Skip to main content
Log in

Is cannabis a gateway to hard drugs?

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Empirical Economics Aims and scope Submit manuscript


The gateway hypothesis proposes that use of cannabis directly increases the risk of consuming hard drugs. We test this controversial, but influential, hypothesis on a sample of cannabis users, exploiting a unique set of drug price data. A flexible approach is developed to identify the causal gateway effect using a bivariate survival model with shared frailty estimated using a latent class approach. The model suggests two distinct groups; a smaller group of “troubled youths” for whom there is a statistically significant gateway effect that more than doubles the hazard of starting to use hard drugs and a larger fraction of youths for whom previous cannabis use has less impact.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Abbring JH, van den Berg G (2003) The non-parametric identification of treatment effects in duration models. Econometrica 71: 1491–1517

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ainslie G (1992) Picoeconomics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Beenstock M, Rahav G (2002) Testing gateway theory: do cigarette prices affect illicit drug use. J Health Econ 21: 679–698

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bretteville-Jensen AL, Biørn E (2003) Heroin consumption, prices and addiction: evidence from self-reported panel data. Scand J Econ 105: 661–679

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bretteville-Jensen AL, Melberg HO, Jones AM (2008) Sequential patterns of drug use initiation—can we believe in the gateway theory? BE J Econ Anal Policy 8 (Contributions), Article 1

  • Deb P, Trivedi PK (1997) Demand for medical care by the elderly: a finite mixture approach. J Appl Econ 12: 313–336

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DeSimone J (1998) Is Marijuana a gateway drug. East Econ J 24: 149–164

    Google Scholar 

  • Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ (2000) Does Cannabis use encourage other forms of illicit drug use. Addiction 95: 505–520

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fergusson DM, Boden JM, Horwood LJ (2006) Cannabis use and other illicit drug use: testing the cannabis gateway hypothesis. Addiction 101: 556–569

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gaure S, Røed K, Zhang T (2007) Time and causality: a Monte Carlo assessment of the timing-of-events approach. J Econom 141: 1159–1195

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Golub A, LaBouvie E, Johnson BD (2000) Response reliability and the study of adolescent substance use progression. J Drug Issues 30: 103–118

    Google Scholar 

  • Heckman JJ, Honorè BE (1989) The identifiability of the competing risks model. Biometrica 76: 325–330

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heckman JJ, Navarro S (2007) Dynamic discrete choice and dynamic treatment effects. J Econom 136: 341–396

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Horverak Ø (2006) Norwegian drinking pattern—undergoing change? In: Bryhni A (ed) Alcohol and drugs in Norway, Annual report, Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug, Oslo, pp 28–39

  • Jenkins S (1995) Easy estimation methods for discrete-time duration models. Oxf Bull Econ Stat 57: 129–138

    Google Scholar 

  • Kandel DB (1975) Stages in adolescent involvement in drug use. Science 190: 912–914

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lancaster T (1990) The econometric analysis of transition data. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Lyons MJ, Toomey R, Meyer JM, Green AI, Eisen SA, Goldberg J, True WR, Tsuang MT (1997) How do genes influence Marijuana use? The role of subjective effects. Addiction 92: 409–417

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ng SK, Krishnan T, McLachlan GJ (1995) The EM algorithm. In: Gentle JE, Härdle W, Mori Y(eds) Handbook of computational statistics.. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 137–168

    Google Scholar 

  • Pacula RL (1998) Does increasing beer tax reduce Marijuana consumption. J Health Econ 17: 557–585

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pedersen W (2008) Hasjbruk blant unge (Young people’s cannabis use). Norwegian Med J 128(16): 1825–1828

    Google Scholar 

  • Pudney S (2003) The road to ruin? Sequences of initiation to drug use and crime in Britain. Econ J 113: 182–198

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Ours JC (2003) Is Cannabis a stepping-stone for Cocaine. J Health Econ 22: 539–554

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams J (2004) The effect of price and policy on Marijuana use: what can be learned from the Australian experience. Health Econ 13: 123–137

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yamaguchi K, Kandel DB (1984) Patterns of drug use from adolescence to young adulthood: III Predictors of progression. Am J Public Health 74: 673–681

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hans Olav Melberg.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Melberg, H.O., Jones, A.M. & Bretteville-Jensen, A.L. Is cannabis a gateway to hard drugs?. Empir Econ 38, 583–603 (2010).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


JEL Classification