Marijuana has long been a controversial illicit drug.  Statistically, alcohol causes more deaths, and marijuana has proven an effective painkiller.  However, a new study reveals that the homegrown substance may in fact be a gateway drug, leading to heavier substance abuse.

Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine published their study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.  Information was gathered from a sample of 55,215 eighteen to twenty-five year-olds from the 2006, 2007 and 2008 versions of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Of the sample, twelve percent reported prescription opioid abuse.  Prior drug use included alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana.  Thirty-four percent of opioid abusers had used marijuana indicating that according to the Yale study: marijuana may really be gateway drug.

The study also indicated that there was no gender gap.  Among men and women, those who had used marijuana were two and a half times more likely to abuse prescription drugs than those who had refrained from drug use.  In fact, marijuana was the sole gateway drug among women–cigarettes and alcohol didn’t seem to be an influence.

Why This New Trend Is So Dangerous

While prescription painkillers may seem benign, as they are used for medicinal purposes, they are in fact hard drugs when they are abused.  Not only that, it is very easy to get addicted to opioids (also known as narcotics).

Prescription opioids include Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, morphine and codeine.  After long-term use, many find themselves inadvertently addicted when they try to stop taking the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, anxiety, depression and intense cravings.  Those who use marijuana may end up intentionally turning to prescription drugs when pot no longer creates the same high; or they may be surrounded by other drug users who offer prescription drugs as a more intense high.

Opioid abuse can cause a number of physical and mental manifestations, including:

•    Lethargy
•    Dizziness
•    Nausea
•    Vomiting
•    Constipation
•    Respiratory Depression
•    Depressed immune system
•    Hormonal difficulties
•    Muscle rigidity
•    Decreased personal hygiene
•    Forgetfulness
•    Mood swings
•    Cardiac arrest
•    Death

Opioids work with the parts of the brain that deal with pain, numbing pain receptors and increasing the body’s pain tolerance.  They cause the body to secrete more endorphins, which is what gives the feeling of euphoria or “high” when abused.  This causes the body to stop creating its own endorphins, however, which is what gives a feeling of deep depression when coming down off the drugs.

Many teens that are addicted to prescription opioids are also turning to heroin because it’s cheaper making the issue even more dangerous than it already was.

According to recent statistics, abuse of prescription opioids causes an average of forty deaths a day in the United States.  The surge in painkiller abuse has been labeled an epidemic.  In 2010 there were 1.3 million ER visits because of prescription drugs.  This is a 115% increase since 2004.

Stopping Marijuana Use Before It Becomes Gateway

Narconon Hawaii has seen that there is a way to prevent young adults and teens from using drugs like marijuana, that later act as gateway substances into other narcotics and prescriptions. One of the primary ways to handle this has been seen with parents who are taking the reins on drug education.  Studies show that kids whose parents talk to them about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol are less likely to abuse them.

Programs like those done through Narconon Hawaii in schools, places of business and community groups are also essential for stopping the problem. Those in the community should ensure that such programs are being used and that young people know the dangers of drug use and how to say no to using them.


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