One of the most controversial drugs is marijuana. The legalization of marijuana has raised many questions and concerns among professionals. The widespread adoption of cannabidiol (CBD) to treat health problems and psychological conditions only further complicates the discussion about whether marijuana is a helpful or harmful plant.
Many states are pushing for recreational marijuana legalization for adults 21 and older. Most laws restrict the quantity a person may carry but do not prohibit them from smoking, ingesting, or otherwise using marijuana for their personal enjoyment.
Most recently, Arizona voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in January 2021. The Arizona Department of Health Services began approving dispensary applications shortly thereafter, allowing legal adults to buy their own recreational marijuana at their leisure.
Cannabis enthusiasts are ecstatic about the legalization of marijuana. However, therapists, doctors, and health officials are tasked with answering one of the biggest underlying questions people have had for decades.
Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?
Gateway drugs are habit-forming substances that experts believe increase someone’s risk of moving on to more harmful drugs. These are typically “experimental” substances that someone tries before moving on to something more addictive.
The term stems from the gateway hypothesis, which is part of the gateway theory of substance abuse developed by Dr. Denise Kandel in the 1970s. Although her research focused on the risk of nicotine in future substance abuse, more recent research has examined how marijuana could lead to an increased risk of developing an addiction to other “hard” drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Early Use Predicts Addiction
Research has demonstrated children and teens who use any substance are more likely to develop a substance use disorder in adulthood. Marijuana is one of the most used drugs among adolescents. Studies show that any drug use during the teen years negatively impacts brain development and typically precedes other risky behaviors and health problems.
Legalizing a drug that has been the introductory substance for so many youths raises concerns over its impact on their attitude toward other drugs as they get older. If marijuana, which was once considered extremely harmful, now receives advocacy, what will happen when teenagers and young adults begin using it more frequently?
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Although some argue it is not addictive, there are increasing cases of marijuana use disorder emerging in people seeking treatment. Some people turn to marijuana to ease symptoms of mental illness, namely depression and anxiety. But instead of finding relief, they become locked into a cycle of daily use that has negative effects on their mood, motivation, and relationships.
Does Marijuana Cause Addiction?
Numerous studies have found a correlation between people with drug addictions and prior marijuana use. A 25-year longitudinal study that tested the gateway hypothesis found that people who smoked marijuana were more likely to continue using drugs later in life. They also engaged in drug abuse at a higher frequency.
People who start smoking marijuana as teenagers or young adults show a higher chance of trying other substances down the line. The lax and even encouraging attitude that today’s legalized culture promotes could cause young people to feel no risk or harm in experimenting. As they get comfortable with marijuana, they are more likely to think it is okay to try other drugs.
Building up a tolerance to marijuana’s sedative effects could cause someone to seek out more intense drugs. Mixing marijuana with alcohol and other substances can also quickly lead to psychological addiction and physical dependency that is difficult to resolve alone.
What Can Be Done?
Parents should have open discussions with their children and teens about the potential health risks of marijuana and drug use in general. Young adults need greater education about the increased risk of substance abuse and the dangers of experimentation. Countering an entire culture endorsing the legalization of marijuana by millions of Americans will be difficult. Rather than telling all of them, they are wrong; people need access to more resources that are less biased and give them reliable information.
For those who notice their own marijuana use has gotten more serious, seeking professional substance abuse counseling and rehab are possible solutions. If substance abuse is becoming a concern for yourself or someone you love, contact one of our professionals at Desert Cove Recovery today.