Maternal Cannabis Use on Long-Term Psychiatric Risk

The International Academy on the Science and Impact of Cannabis (IASIC) is excited to present the IASIC Speaker Series. Presented free of charge, this ongoing educational seminar series will focus on the science, data and peer-reviewed research surrounding marijuana and will be led by international medical experts. This non-partisan and non-political series is continually developed,

Libby Stuyt Interview on Randy Tobler show

Exciting News! Libby Stuyt’s Interview on Randy Tobler Show! Hey everyone, we wanted to share some thrilling news! The brilliant Dr. Libby Stuyt recently had an enlightening interview on Randy Tobler Show. Dr. Stuyt is known for her groundbreaking work in the field of addiction medicine and mental health. Her insights are nothing short of

Balancing risks and benefits of cannabis use: umbrella review of meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and observational studies

Introduction Cannabis contains over 100 cannabinoids, of which Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol are the most clinically relevant. Tetrahydrocannabinol is a partial agonist at CB1 and binds CB2 receptors. CB1 is widely expressed by central and peripheral neurones but also by immune cells and other type of cells in the brain and in the periphery, and when

Medical marijuana access and prolonged opioid use among adolescents and young adults

Abstract Background and Objectives Laws liberalizing access to medical marijuana are associated with reduced opioid analgesic use among adults, but little is known about the impact of such policies on adolescents and young adults. Methods This retrospective cohort study used 2005 to 2014 claims from MarketScan® Commercial database, which covers all 50 states and Washington

Scroll to Top