Cannabis and the Church's position

I know this topic has come up before.

Cannabis is legal in 24 states in the U.S. for recreational use as of this writing.

Alcohol is a drug. It’s used recreationally. The same for nicotine and caffeine. Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine are sanctioned for use in moderation by the church. A bit of mental gymnastics I’ve seen here justifying why alcohol for example is allowed but cannabis isn’t. Especially when all three, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine are physically addictive. Cannabis can be psychologically addictive but the “jury” is still out on whether cannabis is also physically addictive (ie actually suffer physical withdrawals from stopping regular use).

I guess I don’t see at this point if a person lives in a state where recreational cannabis is legal as to how/why The Church would hold the line that it’s sinful to use cannabis.

I’m hoping to get some feedback and opinions on this.

The use of cannabis, in and of itself, is morally neutral. It is a drug of sorts, and can have beneficial medical uses, such as addressing nausea and even anxiety.

It is hard for me to see how a single recreational usage, if the user is not totally deprived of reason, could be gravely sinful in and of itself. This said, I’m given to understand that more recent strains, as opposed to the stuff that was floating around in, say, the 1970s, are far more potent, and that could be a problem.

It’s not exactly something I approve of, but if I discovered that my teenage son had smoked a joint (we homeschool and he has no such opportunity), I’d be far less distressed, than if he were involved in pornography, sexual experimentation, or even a gross act of uncharity towards his neighbor.

Thank you for your reply. The Catechism doesn’t say it’s “morally neutral” so I’m assuming that at some point the Catechism will be updated to remove the “grave sin” aspect of using cannabis. Even the addiction aspect is hard for me to pass judgement on people who use cannabis.

I envision old Catholics, like my grandparents for example, that would condemn cannabis use but then at the same time be chain smoking cigarettes and having a bottomless cup of coffee daily. Or the Catholic that routinely has beer or wine, brews their own beer, religiously has a glass or two of wine with dinner, routinely has a cocktail, etc. I knew a group of priests of the Crosier order who lived together and they had cocktails together every evening as a ritual.

Anyway, the double standards aren’t surprising given the demonization of cannabis in our culture for many decades.

I assume you’re referring to this:

2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

My question, then, would be “is cannabis, indeed, a ‘drug’”?".

I said “a drug of sorts”. So is tobacco. So is caffeine. So is alcohol. I’m not sure that the CCC’s editors had cannabis specifically in mind — it can be grown (just like tobacco). Alcoholic beverages can be bought without prescription, or even made at home (I used to make beer, with wide variations in quantity, some was excellent, some wasn’t fit to drink). And I’m pretty sure that coffee and tea are served even in the Vatican cafeteria.

Here’s more that might be helpful:

Thank you for the links. A lot of double standards on the issue (in comparison to alcohol, etc). I also don’t agree with the “May I smoke Marijuana” info in that link written by a Tom Nash.

Nash says: "Some will argue that marijuana is similar to alcohol, that people consume both to get drunk or high, respectively. Getting drunk with alcohol and high with marijuana are both obviously sinful. However, people often drink without sinning, i.e., enjoying the taste and the social exchange that takes place between friends. In the process, the consumption of alcohol can help people relax without their getting drunk. St. Paul also wrote about the medicinal benefits of wine (1 Tim. 5:23).

In contrast, people typically consume marijuana to deliberately get high or experience a “buzz.” Again, this is equivalent to getting drunk, in which inhibitions are lowered and people don’t have full control of their mental faculties."

I’m assuming Nash has never “enjoyed the taste and the social exchange that takes place between friends” in passing a joint, pipe, etc. Nash makes alcohol consumption sound like it’s either getting drunk or having no effects at all, save for “relaxing”. That’s not accurate. People absolutely do feel a “buzz” from drinking even a single drink from alcohol. If people didn’t feel a “buzz” from alcohol at all, I would guess it’s global level of consumption would pale in comparison to what it is.

Quoting St. Paul, a person alive in antiquity, about St. Paul’s endorsement of alcohol for “medicinal benefits” but then “counseling” against the use of either recreational or even medicinal use of cannabis in present time doesn’t hold water as an argument.

Also Mr. Nash writes about how alcohol Prohibition was well intentioned but ended up causing serious problems and didn’t work for those reasons…but then advocates for the continued prohibition of cannabis up to and including medicinally. That doesn’t make sense to me.

My position on the subject: The stance in present day of The Church on cannabis is filled with double standards and hypocrisy in relation to the acceptance of other drugs including alcohol, a drug with severe potential for damage to the person, the family and society at large.

I don’t really disagree with you. So far as I am aware, nobody ever died from smoking marijuana, whereas cirrhosis of the liver kills millions (including my cousin, who was an inveterate alcoholic), and the dangers of tobacco are too well-known to require further comment.

It’s not the best thing to do, but there are far worse sins than smoking an occasional joint. (To clarify, this is not something I do myself.)

Got a Catechism? It’s in there.
Should the Church support abortion? After all, it 50 state legal.

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Yes, and as I said, marijuana is not evidently a “drug” in the sense that cocaine, heroin, and opioids are.

The Catechism is written for the whole world. In countries such as Yemen, they chew qat, which I am told has a mild narcotic effect, not unlike nicotine. Such things are culturally conditioned.

Any psychoactive drug, regardless, must be viewed in light of potential medical benefit. A deficit in being stoned is not a medical situation. I was prescribed Marinol, a synthetic THC, just after my stem cell transplant. At that time, I needed nutrition, but my appetite was absent. After a few days use, my appetite was jump-started and I was able to discontinue it.
Popping a few caps to watch vids with friends is not a valid medical use. The war on drugs is over. Cheech and Chong won.

I don’t know that the issue is medical or non-medical because we have other legal psychoactive drugs that have no significant medical benefit; namely, again…alcohol and tobacco. Whether we like it or not, we simply must use those drugs as comparisons when talking about cannabis.

Substitute alcohol for cannabis in your previous statement: “[Drinking a few beers] to watch vids with friends is not a valid medical use.” <<< That’s correct. But it’s allowable both legally and according to the Church.

My devout Polish Grandmother had an evening routine of praying the Rosary and having a beer while doing it. Legal and allowable under Church guidelines. Having rules which allow for such a thing but barring a person from taking a toke for the same reasons just doesn’t hold water and will seem to be a more obvious double standard as time goes on.

First, beer is not really viewed as an “alcoholic beverage” by many Europeans. Different people feel different effects from small quantities of alcohol. For instance, I can take a glass of beer or wine and not feel a thing. Two or three (which I never do), that might be a different story. Some people are more sensitive, others are less.

Second, do we want to conflate alcohol and tobacco as “psychoactive drugs” alongside cannabis, or alternatively, do we want to think of, say, a small quantity of not-so-potent marijuana as psychoactive? And what about caffeine? I find that it perks me up (no pun intended) in the morning, and helps to clear my mind, but does that rise to the level of being “psychoactive”? Nicotine relaxes me and helps with my digestion; at present I take it in lozenge form (in fact, I am enjoying one as I write this). Is marijuana, at least in its not-so-potent forms, more like that, or something quite a bit stronger? (I make the qualification of “not-so-potent” as I am given to understand that marijuana has evolved to be much stronger than it used to be.) There are other such nature-derived substances taken in different cultures of the world. Where is there a line drawn?

As to pharmaceuticals with legitimate medical uses, there is use and there is abuse. A drug used to treat pain, depression, or anxiety can be used for good, or it can be used badly. Any drug with such potential is normally made available only by prescription. Is this more what the Catechism refers to?

Do not make weed your religion.

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I agree. There are so many things that people make into a “religion”. Whether it’s drug culture or sports (wearing football jerseys to Mass) or exercise, or brewing your own beer, drinking craft beer, the ritual of smoking a tobacco pipe, hunting, fishing, cabin living in the summer and on and on. So many things.

There are even people who can make their religion a “religion” for the wrong reasons even having good intentions. Example: A Catholic man, a father and husband being obsessed with their faith to the point of essentially wanting to live the life of an unmarried cleric or monastic with the level of prayer he engages in. A married man and father should not “pray without ceasing”, engage in the traditional 8 hours of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. That’s not his vocation. His vocation is that of a husband and a father. Deviating from that vocation to devote himself (at the expense of his family) to his extreme prayer life is making his religion his “religion” (in a bad way). The Devil can certainly use “good” things to lead someone astray.

All of these things, aside from the culture surrounding the use of illicit and harmful drugs, are morally neutral. Life without some kinds of diversion would hardly be worth living.

Not suggesting that you are, but let’s not be Puritans. There are a whole lot worse things one could wear to Mass than a football jersey.

Weed is cultural. The religion of the Grateful Dead (some of whom are actually dead). Getting high and escaping the life God granted us is the goal. We need none of that worldly nonsense when we possess Christ and He possesses us.

Bear in mind: The Church teaching is not legal, societal, or cultural. It is moral teaching. Society and culture (the world) constantly change. Morals do not and cannot change, as they are established by our unchanging God.

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I’m not saying that the “morally neutral” things that I listed are in and of themselves bad or wrong. They’re not. I agree with you that they’re neutral and can be beneficial as an enjoyable pastime. However all of those “morally neutral” pastimes can absolutely become a “religion” for some people and can therefore detract from God. I absolutely have known people in my life who truly have engaged in the consumption of cannabis as an occasional recreational pastime. No different than those who are “social drinkers” (ie have a drink only when they go out with friends, go out “on the town”, etc. Cannabis is not illicit in 24 states now and has been proven for years to have medicinal and therapeutic qualities. Doctors don’t prescribe beer, wine or spirits medicinally.

It’s actually been very harmful to our society in general to teach kids that cannabis is an intensely dangerous “narcotic” on par with hard core drugs like heroin, cocaine, etc. Harmful because a lot of kids grow up seeing first hand that the vast majority of their peers who consume cannabis don’t keel over and don’t develop an addiction. Those kids realize that they’ve been lied to and they veer away from listening to those adults who embellished, exaggerated, fear mongered or otherwise were not balanced in the information they’ve given to the kids.

I have personally however, known people who have been so obsessed with “morally neutral” pastimes that those pastimes have absolutely become a “religion” to them. Social media, golf, fishing, hunting, sports to name a few. Again, I’m not saying that participating in those things in moderation constitute a “religion”; not at all. Can people devote an inordinate amount of time to any of those things to the point it shifts their focus from God? Absolutely.

I’m inclined to agree but I’m also hoping that with states increasingly legalizing cannabis, people (including Church leadership) will come to a greater understanding of the point you’re making.

If it means anything for consistency, both getting deliberately drunk and getting deliberately high are considered sinful for Catholics. But when it comes to the psychological and physiological complexity of addiction, upholding this principle can be much easier said than done.

Yes, and the coca leaves in Bolivia. And, frankly, caffeine in our culture. Black and white lines can be hard to draw.

My point exactly.

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I agree with the following:

This is good advice, but I would look to the Church to teach on this issue, as well as to competent manuals of moral theology. Going to the Bible, and just the Bible, opens up all kinds of opportunities for incorrect interpretation.

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