Martin: Does marijuana use lead to harder drugs?

Studies find that the majority of people who used pot don’t move on to stronger substances.

By William Martin | April 30, 2015
Houston Chronicle

Pot is hot in Austin this spring as legislators consider a double bill-martinhandful of bills ranging from permitting medicinal use of a low-potency strain of cannabis with limited applications to treating marijuana much the same as tomatoes or jalapeños.

In almost any discussion about decriminalizing or legalizing use of marijuana, the question arises, “Is it a gateway to the use of harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin?”

It’s a valid question that deserves and has received serious attention.

First, consider the numbers from the massive National Survey of Drug Use and Health, the primary source of government-gathered statistical data on drug use and abuse in America.

As of 2013, nearly 44 percent of Americans 12 and older – more than half of those under 60 – had tried marijuana at some point in their lives but only 7.5 percent had used it in the last month.

As for harder drugs, about 14 percent had tried cocaine, but only 0.6 percent had done so in the last month. For heroin, 1.8 percent had tried it, but only 0.1 percent in the last month. Obviously, the overwhelming numbers of people who ever use marijuana do not go on to use harder drugs, and certainly not at a problematic level.

But what about those who do use harder drugs? Did marijuana play a role?

Quite likely, most of them did use marijuana before using cocaine or heroin, since it is by far the most widely used and easily obtainable illicit drug. And almost surely, nearly all had already used alcohol and/or tobacco, both of which are far more addictive and harmful. Adolescents who use alcohol heavily are 12 times more likely to use illicit drugs than are nondrinkers. Young smokers are nine times more likely than their non-smoking peers to try such drugs.

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