In the ongoing debate about the legalization of medical marijuana, I propose the following considerations in an effort to counterbalance the propaganda of some who think that this so-called mild hallucinogen might be relatively harmless. What if the euphoria of marijuana intoxication were not all-that innocent? What biblical principles — if any — should be considered in the consumption of cannabis beyond the pathological effects of this often smoked plant on the human body which — for Christians at least — is a temple of God (I Corinthians 6:19) not to be desecrated? Is there something qualitatively different about the altered state of consciousness produced by hallucinogens such as marijuana that would make its ingestion off-limits to Christians?
As a former consumer of cannabis, I personally struggled with the ethical and pathological implications of smoking weed whose active ingredient (THC: tetrahydrocannabinol) interferes with the normal workings of the synapses in the brain and produces the euphoria and/or hallucinations which cause this drug to be included in the category of hallucinogens, labelled “Phantastica” in the classification elaborated by Lewis Lewin in his classic, authoritative work first published in 1924 (1).
For the sake of clarity, I should affirm that I am not against the use of marijuana for certain medical reasons. Its virtues as an analgesic and in the treatment of the symptoms of various illnesses including glaucoma are well known and widely touted. However, the non-intoxicating form of marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” (devoid of the active hallucinogenic THC) works fine for those needs.
What we’re talking about here is the use of marijuana with its THC active ingredient for the purpose of getting high. Is this form of cannabis use detrimental to one’s health, physical and/or spiritual?
It’s not possible in a short article to consider the vast documentation from cultures where relatively wide-spread use of cannabis or other mind-altering drugs have been known for centuries. From antiquity to the present, testimonies abound revolving around the use of mind-altering drugs in pursuit of spiritual ends including the ancient Greeks’ use of opium poppies for divination; the Mazateque Indians consumption of psychedelic mushrooms (containing the hallucinogenic psilocybin) and peyote in their religious ceremonies; and the modern Rastafarians use of marijuana as an aid to ‘spirituality’. These and numerous other examples reinforce the conclusion that the modified state of consciousness associated with the ingestion of certain drugs has long been assimilated with so-called ‘religious’ experiences. We should not be surprised therefore, that the Bible would have something to say about this.
Indeed, it’s not difficult to establish a connection between the aforementioned forms of chemical ecstasy and a phenomenon denounced by the apostle Paul amongst the “works of the flesh” by the Greek word pharmakeia, translated in most English Bibles by “sorcery” or “witchcraft” (Galatians 5:20). Simple semantic considerations strongly suggest that the practice includes the abuse of mind-altering drugs.
It’s equally clear from testimonies from different ancient cultures that this phenomenon is qualitatively different from the drunkenness induced by excessive alcohol consumption which the Bible qualifies as asotia (“debauchery” or “dissolution,” Ephesians 5:18). It is perhaps significant that the Lord Jesus himself, who did not scorn the “wine which rejoices man’s heart” (Psalm 104:15), nevertheless refused the psychotropic mixture of myrrh and wine offered to him on the cross (Mc.15:23). All of which reinforces the thesis that mind-altering drugs such as cannabis can be detrimental to one’s spiritual health in a way that moderate quantities of alcohol is not.
Consider this striking testimony from the French poet Charles Baudelaire, an erstwhile member of the “Club des Hashishins” (hashish smokers club) in Paris in the early 19th century, who eventually renounced this vice and weighed-in heavily against the consumption of cannabis which he labelled a “perfect satanic instrument.” Though hardly an evangelical, Baudelaire curiously arrived at biblical conviction with regards to the use of cannabis. He wrote: “It is really superfluous…to insist on the immoral character of hashish… that I would assimilate to sorcery or to magic… If the church condemns magic and sorcery, it is because they militate against the intentions of God….A reasonable civilization could never subsist with the use of hashish which makes neither soldiers nor citizens.”(2)
It’s my personal conviction that a hedonistic desire for euphoria drives much modern cannabis consumption. The phenomenon is symptomatic of a culture in want of serenity seeking desperately to fill its spiritual void with any substitute. In addition to its manifestly negative physiological effects (leading to a lack of ambition, short-term memory loss etc.) for which I can vouch personally, cannabis abuse can more ominously lead to a dangerous rapprochement with the occult. Hence the Bible’s clear condemnation of a practice it reproves under the foreboding heading of “pharmakeia” or ‘sorcery.’ Christians need to take that warning seriously.
Marc J. Mailloux was raised in a French-Canadian, Roman Catholic environment, explored oriental mysticism at Georgetown University, and was saved in India in 1973, indirectly through the ministries of Os Guinness and Francis Schaeffer (at L’Abri Fellowship) . Marc worked in France with Campus Crusade, planted churches in Marseille and ministers to French-speaking Haitians in S. Florida, regularly teaching in Haiti and French West Africa.
1- Lewin, Lewis; Phantastica (Paris: Payot, 1970)
2-Baudelaire, Charles ; Les Paradis Artificiels, Livre de Poche 1972, p.52+76).
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