A recent study by Yale University School of Medicine reveals that marijuana may really be a gateway drug, leading not only to cocaine and heroin use but heavy prescription drug abuse.
The study shows that men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five who start with tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana eventually turn to prescription drug abuse. For women, marijuana seems to be the sole culprit. Such studies have been done for years on cocaine and heroin, but with prescription drug abuse currently at unprecedented numbers, experts felt that a new study was in order.
Researchers studied information from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 versions of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They looked at a sample of 55,215 eighteen to 25-year-olds and found that 12 percent reported that they were abusing prescription opioids. In this group, approximately 57 percent had used alcohol, 56 percent had smoked cigarettes and 34 percent had used marijuana.
Among men and women, it was found that marijuana users were 2.5 times more likely to abuse prescription opioids than those who had never used. While there was no association between alcohol or tobacco use among women, it was found that men who smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol were 25 percent more likely to abuse prescription drugs.
There are those who disagree with the study, however and believe that it is spreading propaganda. Groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) point out that while many who use marijuana do eventually turn to heavier drugs, the drug itself may not be causing this. Experts say that the study does not necessarily prove a direct relationship between marijuana and heavy drug use, but it is a start.
A common argument against marijuana being a gateway drug is that adolescents turn to harder drugs because of peer pressure – increasingly online – or emotional pressures. However, studies have been done on animal models demonstrating that cannabis does affect the reward sensors in the brain and can affect future sensitivity to heroin.
Why Prescription Drug Abuse?
According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately five million people were users of prescription drugs at that time. About 16 million people reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons at least once the year before and there are an estimated seven million Americans addicted to psychotherapeutic drugs. Furthermore, prescription painkillers are the most abused drugs, besides marijuana, among young Americans.
While Americans only represent five percent of the world’s population, they consume 80 percent of all prescription painkillers more than all other countries in the world combined. Not only are prescription drugs available through prescription, friends and family, they are sold on the street and snorted, injected or ingested just like other illicit drugs.
Experts who have worked with addicts know that overcoming addiction is a long road. When drugs such as marijuana lose their potency, users typically turn to heavier drugs to give them the same high.