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Marijuana is Gateway Drug

New research confirms that marijuana is a gateway drug for most teens who use it.

Some will tell you marijuana is a harmless drug, but the Journal of the American Medical Association isn't one of them.

Young people who smoke marijuana are two to five times more likely to move on to harder drugs. That is the formal opinion of researchers, who published their conclusions from a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

It is also the informal conclusion of two recent high school graduates who talked with Family News in Focus. The two, who asked that their names remain anonymous, said they no longer smoke marijuana, but that most of the kids they smoked pot with in high school went on to harder drugs and aren't able to hold jobs.

One of the young persons said she started smoking pot because of peer pressure, but she stopped out of concern for her parents.

"I realized how bad it disappointed my parents," she said. "My dad cried and so I stopped."

The JAMA study followed 311 sets of identical twins one smoked pot while the other did not. Twins were chosen to help rule out a genetic or social explanation for the gateway effect. Almost half of the young people who started smoking marijuana before 17 went on to use harder drugs later in life. The study is the latest to suggest the link between marijuana and other drugs like cocaine and heroin. However, Howard Simon, of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said regardless of the evidence some still dispute the findings.

"But the one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that for young kids, to be even 'dabbling' with marijuana is just not a good idea," Simon said.

He added he still thinks "Just Say No" is the best policy.

"Regardless of the first drug that is used, what we want to see is kids choosing not to use any of these substances," Simon said.

But experts say a good drug policy isn't enough. They say parents need to be open and consistent with an anti-drug message.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a non-profit group founded by the nation's advertising industry to fight drug use among teens and children, has a Web site with information for parents.

The Journal of the American Medical Association is a subscription-based periodical. Temporarily, the online version of the Journal is offering free access to the drug study article. Please be advised that JAMA, however, reserves the right to change free access to paid access at any time.

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