The Gateway Hypothesis?

February 12, 2020
Solace Asia

What in tarnation is this “hype-pot-thesis” all about???!!! (with pun intended of course). As you can see, there has been a different angle on how we see gateway drugs as ‘gateway’. Let’s get down to the technicals in understanding the denotation of the term gateway. The definition of a gateway drug is basically the substance or drug use before other “harder” drugs - by harder, it means heroin, cocaine, morphine, methamphetamines, and etc.

According to Liester and Moore in 2015, glucose, fructose, or sucrose - sugar in layman terms, suggested that something the general public sees as harmless as sugar can be a gateway drug as it mimics the effects of drug addiction when one consumes it excessively. Pierce and Kumaresan in 2006, explains how addiction is related to the mesolimbic dopamine system in the brain which is responsible for the dependence on addictive substances. The release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens that sugar is able to produce upon consumption, mimics closely to what all the drug of choice releases in the brain - which are releasing the happy or pleasure-inducing chemicals (Nestler, 2001).

The gateway hypothesis insinuates that “lighter” substances like alcohol,marijuana, nicotine, and sugar are capable of further increasing the risk of using or abusing other “harder” substances (Kandel & Jessor, 2002). Citing Kandel, Kessler, and Margulies’ work in 1978, there are three dispositions to identify whether sugar or marijuana - in this case, the latter would be my drug of choice to focus on, could be considered as a gateway drug.

Firstly, there should be an incremental development of different drug category usage. Secondly, the later drug of choice used should have an increased peril or detriment. Thirdly, the usage of the later drug is directly linked to the usage of the previous drug.

Going back to the aim of the article, which is to either debunk or confirm the gateway hypothesis on marijuana.

Exhibit A; incremental development of different drug category usage. While the study from Secades-Villa, Garcia-Rodríguez, Jin, Wang, and Blanco in 2015, it is common to associate cannabis use to harder drugs as cumulative probability assumes up to 44.7% of cannabis users transgress to other drugs later on in life. The gateway hypothesis on marijuana being a gateway drug before moving on to other illicit drugs have been supported by various studies over the years (Fergusson, Boden & Horwood, 2006; Fergusson & Horwood, 2000; Mayet, Legleye, Falissard,& Chau, 2012 Vanyukov et al. 2012). On the flip side, cannabis may not necessary be the requirement to other harder drugs (Morral, McCaffrey, & Paddock, 2002; Tarter et al., 2012; Tarter, Vanyukov, Kirisci, Reynolds, & Clark, 2006).

Exhibit B; the risk in the later drug is higher than before. The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia in 1994, found that children who used marijuana along with alcohol and tobacco were 266 times more prone to using harder drugs like cocaine than their peers who stayed away from these gateway drugs. Similarly in adults the likelihood of abusing illicit drugs when they have been introduced to gateway drugs prior was about 323 times more than those who do not use gateway drugs. In 2017, Olfson, Wall, Liu, and Blanco, found that adolescents were two-and-a-half times more prone to abusing prescription opioids later in life.

Exhibit C; which is still largely unknown, where the progression of other illicit drugs stems directly from the use of cannabis or marijauna (Secades-Villa et al.,2015; Van Gundy & Rebellon, 2010). Some of the various predictors that are related to the progression of other harder drugs are stress, genetic predisposition, peer influence (Wagner & Anthony, 2002), and the existence of a mental health condition mainly depression (Yamaguchi & Kandel, 1984).

The gateway hypothesis is an epidemiological study that is not short of any controversies over the years of the war on drugs. To understand it better we need to begin with the understanding of the use of this hypothesis. The initial objective of scholarly using the gateway hypothesis is in comprehending and organizing one’s history of substance use. The gateway hypothesis was never created to address the causality of drug use to anyone. Prior to the use of animals as experimental subjects to illustrate clear causal neurobiological cognizance, there was a lot of confusion and polarised arguments regarding how it addresses the gateway hypothesis of substance abuse. Thus, this hypothesis began a decades long hype on the existence of a theory that may or may not help explain the how’s and the why’s of drug abuse.




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