Inside the Gate: Re-Examining the Role of Marijuana in the Drug Use Career

Rashi Shukla, Rutgers University

Marijuana is often referred to as a gateway drug because of its placement in the progession of drug use. It is typically the first illicit drug initiated. Few studies have examined why people who try marijuana may be more likely to initiate other illi it drug use or the role marijuana plays in changes in drug use in later stages of the drug use career. Drawing on qualitative semi-structured interviews conducted between 2000-2002 with 51 adult current and ex-users of marijuana, this paper discusses how the drug careers of these adults evolved over time. Complete drug history data was systematically collected for participants. Individuals were asked about their perceptions of marijuana as a gateway drug. Interviewer data were transcribed and analyzed with the assistance of a qualitative software program. It will be demonstrated that the role of marijuana in the later stages of drug use is different from what is proposed by models that focus on initiation. The majority of individuals tried illicit drugs other than marijuana. While few continued to use other illicit substances in the later stages of their drug use career, a number continued to use marijuana. This paper critically examined this gateway perspective.

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Updated 05/20/2006