Welcome back to Defender’s Voice. This is Paul Kattupalli. Today I would like to speak about marijuana, commonly known as weed. I entitled this message, God & Weed, because I would like to see this issue from a God’s eye view. Many people have asked me about marijuana for medicinal purposes. In my clinic, people ask me, ‘Doctor, can you prescribe some marijuana for my anxiety?’ ‘Doctor, can I try medical marijuana for my back pain?’. Recently, I visited a church in Belleville, Pennsylvania. One church leader asked me, ‘What do you think of hemp for my headaches?’. People in the church are also interested in this issue.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in our world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over two hundred million people use it regularly. It is the most widely cultivated, trafficked, and abused illicit substance. Some countries have legalized marijuana, including Canada and Uruguay. In the United States, at the federal level, marijuana is classified as Schedule 1. President Richard Nixon labelled marijuana under Schedule 1. That means there is no currently accepted medical use and a high potential abuse. But at the state level, things have been changing a lot. Over 30 states have decriminalized marijuana or are reviewing legislation to allow marijuana products for specific medicinal indications.
Marijuana has been promoted to cure many diseases from anxiety to chronic pain to epilepsy to HIV to cancer. In India, cow urine has been promoted to cure almost every problem under the sun. Here in the West, marijuana is enjoying such a status. You name a disease, and we got people who say marijuana will help people with that disease. The mainstream media joined the fracas. In 2013 CNN published a story entitled ‘’Marijuana Stops Child’s Severe Seizures”. That is very misleading because scientific studies have not confirmed marijuana’s effectiveness in large scale studies. In studies, marijuana showed 30% response rate. Even placebos have 30% response rate. In every day experience, we say ‘this medicine works because it worked for me’. In scientific medicine, we do not take such an approach. ‘It works for me’ is a subjective opinion, we need objective evidence to make a claim. We measure the effectiveness of every medication using placebo studies and statistics. A placebo only gives you a psychological benefit without giving you any therapeutic benefit at the physiological level. For example, you got a migraine. If the placebo gives you relief in 10 percent of cases and the medication gives you relief in 10 percent of cases, then your medication is not valuable. It should be better than a placebo to be considered an effective medication. You should also look into statistics. How many studies were done to establish the effectiveness of this medication? Is there any chance that the effectiveness of the medication is just by chance? It is called ‘p’ value. Most journalists do not understand placebo and medical statistics. So, when random persons call them and tell them certain medications helped them, you will see a headline next morning, ‘Marijuana Stops Child’s Severe Seizures’, ‘Weed helps HIV patients’, ‘marijuana helps cancer patient’ etc.
The truth is, marijuana is not superior to placebo in most cases. It is not yielding statistically significant results in most cases. Also, one big problem with our culture is, it constantly engages in generalization fallacy to further its goals. For example, let us say a pregnant woman’s life is endangered due to her pregnancy. if abortion is needed to save the life of this woman, that is only 0.1 percent of all pregnancies in which abortion may be life-saving. But what do we hear? the pro-choice groups say because it is life-saving in 0.1 percent of cases, abortion should be legal for the rest of 99.9 percent of cases. If marijuana helps a rare form of epilepsy, that is a tiny minority of individuals who need marijuana. But they say, marijuana should be legal for all individuals even for those who want to use it for recreation.
The truth is marijuana can cause the very diseases it was supposed to treat. One mother asked me to prescribe marijuana for her teenage son, who is suffering from anxiety. But, the studies showed that marijuana is associated with development of anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder in many consumers. Some people would like to use it for high scores in academic tests, but a systematic review of 16 higher quality prospective longitudinal studies found consistent associations for cannabis use with lower educational attainment. Some people would like to use it to improve concentration. But studies show marijuana impairs concentration, attention, memory and associative learning. There is substantial evidence that chronic cannabis use, especially during adolescence, is associated with later development of schizophrenia.People who use marijuana are more likely to abuse other drugs like alcohol, tobacco, opiates, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin.
Another important fact to remember is that marijuana’s effectiveness is not greater than other currently available medications. Chronic pain is the most commonly cited reason for using medical marijuana. Cancer pain, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, glaucoma and seizures are other common conditions people have been using marijuana for relief. In all these disorders, we have medications with far greater effectiveness than marijuana products.
Why this hype about marijuana? Why this hype about legalization of marijuana and other drugs? I agree there are people, even Christians, who look to marijuana as a medication. We should sympathize with them. But most people are going after marijuana for recreation, to fill the vacuum in their lives. This is another symptom of a deeper disease: Our society’s alienation from God. It is a manifestation of our post-Christian chemicalization of human behavior and pleasure. Drug use in our society is at all time high. We have an opioid epidemic going on affecting millions of people. Every day, thousands of people die from drug overdose. It breaks my heart to see these young people in their 20s prematurely dying of drug overdoses.
In Christian faith, we believe that human life is sacred, the human body should be a temple of God, our time on this earth should be used to serve God. The objective of human life is the glory of God. It is not the fulfillment of bodily desires. Lord Jesus said, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10
The thief. Who is this thief? It is Satan. He comes to steal, to kill and to destroy. Satan is very busy in our streets in stealing, in killing and in destroying the lives of young people using addictive drugs.
Satan inspired human religions incorporated drug use in their rituals. Drug use was part of their worship. Goddess Diana wears a crown of poppy seeds. Worshippers consume opium while dancing in her presence. It has been said Plato drank mushroom tea at the Greek rites of Eleusius. Celts, Druids, Vikings they all consumed drugs in worshipping their deities. In 1502, in the coronation of Montezuma, the Aztecs ate the sacred mushrooms containing psilocybin as part of their religious ritual. They offered prisoners and their hearts as sacrifices. The intoxicating drugs and human sacrifices went hand in hand. The Spanish were horrified to see these rituals. Cut to 2004, in England, at the Stonehenge Festival the drug of choice is mushrooms. It contains psilocybin. With the rise of paganism, the religious drug use is coming back. In these pagan festivals, people intoxicate themselves with drugs. That is part of worship. Growing up in India, I witnessed the Holi festival every year. That is not Holy but holi.In this Holi festival for the deity Shiva, people would smear each other with colors. Using water guns they drench each other. They sing and dance in the streets. They drink bhang, which is marijuana mixed with milk (bhang).
The hippies from California really loved this festival. In the 1960 and 1970, the hippies adopted pot-smoking from their Indian gurus. So, even to this day,we see marijuana as part of worship in some religions. Some historians blame Christian faith for the decline of drug use in Western culture. Now, with the decline of Christian faith, we have an epidemic of drug use in our society.
How to approach marijuana as Christians?
I classify all our activities under 4 categories.
1.Scriptural and Legal
2.Scriptural and Illegal
3.Unscriptural and Illegal
4.Unscriptural and Legal
1.Scriptural and Legal: Under this category, we have things which are both scriptural and legal. Enjoying a nice meal at a restaurant is both scriptural and legal. Going on vacation is both scriptural and legal. Sex within heterosexual marriage is both scriptural and legal.
2.Scriptural and Ilegal: Under this category, we have things which are scriptural but illegal. For example, consider preaching the gospel in a Communist or Muslim nation. Lord Jesus commanded us to preach the gospel to every creature. Preaching the gospel is scriptural, but it is illegal in many countries and regions around the world. Interracial marriage is always scriptural but until recently, it was illegal and outlawed in many countries. Loving v. Virginia (1967) was a landmark Supreme Court decision which wiped away state laws banning interracial marriage in the United States. A Muslim convert to Christianity can marry a Christian. That is scriptural. But it is illegal in many Muslim nations.
3.Unscriptural and Illegal: In the third category, we have things which are both unscriptural and illegal. For example, drunk driving is both unscriptural and illegal. Prostitution, at least in America, is both unscriptural and illegal. Taking a bribe is both unscriptural and illegal. Violent acts in most cases are unscriptural and illegal.
4.Unscriptural and legal: in the fourth category, we have things which are unscriptural and legal.
Abortion is unscriptural but it is legal.
Homosexual behavior is unscriptural but it is legal.
Consensual sex outside marriage is unscriptural but it is legal.
Watching pornography in your home is unscriptural but it is legal.
Transgenderism is unscriptural but it is legal.
Adultery is unscriptural but it is legal.
Now we can add marijuana to this list. It is unscriptural and legal. This list is growing longer and longer. We don’t have problems with our society when it comes to first and third categories. With the rise of secularism in our society, the second and fourth categories are getting large. Things which are scriptural but illegal are growing in number. Things which are unscriptural and legal are growing in number.
It is not easy to surf these tides of secularization in our society. We need constant help from the Holy Spirit to guide us. Apostle Paul lived in a world marked by a myriad of cultures and laws. He had to carefully navigate through different regions of the world, dominated by Roman law and Jewish law. He followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit in every matter. He wrote,
Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
2 Corinthians 3:17
You see, the Holy Spirit gives us true liberty. Before going to heaven, Lord Jesus gave us the promise of the Holy Spirit, who came to this world on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Our Lord’s desire is that we experience spiritual liberty more than political liberty. The disciples asked for political liberty in Acts chapter 1, but our Lord only emphasized the coming of the Holy Spirit. Because more than political liberty, we need spiritual liberty.
Do not confuse political liberty with spiritual liberty. You enjoy lots of political liberty in the West today, but when you go home, if you open your lap top or cell phone to watch pornography. In the eyes of God, you are still a slave to your lust.
In Philadelphia, I saw the Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American independence. I saw Leviticus 25:10 inscribed over the bell: Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof. If you walk a few blocks from the Bell, you will see young men and women injecting their veins and arteries with illicit drugs. Marijuana does not even excite them. They would need highly stimulating drugs like fentanyl. No one knows when they would fall dead due to overdose. That is what happens with liberty without God. That is what happens with liberty without the Holy Spirit. They follow the desires of their flesh till they become slaves to those desires. They would do anything in the world for that momentary satisfaction. Those who think they are enjoying liberty without God are actually slaves. Those who think they are slaves to God are actually enjoying the liberty. Apostle Paul called himself a slave of Christ. ‘Doulos’ in Greek means slave. Yet he lived a life of true liberty.
You may be in a free home in a free society like America, or Canada or England. But without Lord Jesus in your life, you are still a slave to sin in the eyes of God. You may be in a prison in North Korea or China or Iran. But if you have Lord Jesus in your life, you are free in the eyes of God.
If you become a slave to Jesus, you will never lose your health to illicit drugs, you will never lose your life to drug overdose. Christian faith protects you from destructive behaviors like alcoholism and drug use. Studies show that young people with frequent attendance at church services or strong Christian beliefs are two to three times less likely to have used cannabis over the past month than those without such protective factors. You see, going to Church and having Biblical beliefs are good for your health.
Let me talk about liberty. Liberty is a concept derived from Judeo-Christian faith. Liberty originated from God. It is a gift from God. Liberty is not what you see through your own eyes. It is how God sees it. Liberty is not doing what you would like to do. It is doing what God would like you to do.
Political liberty is only one dimension of the liberty God intended for us. Sadly, secular people embrace liberty while rejecting God, who is the author of liberty. Even political liberty cannot exist without God. Darwinism, atheism, naturalism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam have no basis for liberty. Liberty is a product of Judeo-Christian worldview. It is good to have political liberty, but more important is to have spiritual liberty.
When we come to Lord Jesus Christ, when we receive the Holy Spirit, when we obey the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will receive spiritual liberty. This liberty will save us from any addiction this world will throw at us.
If marijuana or any other drug tempting you this morning, I ask you to get on your knees and ask the help of the Holy Spirit to help you conquer that temptation. If the temptation becomes too strong, fasting prayer is a more practical and effective way to conquer that pull of the flesh.
Let us pray:
“Lord Jesus, thank you for speaking to our hearts today. Your Word asks us to keep our bodies holy and undefiled, consecrated for your presence and for your work. Yet, too often we fail to follow your commandment. Please forgive us through your mercies. Please give us the strength of the Holy Spirit to conquer sinful thoughts, habits, behaviors and addictions. If any one of us struggling with marijuana or drugs or alcohol or pornography, convict us and lead us on the path to holiness. In your precious and mighty name, we pray, Amen’.
By thesandiegomuseumofartcollection – Flickr, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38309190
By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24655931