Contrary to popular belief, smoking marijuana need not be a steppingstone between using alcohol and tobacco and experimenting with illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Researchers led by Prof. Ralph Tarter of the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy found that nearly a quarter of the young men they studied used marijuana before they began drinking or smoking cigarettes. It’s the reverse of the “gateway hypothesis,” in which drug use is thought to progress from alcohol and tobacco to marijuana to hard drugs. The researchers determined that the likelihood of developing a substance abuse problem was similar in youngsters who followed the traditional gateway drug use pattern and those who followed the reverse pattern.
Tarter said the findings run “counter to about six decades of current drug policy in the country, where we believe that if we can’t stop kids from using marijuana, then they’re going to go on and become addicts to hard drugs.” The findings were published in this month’s American Journal of Psychiatry. In Tarter’s study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers monitored more than 200 young men at intervals from the time they were 10 to 12 until they were 22. They fell into one of three groups: those who used only alcohol or tobacco; those who started with alcohol and tobacco and then used marijuana; and those who used marijuana before using alcohol and tobacco. Among those who used marijuana, nearly a quarter followed the reverse of the gateway pattern. They tended to have less parental supervision and to live in neighborhoods where illegal drugs were more available.