For years, cannabis has been seen as the first stepping stone on the path to unbridled substance abuse, the story going that after marijuana got mundane, users would move on to more serious drugs like cocaine and heroin to get their buzz. But now, thanks to a new study from the Journal of School Health, scientists are pointing the gateway finger at one of America’s favorite drugs: alcohol. According to the study, imbibing booze is a more accurate indicator of future advanced drug use and abuse than cannabis consumption.
Researchers at the University of Michigan say they can predict future substance abuse with around 92 percent accuracy based upon a subject’s history with alcohol. As such, those predictions have found that high-school seniors who imbibed were 13 times more likely to use cocaine and 16 times more likely to use cannabis later in life. Adam E. Barry, study co-author, even went so far as to tell Rawstory that enforcement agencies would get the “best bang for [their] buck by focusing on alcohol.” Score one for the potheads! Right?
Sort of. While this study does provide drug warriors with a surrogate scapegoat in the place usually occupied by cannabis, it still misses one fundamental point: There is no such thing as a gateway drug.
The gateway theory itself is over half a century old at this point, and in that time it has never been based in rational scientific inquiry. Harry J. Anslinger, the man first behind the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, came up with the concept on the spot during the hearings for the Boggs Act of 1951. Pressed for a reason for harsher marijuana laws—and with his claims from 1937 that marijuana causes criminality, insanity and death long debunked—Anslinger let fly that cannabis use serves as the jumping-off point for future heroin addiction. That desperate claim, not surprisingly, blatantly goes against his 1937 statement that marijuana “addicts” don’t move on to harder drugs and seasoned narcotics users don’t make their way back to marijuana.
Virtually every study since then, including government-sponsored inquiries going as far back as Nixon’s 1972 gateway study, has found no causal relationship between marijuana and hard drug use. However, it would seem that anti-drug agencies (and propagandists) have been willfully ignoring those long-held results—just look at what DARE has to say, or DFAF. For years, the studies didn’t matter: Forget what the University of Pittsburgh’s comprehensive gateway study has to say, ditto for the Department of Human Genetics 2004 study—the list goes on. It’s as if there needed to be a replacement to take marijuana’s spot as the big, bad gateway drug, and alcohol finally fit the bill in 2012.
The gateway problem seems to come down to everyone’s favorite logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “Y happened after X, so therefore X caused Y.” But there is no substance in the world that, once you put it into your body, will force you to crave drugs you’ve never had before. Drugs like alcohol and marijuana are simply more socially acceptable and attainable, so they are naturally the first substances people will go to when the time for drug experimentation begins. What happens after that depends more on environmental and genetic factors.
The American quest for a gateway drug on which we can pin our social ills shows a massive lack of personal responsibility and sends the message that drug use or experimentation—and indeed perception alteration in general—is immoral in some way. Strange, considering that this county was at least partially founded on the predilection for mind-altering substances: after all, the Sugar Act of 1764 did significantly hinder colonial rum production, and colonial Americans sure did love their firewater. But forget history—as human beings, we are naturally drawn to mind-altering behavior. We eat white sugar, drink caffeine, huff markers and spin around until we’re dizzy as kids. All of these things change the way our minds work, if only for a short amount of time, and all of these things come before we even touch a cigarette or pop open a brew.
But then, it is easier to blame a stinky plant or fizzy liquid for your troubles rather than yourself. Just ask an addict.