What exactly is a gateway drug? Is there really such a thing? What distinguishes a gateway drug from other non-gateway drugs? We’ll answer these questions and more.

A gateway drug is any substance that became an addict’s first drug of choice. It was the drug that first started them on the path of drug use and experimentation, and acted as an introduction to other forms of drug use.

For many people, marijuana is a gateway drug, which is one of the major arguments against marijuana. People who defend marijuana argue that it’s safe, non-addictive, and has medical benefits, while opponents argue that it’s dangerous because it inspires people to move onto other drugs.

It’s true that not everyone that smokes marijuana will necessarily move on to use harder drugs. Most marijuana users don’t. However, if you ask most drug addicts what drugs they started with, they will more often than not say marijuana. In this way, marijuana was their gateway drug.

Different Authors and Experts Weigh In on Gateway Drugs

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a gateway drug as “a drug (such as alcohol or marijuana) whose use is thought to lead to the use of and dependence on a harder drug (such as cocaine or heroin).”

Katherine Keys, who is a researcher at Columbia University, said the following about gateway drug theory:

“The traditional gateway sequence is really agnostic about the causal mechanism. The one clear causal relationship is that kids who engage in substance abuse early get selected into different social groups where more drugs might be available. They’ve found that mice who are primed to be addicted to nicotine then find the effects of cocaine, for example, much more reinforcing. When you use these substances early, it primes you to enjoy substances more, and you also tend to have the opportunity to use those substances.”

It’s safe to conclude that gateway drugs are real and a major issue. They put people on a dangerous path towards addiction.


It’s easy to overcomplicate gateway drug theory and get into all kinds of arguments and discussions about it. The reality is simple. If you started with one drug and moved onto something harder, that first drug is your gateway drug.

We need to make much bigger efforts to educate our young people about the dangers of gateway drugs. Every parent needs to talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol early and often through their adolescence and teen years. Studies show that young people whose parents talk to them about substance abuse are 400% less likely to go on to abuse substances. It should be mandatory for every school in the country to teach drug education courses.