Cannabis and The Orthodox Christian

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The twentieth-century Serbian Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica once offered advice to one who had thoughts of confusion—upset thoughts—after having confessed his sins and having heard the advice of his spiritual father. The Elder said that such a person is waging a war in his mind against his spiritual father, and that the Lord allows great spiritual temptations to befall such a person.

Perhaps nowhere is this reaction more commonly seen in spiritual life today than in the case of those who are called on by their confessor to set aside the use of cannabis. Users are defensive of their habit, since cannabis use is obsessive, and by definition, addictive. St. Isaac the Recluse tells us that the crown of the passions is the justification of one’s sins (Prologue from Ochrid, July 3rd), and so it is often seen in the case of those who justify this addiction.

Often a comparison is made between the use of cannabis and the drinking of wine. The Church itself blesses the use of wine, and even when the over-use of wine results in drunkenness, this effect goes away. The use of cannabis is different: cannabis has a permanent effect on the brain, making the user dumber (both academically and socially), and undermining the attention span. For the Christian, this also means undermining the capacity to pray—a habit which is tenuous in most modern people already.

If one is serious about making progress in life, especially progress in prayer and progress in holiness, how would one hope to accomplish any of this while using cannabis?

It is tragic to see the number of those suffering from depression who also use cannabis, since cannabis is an active chemical depressant. Absurd indeed is the individual who both uses cannabis and takes antidepressant medications—one drug to go up, and another to go down. This never-ending pharmaceutical roller-coaster calls for the intervention of both a physician and a spiritual father, but more than this, the individual must resolve to heed strict and mature advice to resolve their addiction, on the path to recovery.

If one is serious about making progress in life, especially progress in prayer and progress in holiness, how would one hope to accomplish any of this while using cannabis? Further, cannabis is the only gateway for drug abuse and addiction: ask any drug addict. While not all cannabis users become users of “hard” drugs such as cocaine or heroin, every user of cocaine or heroin found their way to harder drugs through the more “mild” effects and addictive habits formed by the use of cannabis.

Often, a spiritual child will tell their priest of their “need” to use cannabis for various medical or emotional maladies. The “need” they describe is by definition an addiction, the same as alcohol or opioids, but this also has a spiritual component. Like other addictions, cannabis can become a substitute for dealing with the pain of sin and repentance in the Christian life, leaving a stubborn user perpetually spiritually immature, isolated from God, and usually angry with everyone. If the cannabis has been used to address some physical problem, such as pain, the cannabis user is also caught short, since there are countless more effective methods of medical pain management which are not addictive, and which are more effective, and with no side effects. The popularity of cannabis in popular culture—especially as a “natural” pain relief—has overshadowed these alternatives, adding to the masses of cannabis addicts.

Many of the Church Fathers speak of fantasy as the opponent of the spiritual life. Unlike drunkenness (which is not an inevitable consequence of the use of alcohol), fantasy is part and parcel of cannabis use, and diametrically opposed to the sober-mindedness called for by the Church Fathers, who warn us of the need to guard the senses at all times. Without this spiritual attentiveness, each person is spiritually and psychologically vulnerable. Such vulnerabilities become manifest in cannabis use in conditions such as schizophrenia and depression. In his book, After the Fall, Saint John Cassian writes that God obscured the noetic eyes of mankind so we would not be able to see the spiritual realm, since it would be too frightening: It would be a mistake to try by medicine or sorcery to try to pierce this veil. Yet this piercing—this effort to see that which is too much for the fallen human psyche to bear—is precisely the place into which cannabis experimentation enters. Why would any spiritually serious Orthodox Christian be surprised to find cannabis use brings with it spiritual injury, the destruction of prayer life, and the destruction of the sobriety of the mind needed to maintain even a nominal Christian life in the midst of the world? Cannabis use does this in a way that tobacco or alcohol use never does.

In light of the liberalization of attitudes toward cannabis in modern Western society, even some Orthodox priests have forgotten the experience of the Church Fathers when it comes to the way in which cannabis impacts the interior life of the Christian, and the reasons for guarding the heart against the interference of this drug. It would be foolish to believe an inquirer into the Orthodox faith could successfully make spiritual progress while immersed in a cannabis addiction which undermines prayer, intensifies fantasy, and introduces spiritual confusion into the mind of the spiritual novice. Whether a catechumen or a baptized Orthodox Christian, the Christ-seeking person who struggles with cannabis use should submit to the experience of the Church, if he or she ever hopes to grow in the likeness of Christ, and move out of spiritual immaturity and paralysis.

Comments
Panagiotis11/10/2021 7:15 pm
To Orthodox Brother Basil: God bless you Vasili (Basil) for speaking the truth... One only has to look at the dope heads who grew up in the 1960s and the 1970s and never stopped smoking marijuana, and you will see that many of them appear to be stupid..... also before the 1950s there was no so-called "recreational use of drugs", this is another politically correct term invented by the no good liberals... Prior to the 1950s, most of the people who used drugs were criminals and/or of a low socioeconomic position....
Basil11/10/2021 2:27 am
Sad to see an Archimandrite trying to counter-signal a good priest's attempts alerting people to the dangers of this blight on our society, especially using nearly two-decade old sources. This link (https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/marijuana/kill-brain-cells) has more recent studies and states the contrary to the good archimandrite.
Rick11/5/2021 4:48 pm
I think that for those who are talking here about medical use, it would be helpful to recall the huge crisis int he US that came from medicinal use of opiates and synthetic opiates as pain relievers. Conscientious doctors always weigh the benefit against the possibility of future dependance, and look at each patient individually. A terminal cancer patient may be given morphine as palliative treatment, but a good doctor would think twice about prescribing it to a young person with a condition that will pass in a few months. And although the author left out the medical use aspect, I think it's obvious that he is talking about marijuana smoking, which is spiritually and physiologically not the same as having a drink of an alcoholic beverage here and there. Marijuana really does make you dumb and distracted.
Panagiotis11/5/2021 2:26 am
God Bless Father Korz, those who are strong in the Orthodox Faith do not need this marijuana garbage to alter their mind... the proliferation of marijuana is used to dumb down people... People who are stupid are easily controlled... Maybe they should pick up a history book or go to Orthodox Church Divine Liturgy..
josé11/5/2021 2:11 am
The author is correct, perfect although there are now all of these medicinal trends mentioned above, in practice, in reality, the use of canbis has become widespread and today it gently gains this pleasant word - recreational use - but in fact, historically, what occurred was a real collapse in society, since the revolution in left march swept the West encouraging this practice. The medicinal appeals are tiny compared to the destruction of entire groups of young people scattered across the West. Here in Brazil the impact is devastating. Pay attention to when the author also says about this "innocent" drug as an initiation to an uncompromised life, initially attractive, fanciful and that in an overwhelming percentage of cases they were defeated. I'm a witness. I lived the moment that counterculture invaded Brazil, bringing psychedelicism, hippie fashion, and from then on the total decay of customs, family, and religious residues in the culture. Well, sorry to dwell on it, but this subject goes too far. God protect us
Owen11/4/2021 4:47 pm
The article is underinformed on the distinction between hemp and marijuana plants, both considered part of the cannabis species. Legally, hemp is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 percent or less is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the stuff that gets you high), while marijuana is a cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC. I smoked the latter for years and agree with the author that there can be dangerous mental and spiritual repercussions to getting "high" or "stoned," especially at a young age. However, the smoking of hemp flower does not produce these intoxicating effects, while still providing the beneficial effect of the plant's cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD). CBD can be derived from both hemp and marijuana plants, but CBD products (e.g. tinctures, edibles) are only federally legal if they’re derived from hemp and contain less than 0.3 percent THC. Hope this helps.
Archimandrite nektarios11/4/2021 4:41 pm
The author should consult the most current medical studies that contradict his assertion that marijuana usage causes permanent brain damage, specifically the July issue of Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, or for a brief synopsis of the study see: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20030701/heavy-marijuana-use-doesnt-damage-brain
Gary11/4/2021 11:51 am
I smoked it when I was younger and can tell you for a fact that it makes your thinking fuzzy and unclear. I loved it because of this effect. My mind would wander off in one direction after another and not concentrate on anything in particular. I wouldn't take much of anything serious so life was easy and carefree. At the time My spiritual life was nearly nothing. THANK GOD I haven't smoked it in years. There may be some medicinal uses for it but as a recreational drug it's not good for us.
Rick Vergara11/3/2021 11:25 pm
I am in agreement with Photios, I have been medicating since I was a teenager and am now retired. I have never been inebriated by cannabis, but have often felt "normal". Some people truly hate the stuff and can't use it, others feel immediate relief. It's good to be able to hear your own thoughts once in a while. I suggest the author acquaint himself with the endocannabinoid system that is under his skin.
Photios11/3/2021 10:24 pm
Although the article illustrates some very good about watchfulness, abuse, and addiction, the author unfortunately shows innocent ignorance regarding the genuine medical uses of Cannabis, not a large a recreation drug, but as a therapeutic modality. It would be wise to thoroughly read the scientific literature on such things before making such bold acclamations. If the author’s words are the truth of our faith than we should avoid most pharmaceuticals that are psychoactive and act as analgesics. I believe intention and medical guidance is the key here.
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