'Voices': Marijuana Is the Gateway Drug to Everything About Me

There's something to that gateway theory, only weed is not the portal it's portrayed to be.

According to University of Austin at Texas researchers, kids between 12 and 14 are “somewhat not cool” to “totally not cool” with you, presuming you are The KIND’s presumed consumer. Christopher Salas-Wright, an assistant professor of social work, lead a team of soft scientists in concluding that 79 percent of adolescents in the 12-to-14 range strongly disapprove of people using marijuana.

That rate of childlike contempt is up from 74 percent in 2002, the most distant year for which statistics are obtainable.

There are no metrics to back me up, but rest assured: I was never one of those kids who disdained weed or the poor souls who were enslaved to it, even though I was encouraged to be.

Middle school taught me that a single puff of “reefer,” offered during the twilight hours by a wan, sexually ambiguous older fellow on the outskirts of a local park, would lead to my moral ruin. By the time darkness has fallen, this unscrupulous predator will have lured me back to the basement of his crash pad shooting gallery.

"All my fears were grounded. I smoked marijuana, and I passed through the gateway to more exotic and disruptive drugs."

The fiend’s pants will be sliding down toward his knees. Why? Because he has removed his belt, wrapped the strip of leather around my callow biceps and injected me with an enervating potion that has rendered me defenseless. Lost and drooling in a narcotic false euphoria, I slouch on a sagging sofa that rests directly upon the stained and damp cement floor of this den of squalid vices. My future is an irreversible descent into failing grades and very bad skin.

I remember leaving social science class and science class and English class and every other class that majored in anti-drug propaganda, worried like you wouldn’t believe: Would I, in a moment of lapsed vigilance, take one toke of commersh dirt weed, and be transported immediately over the line of no return? In today’s terms, would I turn into that kid who never grows up to eat gluten free, to be lactose intolerant, to be a nonsmoking, vegan juice-cleansing asset to society?

All my fears were grounded. I smoked marijuana, and I passed through the gateway to more exotic and disruptive drugs.

Of course there is a flaw in the gateway metaphor. In truth and in retrospect, I was already well on the far side that tarnished archway by the time I gratefully inhaled my first luxuriant, hilarious breath of fresh weed. As was just about every kid I knew when I went to high school.

Science says that marijuana—like alcohol and nicotine—is an agent of cross sensitization. Cross sensitization is what happens when a certain substance primes the brain for a heightened response to (increased enjoyment of) other substances. Cross sensitization is why smoking a cigarette goes so well with a cup of coffee.

Some well-meaning prohibitionists cite this heightened response effect as proof that marijuana use is the first step to—and perhaps a cause of—truly horrible behaviors such as ditching class, losing interest in televised sports, wildly inappropriate laughter and fatal opiate overdoses.

None of those dreaded life outcomes is a stranger to me. My drug years and the illicit histories of many of my friends are littered with tragic days of irreversible and total loss. Few people survive what New York Times columnist David Carr deemed a “textured life” unscathed. We have varying degrees of diminished brain capacity. We have intractable viruses in our livers and bloodstreams. We have impacted primary relationships that range from strained to irreparable. Some of us are goners. Many of us have meaningful lives that have been reclaimed from the discard pile of bad decisions.

And if we have any degree of clarity, self-awareness and honesty, we have certainty that marijuana did not cause or trigger our grave misadventures. We can do the math. If marijuana were removed from the equation, we would have added up to roughly the same sum.

I can’t pinpoint when my mind—as in my intellect and my emotions—first cross-sensitized, maybe at birth. I do remember the relief marijuana provided that sensitized mind, and the raw curiosity and sense of possibility it awakened.

Traveling by way of the marijuana gateway didn’t divert me from taking weird, ill-advised detours along rough roads. But I am happy to be where I have arrived. Weed deserves some credit for directing me along the course.

Evidently, that’s not cool with 79 percent of the kids in Texas. Let’s give them a few years to think it over.