It has long been the position of government agencies associated with illicit drug use that marijuana was a “gateway” drug. In others words, although marijuana addiction wasn’t an issue, what was an issue was that it led to using stronger stuff, opioids, heroin, speed, etc. Those involved in the drug culture have always scoffed at this. But it’s true.
What’s also true is any drug is a gateway drug. Why wouldn’t alcohol be a gateway drug? Because it’s legal? It isn’t if you’re under age. And kid who first try drinking, because alcohol is so available, very often go on to try other things, like marijuana, and opioids, and speed and meth. In the 60’s it was widely rumored that smoking banana peels would get you high and, so, many kids at that time tried smoking banana peel. They clearly wanted to get high. But banana peel has no properties that will get you high when you smoke it. Most of those kids eventually went on to smoking marijuana. So, can we consider banana a gateway drug?
It just stands to reason that someone who is already inclined toward wanting to get high is going try different things no matter where he, or she, starts. Mostly, it’s about availability.
But what’s diminished by this focus on gateways is addiction to marijuana. It’s almost as if that’s not important enough to be concerned with. But it is. Marijuana and addiction have always gone hand in hand, but not merely as a gateway to harder, more addictive drugs. People who use marijuana extensively over a period of time become very dependent on it, perhaps more psychologically than physically, but that addiction is real and it has some terrible consequences.
Those people will need marijuana to “feel normal”. They won’t be able to function in certain circumstances without having it first. They’ll become socially inactive, more reclusive, in some cases even paranoid and agoraphobic. After a few years of daily marijuana use, it isn’t hard to get to this place. We’ve seen people who had difficulty leaving home, going out into public, or performing normal daily tasks, much less trying anything that would prevent them from using, like an extended airplane flight. They can also experience depression. Severe depression. So much so that even smoking marijuana will not help after a while.
Not to mention what extended marijuana use can do just to your cognitive abilities. You can become easily confused, have difficulty processing information, making decisions, understanding problems.
Anyone struggling with a marijuana dependence needs treatment. And, yes, in many cases it does lead to other, harder drugs. As all drugs do.