Risk of Using Other Drugs

Researchers disagree on whether marijuana is a “gateway drug” — the idea that marijuana use leads a person to use other more dangerous drugs, like cocaine or heroin.1,2 However, there is limited evidence suggesting that using marijuana increases the risk of using other drugs.3

Most people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” drugs.4 People who use marijuana and do go on to use other drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) may have a higher risk of dependence or addiction to those drugs, especially if they started using marijuana at an early age and use it frequently.4-6

People of any age, sex, or economic status can develop a substance use disorder for marijuana or other drugs. The following things can affect the likelihood of substance use disorder6:

  • Family history
  • Having another mental health illness (such as anxiety or depression)
  • Peer pressure
  • Loneliness or social isolation
  • Lack of family involvement
  • Drug availability
  • Socioeconomic status
  1. Mayet A, Legleye S, Beck F, Falissard B, Chau N. The gateway hypothesis, common liability to addictions or the route of administration model? A modelling process linking the three theories. European Addiction Research. 2016;22(2):107-117.
  2. Mayet A, Legleye S, Chau N, Falissard B. Transitions between tobacco and cannabis use among adolescents: a multi-state modeling of progression from onset to daily use. Addictive Behaviors. 2011;36(11):1101-1105.
  3. Secades-Villa R, Garcia-Rodríguez O, Jin CJ, Wang S, Blanco C. Probability and predictors of the cannabis gateway effect: a national study. International Journal of Drug Policy. 2015;26(2):135-142.
  4. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2017.
  5. Buu A, Dabrowska A, Heinze JE, Hsieh H-F, Zimmerman MA. Gender differences in the developmental trajectories of multiple substance use and the effect of nicotine and marijuana use on heavy drinking in a high-risk sample. Addictive Behaviors. 2015;50:6-12.
  6. Timberlake DS, Haberstick BC, Hopfer CJ, et al. Progression from marijuana use to daily smoking and nicotine dependence in a national sample of US adolescents. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2007;88(2-3):272-281.
  7. Robertson EB, David SL, Rao SA. Preventing drug use among children and adolescents: A research-based guide for parents, educators, and community leaders. National Institute on Drug Abuse; 2003.