Question: "Medical marijuana - what does the Bible say?"
Answer: There is no definitive biblical answer to the question of whether Christians should use medical marijuana, because marijuana for medicinal use is not addressed in the Bible. However, after a review of certain clear biblical principles, the answer to the question becomes clearer.
First, although many states have legalized medical marijuana, its use is still illegal according to federal law. Paul exhorts us to obey the law of the land under our government in this way: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2).
In addition to the fact that it is illegal, smoking marijuana can be extremely harmful to one’s health. The most potent argument against the use of marijuana to treat medical disorders is that marijuana may cause the acceleration or aggravation of the very disorders it is being used to treat. Smoking marijuana regularly (a joint a day) can damage the cells in the bronchial passages which protect the body against inhaled microorganisms and decrease the ability of the immune cells in the lungs to fight off fungi, bacteria, and tumor cells. For patients with already weakened immune systems, this means an increase in the possibility of dangerous pulmonary infections, including pneumonia, which often proves fatal in AIDS patients. The use of marijuana as a medical therapy can and does have a very serious negative effect on patients with pre-existing immune deficits from AIDS, organ transplantation, or cancer chemotherapy, the very conditions for which marijuana has most often been suggested as a treatment.
A study indicates that a marijuana user's risk of heart attack more than quadruples in the first hour after smoking marijuana. The researchers suggest that such an effect might occur from marijuana's effects on blood pressure and heart rate and reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. Additionally, the smoke from cannabis—the plant from which marijuana is derived—contains compounds that can damage DNA and increase the risk of cancer just like tobacco smoke according to a recent study from the United Kingdom. In laboratory tests, Rajinder Singh from the University of Leicester and colleagues found certain carcinogens in cannabis smoke in amounts 50 percent greater than those found in tobacco smoke. They noted that light cannabis use could possibly prove to be even more damaging because cannabis smokers usually inhale more deeply than cigarette smokers. Researchers found that the smoking of three to four cannabis cigarettes a day is associated with the same degree of damage to bronchial mucus membranes as twenty or more tobacco cigarettes a day. In truth, marijuana causes short-term memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor skills, decrease in muscle strength, increased heart rate and anxiety—and that’s just for starters. According to the Mayo Clinic, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke and has the potential to cause cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract. Clearly, this is contradictory to the biblical mandate to keep our bodies pure. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
In short, although there remains much research to be done in this area, there are plenty of studies that indicate seriously deleterious effects of marijuana on the body. The pain-controlling or analgesic effect of marijuana is roughly comparable to that of codeine, according to the DEA. However, the effect is potentiated due to the neuropsychiatric "high" feeling or euphoria that occurs when marijuana enters the bloodstream. But marijuana is no panacea. A recent study shows that high doses can actually increase pain. There is a therapeutic window for analgesia, with low doses being ineffective, medium doses resulting in pain relief, and high doses increasing pain. It is important to note that researchers also found a significant correlation between increasing marijuana use and drowsiness, loss of control over thought and action, and transient depression and paranoia.
The Bible teaches Christians to be sound of mind. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). The Greek word translated as "sober" is nepho, which literally means "drink no wine." From this it derived a broader meaning of being self-controlled, free of confusion, clear headed, sound of mind, or keeping your head. From this verse, we can see that Christians are to avoid intoxicants that impair clear thinking. Marijuana certainly seems to cloud thinking and reaction time. According to the Kaiser study, daily marijuana users have a 30 percent higher risk of injuries, presumably from accidents. A survey of 1,023 emergency room trauma patients in Baltimore found that more than 34 percent were under the influence of marijuana. And a 2005 study showed people who drive after using marijuana are almost twice as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash.
Additionally, clouded thinking can lead to questionable moral choices. Habakkuk warns, "Woe to you who make your neighbors drink, who mix in your venom even to make them drunk so as to look on their nakedness!" (Habakkuk 2:15). The reference to "mix in your venom" is the ancient practice of adding herbs (or drugs) to wine to make its intoxicating effects more potent. Christians have a hard enough time battling temptations without making Satan's job easier by taking drugs that alter one's judgment and self-control. Use of intoxicants has also been closely associated with witchcraft and sorcery in the Bible. The Greek word pharmakeia, translated “sorcery,” literally means "to administer drugs." As with our English word "drugs," the context must be considered to determine the meaning. In biblical times, pagans incorporated the use of drugs to induce altered states of consciousness, during which they supposedly communed with their gods. This would be similar to the modern-day practice of voodoo. The apostles strongly condemned the use of such drugs to produce altered mind states because the drugs lowered inhibitions and self-control. (Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 9:20-21; 21:8; 22:15). The Christian disciplines his body and keeps it under control (1 Corinthians 9:27), so that he is able to set his mind on things above (Colossians 3:2).
We must also consider the impact that the use of marijuana could have on others. A person smoking marijuana may be encouraging someone else, who may not have a medical justification, to use marijuana as well. Anyone who truly wants to know the effects of legalizing medicinal marijuana need look no further than California, where Proposition 215 passed in 1996. The law was written to target "seriously ill" Californians, but the state’s Police Chiefs Association reports that marijuana use by healthy youth and adults is "at epidemic levels." Police officers regularly find parolees, probationers and gang members in possession of both marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. Even more disturbing are reports of children possessing physician recommendations and routinely using marijuana. One unintended consequence of medical marijuana is the promotion of its use by those who are not "seriously ill." As Christians, we are called to avoid not only sin, but also any activity that may cause our brothers and sisters in Christ to sin (1 Corinthians 8:9-13).
Finally, Satan is the great justifier. He always wants to help us rationalize and justify sinning against God, almost making it seem like the right thing to do. The same games people play in using the Bible to try to justify many other sinful activities can used to justify smoking pot. Taking verses out of context, stating a verse means one thing when it clearly means another, and making assumptions the Word does not support are all tricks the enemy will use to try to justify smoking marijuana. We must never forget that Satan is a liar. We must guard against these tactics in our own lives. Over 90 percent of the marijuana used currently in this country is for recreational use. Although many of those users have medical marijuana cards, in many cases their marijuana has been prescribed by practitioners who are employed by the dispensaries, have never examined the patient, are not qualified to treat the conditions for which the marijuana is being prescribed, and have done nothing to validate the medical necessity of the prescription. Although many people may be deceived by such practices, God is not deceived. He will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7).