During the early 1970s Denise Kandel and her colleagues documented an ‘invariant sequence’ in initiation of drug use: starting with alcohol and tobacco, progressing to cannabis and then to other illicit, or ‘harder’ drugs. This observation, which became known as the ‘gateway sequence’ of drug use, has been influential in policy debates but remains highly contentious, with the area of greatest controversy focusing upon whether cannabis use increases risk causally for initiation of other illicit drugs. While numerous studies have replicated Kandel's initial findings (sequence of onset) and reported that associations between cannabis use and the use of other illicit drugs remain after controlling for potentially confounding factors, the mechanisms underlying these observed associations remain hotly debated. In particular, it is possible that the observed associations are non-causal but reflect the influence of confounding factors which influence both early-onset drug use and subsequent progressions. However, research employing a range of techniques to address this issue has been unable to discount the possibility that associations between earlier and subsequent drug use reflect causal processes. This paper reviews Kandel's ongoing contributions to this field, which span 45 years, and discusses both the influence of her work and the controversy that it has aroused.
- Denise Kandel
- gateway theory