Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?

When someone turns to substance abuse, it can seem like it came out of nowhere. However, it’s often the case that there was a cause (or causes that were hiding in plain sight). While marijuana is not considered to be a “hard drug” on the level as something like heroin or cocaine, there are arguments to be made that it can serve as a “gateway drug” that leads users to try more dangerous and addictive drugs.

What a Gateway Drug Is

A gateway drug is any substance that acts as a liaison to using other substances. Even if a gateway drug isn’t as harsh as what it leads to, it should still be considered a concern due to how it opened the door for harsher substances to be consumed. A gateway drug doesn’t have to be illegal either. Someone could have alcohol or nicotine be a gateway drug. They could also misuse prescription drugs, leading to them abusing illegal substances or other medications.

Marijuana Use

Thanks to the ease of access compared to other drugs, marijuana is one of the most frequently used illegal drugs. While it’s legal in some jurisdictions, there shouldn’t be any illusion that it’s completely safe or that it can’t lead to using other drugs. There are many factors that indicate that marijuana could be considered a gateway drug.


Whether or not marijuana can be classified as addictive is a source of considerable debate. Some argue that a lack of physical symptoms compared to those going through alcohol or heroin withdrawal means that it shouldn’t be considered addictive. However, psychological dependence on marijuana can develop, particularly if users are using it on a daily basis. Someone who is able to fall so quickly into feeling like they need to use a substance in order to get through their daily life can end up turning towards harsher substances.

Will All Marijuana Users Use Harsher Drugs?

It’s important to remember that marijuana being a gateway drug doesn’t mean that something will lead to using most serious drugs automatically. However, it can definitely increase one’s chances of using these substances. Use of marijuana can triple the likelihood of using heroin later on. When someone’s mind becomes adapted to one substance, they can easily start looking for a more powerful high.

How Marijuana Becomes a Gateway Drug

Someone using marijuana for the first time will not lead to them craving heroin or another toxic substance. However, they can grow to be so accustomed to the positive feelings that marijuana brings about that they need to use it in order to get through their days. Eventually, they can start to feel like marijuana isn’t as effective as it used to be. So, they’ll scout out drugs that provide them with a stronger sensation. Unfortunately, the stronger the drug, the stronger the side effects tend to be. Also, as a person starts using marijuana in social settings for recreational purposes, the likelihood that they’ll be introduced to other more powerful drugs by their peers increases.

Lack of Self-Control

Many people start using marijuana not out of an initial desire to but because of peer pressure, either because of witnessing their peers using it and not wanting to be left out or because of believing they had to do it in order to fit in with society. Having trouble thinking for oneself can mean that someone can be led to using substances far more easily. If someone started using marijuana because of others doing so, they could find themselves using things like cocaine for the same reason. In order for substance abuse to be avoided, someone has to be able to put their health ahead of their desire to be popular.

How Marijuana Can Be Avoided

Not all marijuana use leads to harsher drugs, and not all harsher drug use originates in marijuana. However, the more someone stays away from any sort of illicit drugs, the better they can be at avoiding falling into the traps of substance abuse and addiction. The best way to avoid marijuana is to busy oneself with positive activities to the point that you have no time to even consider using drugs. These activities could include writing, being part of a sports team, and volunteering, for example.

What to Do If Offered Marijuana

If you ever find yourself in a situation where others are using marijuana, you need to consider what you’ll do if or when it’s offered to you. Even if you never think of yourself as using marijuana, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that you could lose traction of these convictions in another situation. The best way to prepare for any offer is to practice your response. Make sure that it’s firm but also polite. If someone keeps offering despite your refusal, you need to make yourself very clear and then get away from the situation.

Treatment Options

If you’ve become dependent on another substance and can trace it to marijuana usage, you should bring it up in a treatment facility. While you might have a dependency on a stronger substance, it needs to be understood that substance abuse and addiction don’t pop out of nowhere. People who are highly suggestible can find themselves using substances much more easily. Additionally, someone who becomes accustomed to one substance can be led to using other more serious ones.

Moving On

For clients in a treatment facility to see successful completion of a treatment plan and continued success afterward, they need to be able to understand what behaviors need to change. If using marijuana is a culprit in their needing treatment, then they need to understand the dangerous impact marijuana has on their health. They need to come out of rehab with a renewed sort of focus and ability to say goodbye to habits that negatively impacted their lives. It’s also worth considering how far back these negative habits can be traced. For instance, if you started using marijuana due to feeling pressured, you might need to look into how you can develop a greater sense of confidence so that you don’t feel like you have to be like everybody else in order to be accepted.

Getting Help

If you or a loved one are dealing with substance abuse and addiction, you need to seek out help. At St. John’s Recovery Place, we work to help our clients receive the best possible treatment to address their needs. Get in touch with us today and let us discuss treatment options together.

Experience Real Recovery.

We treat a wide range of addiction and behavioral health conditions including dual diagnosis, drug addiction and alcoholism. We accept most insurance carriers.

Call or text us today!

    Get Your Free Insurance Verification Now.