A study in the August edition of The Journal of School Health finds that the generations old theory of a “gateway drug” effect is in fact accurate for some drug users, but shifts the blame for those addicts’ escalating substance abuse away from marijuana and onto the most pervasive and socially accepted drug in American life: alcohol.
Using a nationally representative sample from the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future survey, the study blasts holes in drug war orthodoxy wide enough to drive a truck through, definitively proving that marijuana use is not the primary indicator of whether a person will move on to more dangerous substances.
“By delaying the onset of alcohol initiation, rates of both licit substance abuse like tobacco and illicit substance use like marijuana and other drugs will be positively affected, and they’ll hopefully go down,” study co-author Adam E. Barry, an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Health Education & Behavior, said in an exclusive interview.
While Barry’s study shows evidence that substance abuse behaviors can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy by examining a subject’s drug history, he believes that the persistent and misguided notion of marijuana as the primary gateway to more harmful substances went awry because its creators — who called it the “Stepping Stone Hypothesis” in the “Reefer Madness” era of the 1930s – fundamentally misread the data and failed to conduct an adequate follow-up.
“Some of these earlier iterations needed to be fleshed out,” Barry said. “That’s why we wanted to study this. The latest form of the gateway theory is that it begins with [marijuana] and moves on finally to what laypeople often call ‘harder drugs.’ As you can see from the findings of our study, it confirmed this gateway hypothesis, but it follows progression from licit substances, specifically alcohol, and moves on to illicit substances.”