Stepping-Stones, Gateways, and the Prevention of Drug Problems

Mitch Earleywine

in Understanding Marijuana

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780195138931
Published online April 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199893270 | DOI:
Stepping-Stones, Gateways, and the Prevention of Drug Problems

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Researchers, theorists, politicians, and parents have all expressed concern about marijuana's potential to lead to the use of drugs with worse negative consequences. Proponents of these stepping-stone and gateway theories suggest that even if the adverse effects of marijuana are minimal, the drug can still cause trouble by ushering users toward the consumption of other illicit substances, including heroin and crack. According to this premise, marijuana should remain a primary concern because these other drugs create so many hardships. Comparable arguments appear against underage drinking and cigarette smoking. The gateway and stepping-stone theories have generated considerable research and debate for many years. However, the research remains difficult to evaluate without clear definitions of a stepping-stone and gateway. Interpreting this literature requires a good understanding of causality. Many popular reports confuse the causes of drug use with simple precursors. Confusion about the actual causes of drug consumption can impair any effort to prevent substance abuse and related problems. This chapter defines a stepping-stone and a gateway, reviews the requirements for causality, examines the literature relating marijuana consumption to the use of harder drugs, and discusses the prevention of drug problems.

Keywords: stepping-stone theory; gateway theory; marijuana use; causality; drug use

Chapter.  6414 words. 

Subjects: Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics

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