The real gateway drug is not marijuana: We have all heard that marijuana is the gateway drug. Some political leaders and anti-drug groups often make this claim. They try to convince the public that 99 percent of illicit drug users tried marijuana before they did other drugs. Sounds so convincing even though they have no evidence to back up their claims.

On the other hand, a study in 2016 has shown by the Journal of School Health, that a team of researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Florida examined data from 2,800 U.S. 12th graders that were interviewed for an annual federal survey on teen drug abuse. The goal of the survey was to establish what substances teens typically used first.

They found that the vast majority of those who responded to the survey reported using alcohol, prior to tobacco and marijuana. Out of the three main substances asked about in the survey, the teens were least likely to start using pot before the others. The first drug used by 54% of the teens was alcohol, followed by tobacco at 32%, and marijuana came in last at only 14%.

Studies have also shown that 6th or 7th graders who had their first drink at this age went on to try an average of nearly two illicit substances later. However, those who waited till the 12th grade to drink had only tried an average of 0.4 substances. According to surveys, close to 90% of all Americans over the age of 18 report they have consumed alcohol at least once, and over 60% of individuals aged 18 years and older admit to at least one binge-drinking session in the past month.

Keep in mind that over 88,000 people die from alcohol-related incidents each year in the U.S., making alcohol-related incidents the third leading cause of preventable death in this nation alone. Tobacco use is second to alcohol when it comes to gateway drugs. Scientist have long recognized that cigarettes and alcohol raise the risk for later use of illicit drugs like marijuana and cocaine. In a survey back in 2011, over 90% of adult cocaine users between the ages of 18 and 34 had smoked cigarettes before they began using cocaine. Researches suspect that nicotine exposure might increase vulnerability to cocaine.

What about legal painkillers? In October 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke to a bunch of Kentucky high school students about heroin abuse. Lynch said that prescription drug abuse is the biggest gateway to the use of hard drugs. Whereas, cannabis has proven not to be a main gateway. The household medicine cabinet is the main source of abuse Lynch said. But, it's not likely we're seeing that marijuana as a specific gateway.

Prescription pills, such as vicodin, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone have become highly addictive. These prescription pills are legal and are also easy to find on the street, and have different effects. These pain killers remove the feeling of pain and sedate the user. However, when their supply is cut off, prescription drug users tend to turn to illegal drug markets for the same effects. Many of these drug users skip right over marijuana and turn to hard opioids such as heroin. Marijuana has been known to be an exit drug to many heroin, opioid, and cocaine users. We need to make the public aware that marijuana is not the culprit, but rather the solution to many medical conditions and safe casual use to recreational enjoyment.  

Peace,
Bart

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