Is marijuana a gateway drug? This question is one people have been asking for decades. While there is some truth to this assertion, the issue is much larger than just smoking marijuana. Furthermore, it can apply to almost any substance, including alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medication.
Using any substance that alters brain function can potentially lead to multi-drug experimentation. There are several reasons that we will outline below.
Why the Brain Gets Addicted to Marijuana
Is marijuana a gateway drug? Yes, it is. It creates a pleasurable feeling in the mind. While marijuana does not contain any addictive substances, the effect it has on the brain can be addictive. Cannabis binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are ordinarily responsible for cognition, memory, psychomotor skills, feelings of pleasure and reward, and pain or anxiety reduction.
When the brain experiences pleasure and reward or a reduction in pain, it is natural to want to return to that feeling. Therefore, a person who seeks a euphoric experience in marijuana may eventually look for it in other substances. A National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol Use and Related Disorders revealed that adults who use marijuana were more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder than adults who just drank.
Social and Family Environments
Is marijuana a gateway drug? It depends on the family or social environment in which a person grows up. It is important to note that psychological or biological factors are not alone in determining whether marijuana is a gateway drug. A person may experiment with many substances, including marijuana, in a given social or home environment. One of the reasons why a user may start with marijuana is due to the widespread perception that it is a harmless drug.
Also, marijuana is readily available due to proximity, mainstream popularity, and cost. Harder drugs such as prescription medication, heroin, or cocaine may be more expensive and difficult to acquire – especially for adolescents.
Marijuana and Mental Disorders
Is marijuana a gateway drug? It can be for people who have mental disorders. We often hear the term ‘addictive personality.’ While most people have a general understanding of this concept, what we mean by addictive personality is a borderline personality or mental disorder. Some disorders, such as ADHD or bipolar disorder, have symptoms that include impulsive or compulsive behavior.
A person with a mental disorder may develop an obsession with drug or alcohol use after smoking marijuana the first time. With constant use, the effects of marijuana can wear off over time. However, a person with a mental disorder may move on to other drugs to continue feeling the high they get from marijuana. Keep in mind that this has more to do with the disease than it does marijuana. Furthermore, mental health issues can potentially turn any drug into a gateway drug.
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