Can someone be a Christian and still smoke marijuana? Will I go to hell if I smoke pot? Does the Bible say anything about marijuana? Due to the large number of people today who use cannabis, these are common questions. Some claim marijuana is less dangerous to smoke than cigarettes and less addictive than cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. Some of the information provided in this article applies directly to cannabis, but some considerations can be applied more broadly to other substances and behaviors.
The Medical Evidence – The Brain
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published a report on the effects of THC ( delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana, on the brain:
“Research has shown that marijuana's adverse impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off. As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a suboptimal intellectual level all of the time.”1
Different studies have found that marijuana usage produces “subtle” effects on cognitive functioning, with the results not reported as highly significant in some research. It has been shown that memory, attention, and the integration of complex information are impacted, with more deleterious effects after prolonged use.2
Marijuana affects the heart by increasing blood pressure and heart rate as well as reducing the blood's ability to carry oxygen, leading to a quadrupled risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking pot.3 One study of 3882 patients with acute myocardial infarction concluded that “Smoking marijuana is a rare trigger of acute myocardial infarction.” The authors noted that “Smoking marijuana is known to have hemodynamic consequences, including a dose-dependent increase in heart rate, supine hypertension, and postural hypotension; however, whether it can trigger the onset of myocardial infarction is unknown.”4 Younger, healthier users face less cardiovascular risk, though this would increase as the user ages.
One study found that “ Chronic heavy cannabis smoking is associated with increased symptoms of chronic bronchitis, such as coughing, production of sputum, and wheezing. Lung function is significantly poorer and there are significantly greater abnormalities in the large airways of marijuana smokers than in non-smokers.”5 Another study of 990 individuals found that marijuana smoking produced a more significant negative effect on respiratory function than tobacco, and the combined effect was additive.6 Other studies have found similar results.
Moderate marijuana usage impairs driving performance on such tasks as reaction time, visual search frequency, and the ability to perceive and/or respond to the speed of other vehicles. These effects are significantly increased with the addition of alcohol.7 As reported in The Lancet , “ The effects of recreational doses of cannabis on driving performance in laboratory simulators and standardized driving courses have been reported by some researchers as being similar to the effects when blood alcohol concentrations are between 0.07% and 0.10%.”8
Studies have shown that male fertility is negatively affected by cannabis. Chronic marijuana usage has been associated with decreased sperm counts, decreased sperm motility, and abnormal sperm morphology. For pregnant women, studies have found that marijuana, as well as cigarette, smoking may be associated with low neonatal birthweight.9
What About Drug Testing?
In addition to harmful physical effects, another consideration of cannabis usage is employment drug testing. Many employers require drug screening as a part of the hiring process. While some argue the legality and reasonableness of these requirements, it is a fact today that a positive drug test will disqualify an applicant and may be cause for termination of someone already employed. The question that needs to be asked is whether pot smoking is more important than a good job.
What About The Law?
Similarly to employment drug testing, some argue that certain substances, such as marijuana, should be decriminalized. Nonetheless, sale and possession of marijuana is illegal and possession of more than a small amount is cause for arrest in virtually all nations. One possible solution may be to exercise great caution and only possess a small amount at any given time. Again, the question that needs to be asked is whether pot smoking is more important than having a clean record when one applies for a job. A criminal record will disqualify an applicant from most employment opportunities.
The Bible instructs that we should obey the laws of governing authorities:
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” (Romans 13:1-2)
The only reason to disobey any human laws is if they directly contradict God's laws (Daniel 1:8 and 3:18) or restrict God's people from spreading the gospel (Acts 5:29). This certainly does not apply to recreational use of marijuana. While it is likely no one agrees with every law on the books, as Christians, we are instructed to live as law-abiding citizens.
What Does The Bible Say?
Of course, the Bible does not specifically mention marijuana, but principles found therein provide some very useful information to guide us. A Biblical passage commonly employed to support marijuana use is Genesis 1:29-30, which states:
“Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; …I have given every green plant for food.'"
If God gave Adam “every plant” and “every green plant” to use, then marijuana must be acceptable because it is certainly a plant and is green, right? God gave us the ability to exercise discretion: We avoid the deadly nightshade plant, which is highly toxic, as well as the castor oil bean, which contains ricin. Nor would a sane person smoke hemlock or poison ivy leaves.
Though the Bible does not directly mention marijuana, it does address some of the key issues. For example, drunkenness related to excessive alcohol consumption is condemned in a number of verses, including the following:
“Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunk enness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.” (Romans 13:13)
“Nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunk ards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:10)
“Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant men in mixing strong drink.” (Isaiah 5:22)
“Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; your eyes will see strange things and your mind will utter perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:31,33)
Excessive alcohol consumption impairs cognitive and motor abilities. The Biblical condemnation of drunkenness would reasonably be connected with these impairments. Therefore, if a substance other than alcohol has similar effects, it seems reasonable to apply these verses in a similar manner. If sufficient quantities of marijuana (and other substances for that matter) are used, cognitive reasoning and motor skills are impaired accordingly. Someone may reason that, as minimal alcohol usage is tolerated in the Bible, so small amounts of marijuana use may be similarly acceptable by God. While it is true that many people who smoke pot regularly remain capable of leading normal lives, wine was used in Biblical times to drink, not only for recreational purposes. Marijuana, on the other hand - except for some limited medical purposes - has no valid use other than recreation.
Is Image Important?
If someone calls himself a Christian, how does cannabis usage affect one's testimony and ability to be an example to others, perhaps children, friends, classmates, co-workers, or neighbors? Do I want to answer the question, “How can you be a Christian and smoke pot?” The Apostle Paul addressed this issue when he said, “ Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” (1 Corinthians 10:24) This specific situation involved an issue that caused no problem with Paul's conscience, but was a stumbling block for others who considered it to be sinful.
I may rationalize pot smoking for myself, but many others consider it to be at least poor judgment. Will it hinder my ability to positively impact other people? You may ask the same question as Paul: “why is my freedom judged by another's conscience?” (v. 29) He went on to answer, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” and “Give no offense either to [unbelievers] or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.” (v. 31-33) This principle may be applied to many issues in our lives, not only marijuana. Am I living only to please myself or rather to please God and show His love to others?
The Heart of the Issue
If we truly desire to serve God, we will lay aside anything that hinders us from living effectively for Him. A habit that is detrimental to my relationship with God, damaging to my witness before others, and harmful to my body is a hindrance in my life. Paul stated, “ All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) The Bible also states, “ by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2:19) If I am mastered by any habit, I am not free. And, my only master should be Jesus Christ.
Paul challenged believers to examine our lives to determine if all that we permit is done in complete confidence and faith before God:
“It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:21-23)