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Teens Are Trying Marijuana Before Alcohol and Tobacco

There was once a time when teenagers gravitated toward the use of alcohol and tobacco to get their first taste of adult substances before coming of age, but that has changed. It seems this demographic has come to understand the dangers of booze and cigarettes, so they are choosing to explore the land of debauchery through cannabis, according to new research published in the journal Alcohol and Drug Dependence.

Researchers at Columbia University say that marijuana is the official gateway drug for teens across the United States. But parents, don’t let this scare you too much. Co-study author Katherine M. Keyes, a professor of epidemiology at CU, says the next generation just has little interest in cigarettes and alcohol.

This age group has come to understand cannabis doesn’t include the same harmful repercussions as other intoxicating substances. It is viewed as a safer alternative. It’s not that more teens are smoking weed these days than ever before; it’s just that when it comes to trying their first drug, they are more apt to dabble in the doobie than anything else.

“As we’ve seen the dramatic declines in alcohol and tobacco, we haven’t seen dramatic declines in marijuana, so now every year it’s more and more likely that kids are starting their drug-use careers with marijuana,” Keyes told The Verge, adding this trend started to build way before marijuana legalization efforts started going mainstream.

The study was compiled through the examination of some four decades worth of high school drug surveys. Researchers found that in the mid-1990s, a solid majority of seniors that reported using marijuana had tried cigarettes first. Within the next decade, that had changed—less than half of the recorded seniors said they had used tobacco before graduating the weed. Researchers say the pattern of teens using alcohol and tobacco before marijuana has continued to diminish over the years.

Previous studies have turned out similar results showing that teens are using fewer drug now than the generations that came before them. But the popularity of marijuana use continues to increase.

Researchers believe teens will have more of a propensity toward marijuana as legalization becomes more widespread in the next few years. Although pot laws prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing anything derived from marijuana, teens can always find a way to attain pot. The black market is still alive and well. Some reports have shown that pot prices are diminishing in legal states, making the herb ultra-affordable across the board.

“It’s not going out on a huge limb to suggest that marijuana is going to be more available at a lower cost to adolescents,” Keyes said. “If you make a substance more available at a lower cost and easier to access, you’re gonna see increases,” she added.

It is important to point out that when the study refers to tobacco, it is explicitly talking about cigarettes. There has been an enormous surge in teen vaping. However, Keyes says the biggest takeaway from the study is “that gateway sequences are malleable and very context-specific.” There is no one specific “gateway drug.”

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