A lot of people correlate “Coptic” with marijuana use, with that name being marred by the unfortunate circumstance of it being used by a rogue group COMPLETELY UNRELATED to the ancient patriarchate of Alexandria which promotes marijuana use. That group is called the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, and they have zero affiliation with the church of Alexandria, the Coptic Orthodox Church.
A non-Orthodox frequent visitor of our parish tried his best to convince the priest and myself that smoking marijuana should not be regarded as a sin and he should be able to continue using it after being baptized. With all the hoopla in the media today (and in particular I’m thinking of CNN’s Sanjay Gupta—see here), I thought it appropriate to address this matter as I addressed it with our visitor.
He joined in the chorus of praise for marijuana use, citing the common claim that “it’s not as bad as people used to say it was.” (From what I can deduce from a variety of sources, his statement isn’t all that inaccurate, but it doesn’t mean marijuana causes no harm whatsoever.) But then his argument started to take a very strange direction, as I recall it, whereby he somehow connected marijuana with the “tree of life,” and he insisted that the reason the Coptic Church is the right place to find Christianity is because of its use of Myron oil (used in the administration of its Mysteries/Sacraments), which he believed included a special recipe concoction similar to that used by the Jews of the Old Testament whenever oil was employed, and the key shared ingredient was marijuana.
My priest asked me to get involved, which I did, and provided below is a summarized and edited version of the response I gave to our visitor years ago (and do note that this is an Orthodox Christian viewpoint; I do not claim this stance for every Orthodox Christian Church out there, but would expect most to agree to a large extent):
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I have tried to gain some knowledge about the current status of research on marijuana, and tried to acquire a fair and honest comprehension of the benefits and harm of marijuana. I have concluded from my research that, while smoking marijuana is not currently deemed as harmful as has been claimed in the past, it is nonetheless very harmful to the body, presenting more risk than benefit. Furthermore, marijuana use is rightfully considered a sin for the following reasons, any of which can stand on its own as support of the notion that it is a sin:
- It is harmful to the body, which (for a legitimately baptized and chrismated Christian) is the Temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16), and defiling that temple is unacceptable;
- It causes one to feel “high” and become impaired in dereliction of the Bible’s prohibition against the similar state of “drunkenness” (Luke 21:34; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:3; Eph. 5:18; 1 Cor. 11:21)
- Where it is prohibited by law, it is therefore also against God’s commandment to obey governing authorities (Rom. 13:1).
- The [Coptic] Church [and others I’m sure] has, in its wisdom and authority to loosen and bind (Matt. 16:19, 18:18), considered it to be a sin [or at least, unacceptable for a Christian to engage in].
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WHY CONSIDERED SINFUL OR OTHERWISE DEEMED UNACCEPTABLE?
(1) HARMFUL TO THE BODY
I am not a scientist nor a physician, but others who have studied this matter have concluded that marijuana is harmful, albeit not as harmful as once claimed. That harm includes:
- Short term impairment (This can be a major risk especially if someone drives after consuming marijuana.)
- Long term impairment (Although research has not yielded definitive results indicating that there is definitely permanent impairment to cognitive abilities, research has shown that there is noticeable impairments for about a month after abstaining from marijuana for a week, and also that there is no scientific research ruling out the possibility that there are much longer-term side effects to cognitive abilities).
- Respiratory Ailments (One very fair review of the current research indicates there are “a number of respiratory risks and harms related to marijuana use. Marijuana smoke contains many of the same poisons found in tobacco smoke.[i] It is often smoked in a manner that causes the potential of even worse effects than smoking tobacco cigarettes).
- Heart and cardiovascular system (Marijuana may trigger in some instances heart attacks of other serious cardiovascular problems)
- Reproduction and Pregnancy (It inhibits sperm fertility. Cannabinoids interfere with cellular respiration and thus can affect the energy needed for sperm. It can also affect issues with libido, ejaculation, sperm counts, impotence, menstrual cycle, ovulation, and the implantation and development of embryos. For fetuses, some children come out with a low birth-weight, reductions to body and head growth, and other issues. It also seems to affect cognitive, emotional, and behavioral issues with children who are born from mothers who smoked marijuana during pregnancy)
- Cancer (While it is hard to distinguish tobacco smoke from the effects of marijuana, since people studied often do both, researchers have concluded that marijuana smoking does increase the risk of cancer, especially lung cancer. Testicular germ cell tumors have been linked directly to marijuana use).
- Dependency and withdrawal (One research review concluded, “Despite the commonly held belief that marijuana use does not lead to addiction, existing research has often referred to a dependency on the drug.”[ii] Also, “strong support is established for the idea that a proportion of frequent marijuana users suffer negative effects resulting from dependency.”[iii]
- Mental health (It has been associated with the onset of psychosis, later schizophrenia, and also depression and anxiety.)
Physicians generally therefore do not want to recommend it for medical purposes
For many of the reasons stated above, many physicians are having issues with the notion of recommending marijuana for medical purposes when it is legal to do so. They give a number of reasons why they are opposed to it, particularly because of its harmful effects and how providing a recommendation to use such a drug is in conflict with the physician’s oath to aid people rather than cause detriment to them. See the article provided below from the American Journal of Psychiatry by Doctors Kleber and Dupont entitled “Physicians and Medical Marijuana” (June 1, 2012).
The Bible prohibits such outright harm to one’s body
The body is given to us so that we may “strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16), and to “glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20). St. Paul prayed for his Christian congregation in Philippi that they “may approve the things that are excellent … [and] be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:10–11). Marijuana use does not glorify God in any way. You damage the body, cause potential problems to others when they are influenced to engage in such conduct, and may even harm fetuses who haven’t even had a chance at life.
You are the temple of God. If anyone who destroys the body, God will destroy Him, as is written very clearly: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Cor. 3:16).
One may say that in the present age it makes sense to use marijuana. A person may give all kinds of reasons why the negative affects of marijuana should be ignored, and provide all other kinds of reasons why this sin should no longer be a sin. That may be the “wisdom of this world” but it is not the wisdom of God nor of His bride the Church. Such a person is only deceiving himself, as St. Paul warned us of:
“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness’; and again, ‘The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile’” (1 Cor. 3:18–20).
A true Christian is one who seeks to be led by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 2:11–16), giving up the old man of sin and walking as a new spiritual man led by God (cf. Romans Chapter 6).
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(2) GETTING “HIGH” AKIN TO DRUNKENNESS, AND ALSO DRUG USE PROHIBITED BY THE BIBLE
A true Christian is filled with the fruit of the Spirit, part of which includes “self-control” (Gal. 5:23). Getting “high” from marijuana causes one to intentionally lose control and capacity of oneself, and often that is the main purpose of consuming marijuana.
Another way people become impaired by self-intoxication is through alcohol. In fact, in the same passage which we read about the “fruit of the Spirit,” we are told that “the works of the flesh” which will cause someone “not [to] inherit the kingdom of God” includes “drunkenness [and] revelries” (Gal. 5:21; see also Rom. 13:13). We are told specifically, “do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
One may say that this is not a direct prohibition against getting “high,” and it is not the same thing. I respond by saying two things:
- Impairment by alcohol causes you to not to be yourself. Such self-induced impairment is similar in that sense to marijuana, and is sufficiently similar to be covered under the divine prohibition against “drunkenness”;
- Moreover, in Galatians 5, St. Paul lists another work of the flesh aside from drunkenness which likewise will cause someone to risk losing their eternal life: “sorcery” (Gal. 5:20). That word in Greek is “pharmakeia,” which obviously reminds us of the word “pharmacy.” The word “pharmakeia,” in Greek, specifically refers to drug-related sorcery. In Revelation 9:21 we hear of people who “did not repent of their … sorceries.” Again there the Greek word used is “pharmakos,” which in Greek indicates not just any kind of sorcery, but drug-related and drug-induced incantations and spells.
Hence, Galatians 5:19–21 refers to both drunkenness and the use of drugs as being prohibited by God and sins which lead one to lose their eternal life. Drunkenness and also the use of drugs lead to self-induced impairment, and it is therefore against God’s wishes. Marijuana leads to self-induced impairment, and thus because a person gets “high” using marijuana, they are sinning.
We should remember Christ’s words on how we should stop paying attention to the pleasures of our body and focus on the Day of Judgment instead: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34–35).
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(3) WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW, ALSO PROHIBITED BY THE CHURCH
The Bible clearly indicates we should obey governing authorities:
- “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1).
- “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1)
- “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors” (1 Pet. 2:13),
- “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).
As of the time of this writing, Federal law prohibits marijuana possession and use. Many states now permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and almost all states require people who are eligible for such marijuana use to register as a patient.
Does this mean an Orthodox Christian can use marijuana where it is permitted by law? For recreational purposes, no. It is clear that when man’s rules contradicts God’s commandments, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). If permitted by law for medicinal purposes, then I would argue that it may be deemed acceptable by the Church in certain circumstances, especially when the drug can be ingested in some less harmful manner other than smoking.
Otherwise, however, where prohibited by law, it is doubly prohibited by God. Where it is not prohibited by law, God’s laws nonetheless still prevail.
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(4) THE CHURCH, IN ITS AUTHORITY, SAYS SO
With regard to marijuana, the Bible has announced its prohibition against the use of drugs and of impairment by alcohol, both of which are sufficient to conclude that marijuana, a drug that causes impairment, is likewise to be prohibited.
For those who remain unconvinced, a Christian baptized into the Church should defer to the authority of the Church in delineating good from evil. God gave the Church, in its bishops, authority to make decisions that will be honored by Him. That is deduced from readings several passages:
- “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore … teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18–21)
- So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).
- “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40)
- He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16)
- “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:18–19).
In the Bible, the Apostles used this authority to determine what the people could ingest:
The Church tries its best to come to conclusions on things being guided by biblical principles and morals.
A very clear example of this is in the Book of Acts where we find the Apostles, who knew they had the governing power to decide issues for the Church at large, did so. Among the issues they were deciding in Acts Chapter 15, the Apostles determined whether or not people could partake in the lawful eating of non-intoxicating food that had been offered to idols. Although eating such food was legal at the time, and did not cause self-induced impairment, or any physical harm that we are aware, the Church decreed, on the authority of the Holy Spirit—God Himself—the following: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden that these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29).
Also recall that St. Paul, in his authority as a bishop, allowed some to eat food offered to idols depending on certain circumstances, whereby exception by prohibiting eating such food was in his rightful position to make as needed (cf. 1 Cor. 8).
Since the Church prohibits marijuana use, Christians baptized into the Church must likewise obey and fully ascribe to that teaching, even if simply for the sake of obedience alone. Moreover, if the Church (through its overseers the bishops, and their delegates the priests) teaches that the Bible prohibits the use of marijuana, a baptized Christian should ascribe to those teachings.
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The use of marijuana for an Orthodox Christian is a sin because it is harmful to the body, it is prohibited by the Bible, it is against the law in most places, and it is the Church’s position on the matter in its authority to make such a determination. How can a legitimately baptized and chrismated Christian, or anyone who wants to be so, ascribe to an opinion and engage in a practice that the Church is so strongly against? This is especially problematic for a person who wants to be baptized: if they are seeking to rid themselves of the old man and become a member of the body of Christ, how can such a person begin their new life with a heart that has already announced its disobedience to its Church based on Biblically-founded precepts?
With regard to the medical use of marijuana, if marijuana’s helpful affects can be provided in pill form or some other manner that drastically (if not entirely) reduces the harm and it is administered by physicians and pharmacists just as other drugs that are normally harmful but when taken appropriately are not used for the purpose of impairment or abuse, then it is in my opinion acceptable. In certain circumstances, I can see how legitimate permission may be granted by the church for medicinal use of marijuana by means of smoking, so long as it does not violate the four points made above (in which case the detriment to the body is outweighed by benefit and necessity, it is not intended for purposes of self-impairment, it would not be against the law where permitted, and it would not be against the Church where permission has been expressly granted).
Aside from that, smoking marijuana recreationally, with all its harm and detriment to the body at the time of smoking and the long-lasting potential disadvantages of the drug, is rightfully deemed unacceptable and wisely prohibited by the Church.
As Christians, we are not to justify the use of any substance for self-induced impairment as its goal. We are to be sober-minded and live a life of self-control. There are many things that can be taken in lieu of marijuana to address physical maladies that smoking marijuana is said to address. If marijuana is the only drug available to remedy a particular malady, it should be taken in a manner and form that provides the most protection against cognitive impairment and physical harm, if possible.
[i] Doctor Darryl Plecas, The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, July 18, 2012.
- Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice (Darryl Plecas)
- Lung Emphysema caused by Marijuana Smoking
- Medical Marijuana and Teens
- Physicians and Medical Marijuana (American Journal of Psychiatry–Kleber and Dupont)
AND SOME RADIOLOGY MEDICAL LINKS COURTESY OF MY SISTER: