At every school we work with, without fail, somebody asks, “Is marijuana a gateway drug?” As recent graduates from teenagedom, we grew up with police officers coming into our schools championing a Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” approach to drugs and alcohol—that if we tried marijuana, our brains would inevitably eventually turn into eggs on a frying pan, the result of daily ecstasy use. This message obviously did not work for us. When we called into question Nancy’s thesis and saw others drinking and smoking with impunity, we rejected her entire philosophy. Several years later, we checked into rehab.
While most people who move on to what have been deemed “hard” drugs started with marijuana, the majority of people who smoke weed never try anything else. The majority don’t become stoners or alcoholics or high school dropouts. For them, marijuana was the gateway to nothing other than the Del Taco Drive Thru.
However, on the other end of the spectrum is the kid who decides to smoke weed every day. It fills a hole within him, helping him cope with what was otherwise an “unmanageable” amount of stress or discomfort. He usually finds that somebody he is spending time with has access to other drugs. What started with a joint quickly escalates either into more frequent use or experimentation with other drugs. This may end in a destructive addiction. Studies show that the earlier the initial “experimentation”, the more likely it is that addiction is going to be the final stop.
So, is marijuana a gateway drug? It certainly can be. But you don’t have to start calling rehabs just because you found a lighter in your teenager’s pocket.