Marijuana is Gateway Drug

New research confirms that marijuana is a gateway drug for most teens who use it.

Some will tell you marijuana is a harmless drug, but the Journal of the American Medical Association isn't one of them.

Young people who smoke marijuana are two to five times more likely to move on to harder drugs. That is the formal opinion of researchers, who published their conclusions from a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

It is also the informal conclusion of two recent high school graduates who talked with Family News in Focus. The two, who asked that their names remain anonymous, said they no longer smoke marijuana, but that most of the kids they smoked pot with in high school went on to harder drugs and aren't able to hold jobs.

One of the young persons said she started smoking pot because of peer pressure, but she stopped out of concern for her parents.

"I realized how bad it disappointed my parents," she said. "My dad cried and so I stopped."

The JAMA study followed 311 sets of identical twins � one smoked pot while the other did not. Twins were chosen to help rule out a genetic or social explanation for the gateway effect. Almost half of the young people who started smoking marijuana before 17 went on to use harder drugs later in life. The study is the latest to suggest the link between marijuana and other drugs like cocaine and heroin. However, Howard Simon, of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said regardless of the evidence some still dispute the findings.

"But the one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that for young kids, to be even 'dabbling' with marijuana is just not a good idea," Simon said.

He added he still thinks "Just Say No" is the best policy.

"Regardless of the first drug that is used, what we want to see is kids choosing not to use any of these substances," Simon said.

But experts say a good drug policy isn't enough. They say parents need to be open and consistent with an anti-drug message.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a non-profit group founded by the nation's advertising industry to fight drug use among teens and children, has a Web site with information for parents.

The Journal of the American Medical Association is a subscription-based periodical. Temporarily, the online version of the Journal is offering free access to the drug study article. Please be advised that JAMA, however, reserves the right to change free access to paid access at any time.

Marijuana Facts

Smoking marijuana causes some changes in the brain that are like those caused by cocaine, heroin, and alcohol.

Effects of smoking marijuana are felt within minutes, reach their peak in 10 to 30 minutes, and may linger for two or three hours.

Some scientific studies have found that babies born to marijuana users were shorter, weighed less, and had smaller head sizes than those born to mothers who did not use the drug.

People who smoke marijuana often develop the same kinds of breathing problems that cigarette smokers have: coughing and wheezing. They tend to have more chest colds than nonusers. They are also at greater risk of getting lung infections like pneumonia.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, one of nearly 400 chemicals in a hemp plant, accounts for most of marijuana's psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects. The strength of the drug is determined by the amount of THC it contains.

Researchers report that marijuana cigarettes release five times as much carbon monoxide into the bloodstream and three times as much tar into the lungs of smokers as tobacco cigarettes.

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