For me, marijuana wasn’t just a gateway drug—it was an exit ramp to wasted opportunities.


Marijuana as a gateway drug is a decidedly one-sided argument. It goes like this:

Cannabis is no more a gateway drug than alcohol or tobacco and has no business being a Schedule 1 drug. If we can get the Feds to reschedule it, we can study it more carefully and prove that its positives outweigh its negatives.

Yes, let’s reschedule it. Let’s study the tar out of it and see what we can squeeze out of it medicinally. I’m all for harnessing natural products for potential health benefits. But I’ve already studied its effects in my own laboratory—my teenage brain.

Here are my findings

My use helped kill my motivation to earn more than solid Bs. It also helped ensure I scored pretty well on the SATs, yet not good enough for Ivy League schools.

Pot transformed my high school graduation ceremony into a hazy, silly experience in which I forgot that my name card was in my shirt pocket and had to hastily tell the handler how to have the announcer announce me.

My cannabis use helped me stay in my introverted shell. When I wasn’t stoned, I felt even more awkward. My English teacher asked me in front of the entire class, “Are you going to laugh your way through life?” “Yep,” I giggled. I was bombed that day.

Getting high was a way to laugh more and have more fun—grades and future college opportunities be damned. When I wasn’t wasted, I felt like a ghost—like I was there, but not really, if you know what I mean.

It made me feel like a faded version of myself—like Bilbo Baggins’ feeling “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Remember Bilbo, the hobbit? He enjoyed his weed—Longbottom Leaf (nerd alert), which was likely a nicotiana tobacco blend, not indica or sativa cannabis. Sorry, stoners.

I remember doing homework at home once—when I wrote my senior theme paper. Otherwise I did it during the class before the class. My using inspired me to skate through school with the least amount of effort. It clouded my mind, degraded my scholastic performance, sapped my drive and enhanced my introversion. For me, it was a gateway drug to nowhere.

Opening the marijuana gate

It happened when a waiter at a restaurant where I worked invited me to smoke a doobie in his car. My mindset before the puff: Drugs were a loser’s game. They were bad, and if you tried them, you were a fool. At the moment of truth, I took a drag, obliterated the taboo and opened the gate.

For most, marijuana is a gateway drug. Not because it makes you want to snort or shoot up, but because it breaks the barrier. Once it’s broken, what’s to stop you from trying other drugs in search of other highs?

It’s not that pot makes you want to try harder drugs; it’s the seemingly harmless lever that opens the gate. Once you take your first draw, you’ve crossed over. You’ve cleared the hurdle—you’ve become a drug user because you used a drug.

A fellow blogger and childhood friend of mine sees things differently even though we grew up in the same church and community and attended the same junior high and high schools. He writes that he only transitioned to harder drugs because of the marketing skills of his dealers.

I respect and validate his experience. But what he claims is after the fact: He blew coke after he opened the gate and stepped through. Would a dealer’s marketing prowess have been as effective had he not smoked pot first? Maybe. I wonder.

For the record, I also snorted cocaine, dropped acid, and took crank. But I did so because I opened the gate to these drugs with that first joint. The people I got harder stuff from didn’t have to market it to me at all. I was all in for new experiences because I’d smoked pot. There were no more taboos because my gate stood swinging in the wind.

Weed your life, not your mind

In my case, marijuana was a gateway to stronger stuff because it greased the skids. It slew the giant of fear and overcame all the warnings from people who tried to steer me clear of a teenage wasteland. Maybe these well-meaning folks need to improve their marketing skills.

I’m not sure about my skills, but here’s my message:

Hey, punks—take it from a doofus like me who wasted his high school years toking with his doofus friends. Don’t do it. It’s stupid and a waste of time. Plus, it sears your lung sacs and does much more damage to them than filtered cigarettes—like five times more.

Do this instead:

Guard your gate. What you think is harmless could let in a flood of wasted opportunities and drown your potential. These friends of yours who are getting high and think you should too will be somewhere in ten or twenty years.

Will they be in solid marriages and be loving, effective parents? In fulfilling jobs? Will they be in rehab?

Junior high and high school can be an exciting and essential time of your life. Play sports. Play an instrument. Get good grades. Talk to your school counselor and find out how to get accepted into colleges you’ll be proud to earn a degree from. Enjoy your prom by not taking it too seriously. Be sober for your graduation ceremony, so you’ll remember it clearly. It only happens once.

And for parents who don’t mind advice from someone who isn’t one yet:

Fill your kids’ lives with you. Take them camping, hiking, shopping, to sports games, and on walks. Watch movies with them, invite them to make dinner with you, help you change the oil, or plant a garden.

Be in their lives when they’re young, and maybe they won’t go looking for kicks with foolish friends. Maybe they’ll respect your decision to value them over your work, which is a reflection of your character. Perhaps they’ll respect your anti-drug stance and want to be like you rather than like their clueless friends.

Say no to stupid

Don’t listen to the nonsense about the harmlessness of marijuana. No drug is harmless. Even moderate pot use can make you harmless. Or worse, it can open the door to drugs that can make you dangerous—like meth.

When you’re young and dumb, getting wasted seems like fun. But after the laughs and munchies, it’s just a fake, drug-induced sensation that doesn’t last. Taking your first drag can easily lead to a first snort, drop, or injection.

People who care about you will tell you it’s a waste of time, talent and life. Ask yourself: Whom will you listen to? Those who want to sell you a phony, drug-fueled loser experience or those who resisted and kept their gates closed and are so glad they did?

It’s your life and your decision. Don’t blow it.