The Legalism of Cannabis and the Believer
The use of cannabis for recreational purposes has been legalized in many parts of North America. But does this legal right mean that use is appropriate for a believer?
Recreational use of cannabis (marijuana) has become increasingly acceptable and legal. The Bible doesn’t specifically mention cannabis, but the effects of “getting high” on cannabis are similar to drunkenness from a Biblical perspective. This article will examine relevant Scripture, and what scientific studies of the last ten years reveal about the intoxicant effects of cannabis—plus its medical usages.
Beginning with the Apostle Paul’s inspired words, we are warned of the deeds of the flesh and their threat to our hope of salvation:
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:19-24).1
The Apostle Peter warned how drunkenness and other uncontrolled behaviors were the way of the world.
Drunkenness is associated with the works of the flesh—a contrast to the of alcohol-induced drunkenness and a cannabis-induced high is that of losing control. But the fruit of the Spirit requires maintaining self-control. The Apostle Peter warned how drunkenness and other uncontrolled behaviors were the way of the world.
Furthermore, Peter remarked how God expects us to “be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” (1 Pet 4:7). Consider our preparation in presenting ourselves to God in prayer when we are sober. Are our supplications as pleasing to God when we are intoxicated by alcohol or drugs? As we will see, one’s brain undergoes negative consequences when under the influence of cannabis.
Going back to the writings of Paul, we are advised about our spiritual walk. We should be filled with the Spirit, not intoxicants. We are exhorted to be wise, making the most of our time.
“Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Eph 5:15-21).
Despite warnings about drunkenness, Paul acknowledged the potential health benefits of a little wine:
Until modern water treatment was developed, wine and beer were often safer to drink than water due to bacteria and other microbes found in lakes, rivers, stagnant water sources, etc. Boiling water killed what was unsafe and the presence of alcohol allowed water to remain potable for months.
We should be filled with the Spirit, not intoxicants
Wine has positive and neutral values throughout the Bible. In the New Testament, wine plays a central role in the first miracle of Jesus, in some of the parables, and when Jesus introduces the emblems.
It is perfectly acceptable for us to drink alcohol in small quantities. But alcohol must not cause us to lose control. When we drink to excess, we lose control, allowing the flesh to take over. To get a better understanding, let’s examine what science tells us about cannabis and its effect on the human body. There are two main chemical compounds in cannabis that affect people: THC and CBD. We’ll look at the positive and negative effects of each chemical.
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and has been observed to cause short and long-term effects on people. Short-term influences include intoxication. One study has shown that a small concentration of 7-10 nanograms of THC per milliliter in a serum is sufficient to produce impairment equivalent to a 0.05-percent blood alcohol content. This THC intoxication can cause dissociation (feeling disconnected from your thoughts, emotions, and surroundings), disordered thoughts, difficulty learning, and difficulty concentrating.²
Long-term consequences of THC are varied. On an emotional level, one will have increased anxiety (despite temporary early on decrease in anxiety), panic, dysphoria (a state of dissatisfaction with one’s life), and psychotic symptoms.
Long-term users run the risk of bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. When used in adolescence, THC has shown to result in a significant decline in neuropsychological functioning and intelligence quotient (IQ).³
THC has a variety of negative effects on people who use it.
There are also long-lasting changes to the brain’s neural architecture. One of the most noticeable effects of THC is how it decreases the volume in several areas of the brain, including:
- Hippocampus, which plays a major role in learning and memory
- Orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in decision making
- Amygdala, which has a major role in one’s emotions
The more one uses cannabis regularly, the greater the reduction of volume in these three areas of the brain.14
To summarize, THC has a variety of negative effects on people who use it. While studies have shown that there are some positive outcomes, such as minimizing anxiety and fear, these positives can only be achieved over a short period with small doses.
Long-term use will worsen anxiety and promote panic attacks. Cannabis has been cultivated to have higher concentrations of THC, thus providing greater highs for those who use the drug. These higher concentrations have only worsened the negative long-term effects of cannabis.25
Now let’s look at the effects of CBD on the body. Research shows CBD has a much more positive impact than THC. CBD does not cause negative mood effects or psychomotor slowing. CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical, well tolerated by humans, even with large doses up to 1,500 milligrams per day taken orally.36 CBD is likely to be even less harmful if used topically.
Benefits of CBD include reduction of anxiety, fear, PTSD, panic, and compulsive actions.47 It is also useful in treating cancer, multiple sclerosis, and seizures in children.58 How do Scriptural principles apply to cannabis containing both THC and CBD?
Recreational cannabis is now being cultivated with higher levels of THC than in previous decades. This causes a more rapid intoxication and will have some short-term negative effects on the user. The inability to concentrate will make it difficult to focus on godly things while under its influence. The anxiety and panic from extended use would be detrimental to one’s faith. Considering all the other long-term negative effects of THC, its clear recreational use of cannabis should be avoided.
In contrast, medical cannabis has been cultivated to have higher levels of CBD. While the FDA has only approved one CBD product for treatment of epilepsy, there are studies that show that it can be a useful drug that improves mental health, including anxiety and panic reduction, and its ability to help fight cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Humans have a strong tolerance for CBD, plus it can be separated from cannabis as an oil or extract for medicinal use. In 2019, the FDA had a public hearing from industry leaders and the general public about CBD and indefinitely extended the comment period in March 2020. Should CBD be approved for further uses, its use as a medical treatment will have no conflict with Biblical principles based on current research.
So how should a believer view cannabis and the chemicals that are in it? Recreationally, cannabis should be avoided since THC causes intoxication so quickly. Unlike alcohol, where measured amounts can be partaken as a beverage, a small amount of cannabis will cause impairment. However, taking CBD for its medicinal benefits is compatible with a believer’s faith since it lacks the intoxication potential of THC.
However, there are important questions to consider about CBD products that are currently available. Is it derived from marijuana or hemp? If it is derived from marijuana, what are the THC levels? Are the THC levels low enough to avoid the negative effects of THC? If the answer to these questions are acceptable based on Biblical principles, the product will prove helpful to believers who are struggling with various health issues.
(San Luis Obispo, CA)
1 All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
2 “Considering Marijuana Legalization: Insights for Vermont and Other Jurisdictions,” Caulkins et al., Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015, pp. 33-40. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR864.html.
3 Ibid., pp. 34-48.
4 “Long term effects of marijuana on the brain,” Filbey et al., published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014, p. 16913.
5 “Cannabidiol attenuates seizures and social deficits in a mouse model of Dravet syndrome,” Kaplan et al., published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017, pp. 35-36.
6 Ibid., p. 36.
7 Ibid., p. 37.
8 Caulkins, p. 38-39.