In celebration of 4/20 ABRAMS has asked Ryan Nerz, author of Marajuanamerica (out this month) to post about the demon weed. Alfred Ryan Nerz is a freelance journalist whose pieces have appeared in Esquire, the Village Voice, and Time Out New York. In addition, he has written for NPR and produced television shows on Spike TV and the Biography channel.
Of the myriad theories that have been used to demonize weed, none has been more stubbornly persistent than the “gateway theory.” This theory claims that marijuana use may not be so harmful on its own, but that its real damage is that it leads to the abuse of more destructive drugs like heroin and cocaine.
On the surface, the gateway theory seems to hold water. If you go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, it’s true that many addicts will begin their drug histories with a story about experimenting with pot. And there is some correlation there. In MARIJUANAMERICA, I readily concede that I might never have felt comfortable experimenting with psychedelics like mushrooms and Ecstasy had I not first discovered I liked marijuana’s effects. (That said, the illegality of marijuana also contributed to this, as black market weed dealers were the first people to offer me mushrooms and ecstasy.) And according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a person who smokes marijuana is more than 104 times more likely to try cocaine than someone who hasn’t tried weed.
But I’m not a cokehead. My point is: correlation doesn’t imply cause. Numerous studies (like this one) have debunked the gateway theory for this reason. The fact is, marijuana is by far the most widely used (and available) illegal drug, so it would stand to reason that people would use it first. Further, drug use studies have shown that most Americans actually try alcohol and tobacco before they try marijuana. And a very small percentage of marijuana users go on to actually become addicted to weed.
In the words of Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, “the gateway theory is an ounce of truth embedded in a pound of bull…The notion that we should try to reduce the number of people getting addicted to heroin by focusing on adolescent use of marijuana is like trying to reduce motorcycle fatalities by discouraging bike riding.”
Marijuanamerica: One Man’s Quest to Understand America’s Dysfunctional Love Affair with Weed by Alfred Ryan Nerz (Abrams Image, 2013) is available now wherever books are sold.