There's apparently a substance far more deserving of the label "gateway drug" than marijuana, and it's legal in all 50 states.
According to The Washington Post, researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of Florida found the majority of 12th graders who reported using illegal drugs tried alcohol before marijuana and tobacco.
The conclusion was based on data collected from 2,835 US 12th graders in an annual federal survey called Monitoring the Future.
Of the students who admitted to using drugs, 54 percent said they used alcohol first, 32 percent said they used tobacco first and only 14 percent said marijuana was the first of the substances tried.
Students who went on to use the most amount of illegal substances were those who tried alcohol at young ages.
Researchers reportedly said,
Alcohol was the most widely used substance among respondents, initiated earliest, and also the first substance most commonly used in the progression of substance use.
Those students who tried alcohol in the sixth or seventh grades went on to use an average of around two illegal substances, while those who didn't drink until 12th grade were much less likely to have tried additional illegal substances.
The students who tried alcohol at young ages also went on to use illegal substances on a more consistent basis compared to those who tried alcohol at later ages. Researchers did not provide similar statistics regarding those who tried tobacco or marijuana first because the numbers of those who did were too low.
Researchers also said the study alone isn't enough to establish causal trends; many of the students who tried other illegal substances may have been naturally inclined to do so based on some other factor. But, it appears alcohol is the first drug students are usually most willing to try.
Additionally, when compared to tobacco and marijuana, alcohol seems to instill the biggest desire to try other drugs if it is used at an early age before the other two.
This research was originally published in the Journal of School Health.
Citations: The real 'gateway drug' is 100% legal (The Washington Post), Prioritizing Alcohol Prevention: Establishing Alcohol as the Gateway Drug and Linking Age of First Drink With Illicit Drug Use. (Journal of School Health)