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Not only has marijuana proven to alter healthy development of the adolescent body and mind, statistics say that those (ages 12-17) who use marijuana are 85 times more likely to explore a “harder” drug than kids who do not use pot.

Cross-Sensitivity & the Role of Tolerance

Cross sensitivity is defined as sensitivity to one substance that renders an individual sensitive to other substances of similar chemical structure. In Layman’s terms: When a teenager dabbles with marijuana on a regular basis, their body builds up a tolerance to its effects. When the same high can no longer be achieved using pot alone, the likelihood that they will move on to a harder substance (like cocaine or heroin) increases dramatically. The addictive nature of marijuana can segue into tolerance, often leading to the use of other illicit drugs. In this sense, marijuana certainly can be a gateway drug. However, the only certainty is that the outcomes vary based on the individual, their circumstances, and a multitude of other factors.

Comparing Apples & Oranges

There is no black-and-white answer when it comes to the question of marijuana being a gateway drug. For some, it can lead to the hazardous use of other substances, yet other individuals may never experiment with drugs again. Some risk factors include aggressive behavior, lack of parental supervision, drug availability and poverty. Among the protective factors are self-control, parental monitoring, academic competence, and a strong neighborhood connection.

Prolonged use of marijuana in the adolescent years is particularly dangerous. In addition to physical developmental risks, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – the main ingredient in cannabis) has the ability to “prime” the brain for enhanced responses to other drugs, which has the potential to lead to further substance abuse.

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