Marijuana Gateway Theory

  • gateway-marijuanaA new research from the University of New Hampshire has highlighted that teenagers who use marijuana are more likely to move on to harder illicit drugs as young adults (the “gateway effect” of marijuana) has been overblown.

    The research appeared in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and was conducted by UNH associate professors of sociology Karen Van Gundy and Cesar Rebellon. The research suggested that whether teenagers who smoked pot will use other illicit drugs as young adults has more to do with life factors like employment status and stress. It was also remarked that the strongest predictor of whether someone will use other illicit drugs is their race/ethnicity, not whether they ever used marijuana.

    “In light of these findings, we urge U.S. drug control policymakers to consider stress and life-course approaches in their pursuit of solutions to the ‘drug problem,’” Van Gundy and Rebellon say.

    Survey data from 1,286 young adults who attended Miami-Dade public schools in the 1990 was used by the researchers. Within the final sample, 26 percent of the respondents were African American, 44 percent were Hispanic, and 30 percent were non-Hispanic white.

    It was found out that young adults who did not graduate from high school or attend college were more likely to have used marijuana as teenagers and other illicit substances in young adulthood and those who used marijuana as teenagers and were unemployed following high school were more likely to use other illicit drugs.

    “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,” Van Gundy says.

    The gateway effect subsides entirely once young adults reach age 21.

    “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, subsiding by age 21. 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,” the researchers say.

    Karen Van Gundy, Cesar Rebellon. A Life-course Perspective on the ‘Gateway Hypothesis’. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, September 2010

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