Christianity and Drugs

Believe it or not, marijuana and cocaine have not always been illegal in the USA (See "History of United States Drug Prohibition"). Other narcotics and hallucinogenic drugs have been widely used throughout history by nearly every culture and ethnicity; but I am not advocating widespread use justifies misuse or abuse of drugs! Don't misunderstand me. Try to put your current perspective of "drugs" in the context of world history. Why do you believe drugs to be good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable? Do you have any of your own convictions? Or are you merely regurgitating anti-drug slogans you were taught as a child because you're afraid to question the "absolutes" in life?

Marijuana has received gobs of national press lately with its legalization in two US states (Colorado and Washington) without the requirement for medicinal application. In other words, it's okay to smoke weed in those states just for the fun of it--just like alcohol. The controversy and confusion surrounding these new laws is not trivial; but the whole process should get you thinking.



I realize readers of this post may have a variety of opinions or religious convictions. I mean no offense to any of you, and I will certainly not mock any opinions out there. This post is designed to make you think and come to your own conclusions. I am a Christian, and I'm pretty sure most of my audience holds a Christian worldview as well. For that reason, most of the reasoning will be supported with Biblical references. However, the Bible is slightly more libertarian that many Christians think. Let's start with some questions.

What is a drug?

"A medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body" (Source: Google)

Tylenol is a drug. Ibuprofen is a drug. Caffeine is a drug. Drugs can be small molecules (e.g. adrenaline), peptides (short strings of amino acids), or proteins (e.g. antibodies or ligands of receptor-mediated cell signaling). These can be delivered to your body to adjust cellular processes to elicit a desired effect. In this sense, your body actually produces its own "drugs" to regulate physiological events, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and everything else. But for the sake of this discussion, "drugs" are external substances introduced into the body.

Does the Bible say using drugs is morally wrong?

No. The Bible advocates the use of several "drugs" in the Bible, including mild alcohol for antiseptic purposes (I Timothy 5:23), burning of incense during worship in the Tabernacle and Temple, and application of oils and other plant products for the purpose of wound healing, antisepsis (e.g. hyssop), and soothing. Oils, balms, and salves have been used for thousands of years to aid in muscle relaxation, itch treatments, and many other applications.

With the broad definition of "drug" I've been using, you are "using drugs" constantly when you eat plants (including chocolate!), drink coffee, or apply oils and lotions to your body. Not all drugs can be sensed. We often associate drug use with a certain "feeling" or "high", but this is rare. Many drugs offer no sensation at all, but they are still eliciting their effects.


What types of drugs are okay to use? This is a personal question and must be answered individually; but the Bible offers some guidelines.

I Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. [Emphasis added]

Anything that alters your mind in such a way that it exerts power over your mental or spiritual faculties, you must be very careful. This includes any mind-altering drugs. If you are a Christian taking anti-depressants, be cautious. If you are using sleeping pills, be very careful. Pain killers? Beware. They are not inherently wrong to use, but they can exert power over you if you're not very careful!

Why are some drugs considered morally wrong?

In short, association. Cocaine was used for centuries as a topical anesthetic (pain-killer) until people decided to start snorting it. Then it became something else. In our society, we associate the use of cocaine, heroine, marijuana, and other common recreational drugs with an anti-morality movement that started in the 1960s. This association has remained because these drugs are often misused by people engaging in morally questionable or unacceptable behavior. 

Drugs are powerful. Their potential frightens people, and I can't blame them. Most of us have seen or even witnessed first-hand how "hard" drugs can consume minds and destroy lives. Addiction is a major health concern all over the world, but...

Are drugs inherently evil?

If you stand by the idea that narcotics, hallucinogens, and other "hard" drugs are inherently evil, then I believe you are ignoring the fact that God made those plants and put them on Earth for a reason. Most (but not all) drugs familiar to us today are plant-derived, and I believe plants were put on the Earth by God Himself for our use (Genesis 1:30). But like most things, man has found ways to misuse these plants. 


If you hold to the idea that these plants are "evil" and should be made illegal by our government, then you must be consistent and allow the government to make illegal anything that could be harmful to society--guns, knives, cars, matches, propane tanks, fertilizer, razor blades, chemistry textbooks, etc. The fact that something can be harmful does not justify making it illegal--in my opinion.

Many drugs are legal with a medical prescription, and this is a good thing. You can go to the hospital and get some seriously powerful drugs for pain relief. These drugs are dangerous and should be closely monitored. I agree. Heroine, cocaine, crack, methamphetamines, ecstasy (MDMA), and many other "street drugs" are also very dangerous and can cause great personal and societal damage. I am not against restricting how they are used. Do not misunderstand me. These drugs can be dangerous, but so can bleach. An overdose of these drugs can end lives, but this is also true of extra strength Tylenol. These drugs can end marriages and increase poverty, but so can alcohol. In fact, drugs are not the only force that does this--gambling, sex addiction, and other such vices have the same effect. Last time I checked, pornography and lottery tickets were not illegal. 

How do we decide which drugs are "wrong" and which are not? That's a trick question. It's like asking, "Which cars are good and which are evil?" Is that rational? No. Because cars are cars. Perhaps people that drive sports cars are more likely to crash them because they drive too fast, but that doesn't make Lamborghinis evil. It means we need to teach people how to handle their power. Misuse can lead to death. Another example is "Which computers are good and which are evil?" Clearly the computers that hackers use to steal Target's credit card files are evil and all the other computers are good. The computers have never been the problem, and neither are the drugs.

Romans 14:14 "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself..."

When I was younger, many Christians would tell me that drugs are wrong because they harm your body. They would point me to I Corinthians 6:19 which tells Christians that their bodies are the temples of God. Because our bodies are temples of God, we should not damage them with drugs. I think there is some relevance to this, but the hypocrisy is hard to ignore. Should we apply this verse to ALL things that are harmful to your body? How about tanning? How about cheeseburgers? How about Krispy Kreme? Skateboarding? Football? The list is endless. I believe we ought to take good care of our bodies, but tobacco, drugs, and alcohol are not the only things that can harm your body! This argument does not convince me drugs are inherently wrong.

What is the problem then?

You and I. We are the problem. Nobody likes this answer because it stops finger-pointing and blame-gaming. I am personally responsible to use the assets at my disposable for my good and the good of people around me. It is morally wrong (in my opinion) to use them to harm people or take advantage of them. Most of us agree with this, but we don't like the implications. It means people should get in trouble (legally) for misusing drugs just like if they misused a car, a computer, a gun, or a knife; but merely owning or possessing these things should not be illegal! If you can find a beneficial way to use heroine, then you should be allowed to do it. What if heroine could be used to help people? Stop thinking about the drug addict in the alley that is slapping his arm trying to find a vein. That's the association speaking. Heroine is amoral, and so is marijuana and pseudoephedrine (main ingredient in "meth"). It is the application that is morally and ethically acceptable or not.

When I said we are the problem, what does that mean? It means many people are desperate, weak, hurting, and vulnerable. They reach for something to satisfy them, to embolden them, to heal them, and to protect them. "Illicit drugs" deceptively offer to fulfill these longings. The feelings of pleasure, detachment, and confidence that drugs can provide make them very alluring to people. None of us are exempt from this. Do not look down on people who have been caught in this snare. It could be you! Drug addiction pervades every society at every level--rich, poor, young, old, male, female, sick, healthy. Everyone. It is sad, and these people need our help. But making the substances illegal does no good. They are desperate, and they will find a way to obtain them, legally or illegally. Should some of these people be imprisoned for crimes? Yes. But we must be careful what about what the crime is. Possessing a plant should not be a crime. 

Conclusion:

Addicted drug users need compassion and intervention. Whether government-funded or privately-funded, we need religious and non-religious organizations to reach out to people trapped in the grips of physical and psychological addiction. As I said, I believe these people are yearning and looking in the wrong place to find what they need. It's a long, hard road to help them, but the problem is not going away any time soon. As long people desire shortcuts to happiness and detachment from their often difficult realities, drugs will be abused. In the mean time, I believe plants from which many drugs are derived should not be made illegal by our government simply because some people misuse them. If a plant has 100 good purposes and 2 bad purposes, should it be illegal?

Image credits:
No drugs image from http://www.happyjewishnews.com/data-suggests-drug-treatment-can-lower-us-crime/
Marijuana leaf image from http://mexicoinstitute.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/op-ed-illegal-drugs-the-great-experiment/
Small molecule image from http://www.polyclonebio.com/
Pills image from http://www.bipolarbrain.com/meds.html
Cocaine image from http://www.treatmentsolutions.com/cocaine-addiction-treatment/
Herb garden image from http://www.checkcity.com/blog/2012/05/planting-your-own-herb-garden/
Huge burger image from http://web.orange.co.uk/article/news/western_lifestyle_could_fuel_surge_in_global_cancer
Who, me? image from http://www.marktoon.co.uk/

2 comments:

  1. Interesting. Marijuana, however, can be the first step to using other "harder" drugs especially if you are a young teenager (which is when most people begin experimenting with drugs) and you are easily influenced by your peers. Through my own experience growing up, I many people in my social circles used marijuana, and most these people also used other drugs. Many became "addicted" and some were never able to control themselves; i.e., the drug had power over them. Thankfully, I did not become addicted, and I'm not sure why or why not. Some believe certain people are more prone to becoming "addicted." I've smoked "pot" (among other things) and I can tell you that it makes you goofy. Really goofy. Slows your reflexes, makes you kind of stupid, etc., So it's a little scary for me to think that if I am driving in CO that someone on the road in the car in front of me or behind me or facing me head on might have been smoking marijuana. Very scary. Also, from what I know, there is no test to determine whether one has smoked too much MJ (Mary Jane or marijuana) like the breathalyzer tests to determine whether someone is drunk. Therefore, MJ is a drug that I think is potentially harmful simply because it can interfere with judgment and reflexes, etc. so needs to be regulated like alcohol consumption. This could be dangerous for other people, and so, if it's legal, we need to find a way to regulate it.

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  2. I agree Mary. I would not advocate "free for all" use of any drug, because like I said, many of them are very powerful. But making the plant illegal is not the answer. People that would get high and drive a car don't have much respect for the law or other people, so they are probably doing that anyway, regardless of the laws. And another point I made is that there are other uses for marijuana besides getting high. You can get high with paint, markers, gasoline, and NyQuil; but those are not illegal.

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