Marijuana addiction, just what is it? The simple answer is that marijuana addiction is a scary talking point for the prohibitionists clinging to their jobs against the growing wave of marijuana legalization.

In the New England Journal of Medicine, a new report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) claims that marijuana can be “addictive, harmful, and a gateway drug.” The lead author of the report is Dr. Nora Volkow, who is also the head of NIDA, the staffing and budget of which would be severely curtailed if marijuana were legalized nationwide. Would that conflict of interest color Dr. Volkow’s impartiality and scientific detachment when it comes to weed? You be the judge.

Volkow’s latest report claims, “Approximately nine percent of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted. The number goes up to about one in six among those who start using marijuana as teenagers and to 25 to 50 percent among those who smoke marijuana daily.”

Whenever I read a statistic with such a range as “25 to 50 percent,” I am immediately doubtful of its veracity. Add to that my personal experiences of watching my dad try to kick booze, speed, and cigarettes, and I think I have a pretty good idea what “addicted” means. As one of the people who smoke marijuana daily, either I’m in that 50 to 75 percent who didn’t get addicted, or Dr. Volkow is stretching the meaning of “addiction” to “daily marijuana user,” which makes it a tautology.

These marijuana addiction statistics are based on the criteria psychologists use to categorize mental illness. These criteria are contained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, known as the DSM. The new fifth edition, the DSM-V, was just released in May of last year, but Dr. Volkow’s “nine percent” and “one in six teens” statistics have been bandied about far prior to 2013. I recall Kevin Sabet and Project SAM using those lines back in 2012 and I’ve seen the “nine percent” figure as early as 2008.

That means the “marijuana addiction” referred to by Dr. Volkow and others must be the form described in the previous manual, the DSM-IV. According to that version, a marijuana smoker who exhibits three or more of the following symptoms within a year suffers from “cannabis dependence” -- the scientific literature’s term for marijuana addiction:

Tolerance, as defined by: A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
Tolerance, as defined by: Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.

So, the fact that you’ve been smoking pot long enough that a single puff off a joint doesn’t turn you into a giggling idiot means you may be a marijuana addict!

Withdrawal, as manifested by: The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance.

The so-called “withdrawal” from cannabis, according to Dr. Volkow’s own NIDA website, is characterized by “irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving.” (I recall my dad’s withdrawal from alcohol and speed involved hallucinations, cold sweats, extreme pain, delirium tremens, vomiting, the possibility of death, and eventually a 30-day hospital detox.)

So, if you’ve run out of weed and it’s made you grumpy, anxious, and unable to eat and sleep, you may be a marijuana addict! Of course, you could be using cannabis as medicine to deal with your anxiety, insomnia, and lack of appetite and taking away your medicine has made you crave some marijuana. In that case, you may be a marijuana addict!

Withdrawal, as manifested by: Taking the same (or a closely related) substance to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

So, if you’re out of weed and you popped an Ambien for the insomnia, Prozac for the anxiety, and drank a beer to adjust your attitude, you may be a marijuana addict!

Taking the substance often in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.

So, if you’re now smoking the whole joint and your smoke session went longer than you expected it to, you may be a marijuana addict!

Having a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.

So, if you’ve wanted to cut down on your marijuana use because the threat of being arrested, fired, or expelled, and you’re not able to, you may be a marijuana addict!  It makes me wonder, however, how many alcoholics there would be under this definition if they could be arrested, fired, or expelled for drinking a beer on the weekend.

A related diagnosis of “cannabis abuse” could also be used to ferret out the “marijuana addicts” out there. Under the DSM-IV, you need only meet one of these criteria in a year.

Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home.

So, if a piss test determines you smoked weed last weekend, and that leads to your firing or expulsion, you may be a marijuana abuser!

Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

So, if a piss test after an auto accident shows that you smoked weed within a day of driving the car, you may be a marijuana abuser!

Recurrent substance-related legal problems.

So, if you are caught with marijuana and arrested for it, you may be a marijuana abuser!

Continued substance use despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance

So, if your spouse, church, bowling team, or anyone else objects to your marijuana use and you don’t stop, you may be a marijuana abuser!

It’s pathetic watching the prohibitionists clutching at “marijuana addiction” straws to frighten the public into opposing marijuana legalization.  When most of what counts for “marijuana addiction” consists of the natural reaction of the endocannabinoid system to increasing doses of THC and the legal reaction of cops and bosses who catch you with it, what we really have is “prohibition addiction” - the desperate need to control the personal habits of others by force.