Medical

Is Cannabis Addictive?

By David Jenison

What is addiction? The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) utilized more than 70 experts over four years to answer this question, and a public policy statement published in 2011 provided the consensus definition: “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”

Prohibitionists condemn cannabis as addictive, but does consuming the plant regularly lead to a chronic disease of the brain reward system that physically alters dopaminergic pathways and motivates a pathological pursuit of substance reward? Moreover, is the disease primary, and do cannabis addicts experience punishing cravings that demand relief? These symptoms can emerge in a small number of cannabis consumers, but it can also happen playing Candy Crush. This is why a deeper grasp of addiction and dependence is necessary to understand the widely different definitions of addiction. To put it another way, Time magazine encapsulated the problem in 2010 with the following headline: “Is Marijuana Addictive? It Depends How You Define Addiction.”

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