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Is Cannabis Against Your Religion?

January 28, 2019
Some religious leaders condemn all aspects of the "demon weed," but the evidence from each tradition is various and complex. (CSA Images/iStock)
Is consuming cannabis a sin, haram, not kosher?

For many, it’s a serious question. In the Judaic tradition, scholars still debate the question of whether God meant Moses to use cannabis as part of an anointing oil when he spoke of a plant called kaneh-bosem, in Exodus 30:22-30.

The Bible says the body is a temple, and that God created herbs to serve humanity. Is that a conflict?

In the more conservative Christian traditions, cannabis has often been denounced as a sinful indulgence or a tool of the devil. The notorious propoganda film Reefer Madness was originally produced by a Christian church group.

Even today, some Christian leaders fight to keep all forms of cannabis illegal—as evidenced by the Mormon Church’s public stance against Utah’s medical legalization measure last fall.

But what does each religious tradition actually say about the plant and its consumption? Entire books could be written about the issue, and we at Leafly are not religious scholars. But we do know enough to get the discussion started.

Here’s an introduction to the treatment of cannabis by some of the world’s major religions.

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Christianity

One of the widely accepted tenets of Christian faith is the idea that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (Corinthians 6:19–20). Drugs used with the purpose of healing the body and relieving pain may be seen as a natural part of the Christian way of life.

Luke, an apostle of Jesus who wrote one of the Gospels, was a physician who prescribed medication (Colossians 4:14). It’s stated in Psalm 104:14 that God created herbs for the service of humanity.

Moderation seems to be the key to the enjoyment of non-medical cannabis in the Christian tradition.

Using these Biblical verses as a guide, the medicinal use of non-psychoactive cannabinoids (like CBD) can be seen as more than accepted under the Christian tradition.

What about recreational use? Here it’s helpful to look at one of Christianity’s favorite psychoactive drugs: alcohol.

Alcohol is such an integral part of the Christian liturgy that Jesus’s first recorded miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). To this day, wine remains one of the most sacred substances of the Christian rite, and while its abuse—getting really drunk—is clearly frowned upon (Ephesians 5:18), its psychoactive and recreational effect is celebrated, as in this phrase from Psalm 104:14–15, which holds that that God has gifted “wine to gladden the heart of man.”

Moderation seems to be the key to the enjoyment of non-medical cannabis in the Christian tradition. The Bible encourages us to remain alert and clear-headed (1 Peter 5:8) in order to serve our neighbor and spread God’s love. So, while Christianity might likely frown upon getting full-on baked, there’s nothing in the Bible that condemns the use of cannabis to help us get in a better mood while staying in focus, or stay productive throughout the day.

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Buddhism

Buddhist doctrine is not as strict as that of the Abrahamic religions, since its spiritual tradition does not include a path to salvation through faith, nor any type of “higher authority.” The religion itself is more focused on the follower’s own spiritual development.

Some Buddhist traditions have praised THC’s relaxing effect as a helpful tool for meditation.

In that sense, there’s nothing preventing Buddhists from using cannabis responsibly, since Buddha’s teachings are not meant as strict rules, but as guidelines towards achieving Nirvana.

However, Buddha did lay down the Sīla, a code of conduct comprised of Ten Precepts for “right speech, right action, and right livelihood.” The fifth of these precepts calls Buddhists to abstain from taking intoxicating substances that can cloud the mind, because a clear mind is needed for seeing the “true nature of all things,” and intoxicants can lead to carelessness which can cause the user to overlook the other precepts

Since medical forms of cannabis that include only CBD or other non-psychoactive cannabinoids (like CBG) are not intoxicants, there’s nothing in Buddhist scripture recommending against their intake.

Some Buddhist traditions, especially the ones rising in the West, have praised THC’s relaxing effect as a helpful tool for meditation. No Buddhist authority is bound to censure a follower for consuming THC, cannabis’s psychoactive and intoxicating cannabinoid. However, it’s up to each practitioner to judge whether getting high is helping their practice, or whether it’s preventing them from attaining true focus.

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Islam

There is no explicit prohibition of cannabis in the Quran, nor in the Sunnah. However, many scholars might argue that just because the scriptures are silent on the subject, it doesn’t mean the plant is halal (allowed).

The main issue with cannabis and Islam lies in the plant’s intoxicating effect.

Let’s first have a look at non-psychoactive components in medical cannabis, like CBD. When taken alone or without any THC, CBD’s therapeutic effect might be considered halal, in the same way that Islam allows a wide number of medications within a medical context.

The main issue with cannabis and Islam lies in the plant’s intoxicating effect. Most arguments that support Islam’s prohibition of cannabis are based on verse 219 of the second Surah, and verses 90/91 of the fifth Surah. Those hold that wine should be forbidden because it’s considered a tool of Satan. Islamic jurists have interpreted these verses to mean that, by extension, every intoxicant should fall under the same category.

But is THC truly an intoxicant in the same sense as alcohol? In the Sunnah, Muhammad forbids wine because its abuse can “impair the intellect.” THC’s effect can vary largely from user to user, and from strain to strain. So it’s within each believer to honestly consider whether cannabis consumption is affecting their judgement, in which case it would be haram (forbidden), or if it’s having a positive effect on the way they perceive reality, in which case, it would be halal.

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Judaism

The relation between cannabis and the Jewish people dates back thousands of years. Some scholars hold that God meant Moses to use cannabis as part of a recipe for anointing oil when He spoke of a plant called kaneh-bosem, in Exodus 30:22-30.

Kosher certifications for cannabis medication have already been granted by rabbis both in the US and Canada.

The Talmud includes an explanation of how to grow cannabis. The most important Torah scholar of the middle ages, Maimonides, described how to use it to help with respiratory ailments. Cairo’s 16th century spiritual leader, Rabbi ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, talked positively of the plant’s uplifting effects.

Kosher certifications for cannabis medication have already been granted by rabbis both in the US and Canada, which clears the way for medical cannabis consumption in Judaism.

Traditional intolerance of non-medical cannabis use by Jewish authorities has been based on the premise that the plant affects the user’s judgment and ability to focus. They have maintained that Jews are expected to cultivate a balanced mind in order to positively help their communities and to focus on the study of Torah.

But since there’s nothing inherently wrong with the cannabis plant within Jewish Law (as stated by God in Genesis 1:29: “I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth…”), using cannabis for therapeutic reasons, like reducing stress or helping concentration could be considered perfectly acceptable within the Jewish tradition, as has been stated by a number of contemporary rabbis.

Natan Ponieman's Bio Image

Natan Ponieman

Natan Ponieman is a cannabis writer with a special interest in marketing, sociology, religion and art. He started writing about cannabis after working for a decade as a copy and scriptwriter for advertising and TV.

View Natan Ponieman's articles

  • BA5578

    Neat article. Very few people are willing to dig into the spiritual & religious perceptions of cannabis.
    As a Christian, hopefully I can contribute to the conversation. I have to start out with a note to clarify: The Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints) is not part of Christianity. They may claim to be Christians in order to deceive potential new members, but they are two very different beliefs.
    Comment 1) “Here it’s helpful to look at one of Christianity’s favorite psychoactive drugs: alcohol.” This is not a fair statement. Christians are real people and all of humanity has used alcohol since day 1. The Bible does describe God’s allowance for alcohol to be consumed, but it specifically says not to be “drunk” or filled “in excess” of alcohol.
    Comment 2) “To this day, wine remains one of the most sacred substances of the Christian rite…”. Wine is indeed a central part of Catholic mass. I’m not sure when they started that- I’m not Catholic. I’m part of the Protestant branch of Christianity. But I’m still human. I can’t turn down a good stout.
    As a believer in Jesus, the body is absolutely a temple of the Holy Spirit. And since the cannabis plant provides so many incredible health benefits, I believe it should be a central component of one’s overall health. I wholeheartedly agree with Natan’s final comment on Christianity’s view of the cannabis plant: “there’s nothing in the Bible that condemns the use of cannabis to help us get in a better mood while staying in focus, or stay productive throughout the day.”
    I’ll end with one of my own favorite verses (which Natan included in his description of Judaism): Genesis 1:29 “Then God said, “I give you every seed- bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”
    I firmly believe that the cannabis plant was part of this gift from God. With every passing day, it is more obvious and clear that cannabis has a myriad of health benefits, both physiological and psychological. I, for one, am grateful to God for this plant. I just wish government would get out of the way.

    • LynnieM

      Thank you BA5578 for an intelligent observation as a Christian. I too have wondered and, with prayer, have come to the same understanding as you. I absolutely know it improves my health and I do not use weed to get toasted, just to alleviate minor pain as I age. I appreciate your post!!

    • Starmaykr

      I first want to thank you for your contribution to the discussion. I cannot understand why you took exception to Nathan’s rather off the cuff remark about alcohol and Christianity? In taking your exception you make only a very vague connection between the Archeological evidence humans have consumed intoxicants (like alcohol and cannabis) since the stone age to the stated topic concerning the religious prescriptions on the use of cannabis? Since the topic is religion I feel free to slit some hairs here and point out the “alcohol” that is moderately allowed by Judaism and Christianity (according to the received text) is WINE! not beer or hard liquor. Historical evidence also shows us this wine would not have been as strong as what we might consume in later periods. In all cases we have to draw a distinction between the faith’s established interpretation of law and the individual’s own personal interpretation and practice. It is fair for me to simply say we all agree the mainstreams of both Judaism and Christianity have always allowed for the moderate use of wine.

    • Kyle Wayne

      You are rude and ignorant!
      Mormonism is just as much a Christian denomination as Babtists, Lutherans, Presbyterian, Seventh Day, Jehovah Witness, Catholics!
      And not everybody worships alcohol.
      Islam specifically condemns its use.

      As a nonchristian I find your comment to be very arrogant!

  • Hep Yo

    Really excellent article – but you left off one of the biggest religions, Hinduism, which explicitly includes cannabis. Note that householders traditionally grow one cannabis plant to give some to wandering monks who come to the door. Psychology Today article in 2011 stated: “The earliest mention of cannabis has been found in The Vedas, or sacred Hindu texts. These writings may have been compiled as early as 2000 to 1400 B.C. According to The Vedas, cannabis was one of five sacred plants and a guardian angel lived in its leaves. The Vedas call cannabis a source of happiness, joy-giver, liberator that was compassionately given to humans to help us attain delight and lose fear (Abel, 1980). It releases us from anxiety. The god, Shiva is frequently associated with cannabis, called bhang in India. According to legend, Shiva wandered off into the fields after an angry discourse with his family. Drained from the family conflict and the hot sun, he fell asleep under a leafy plant. When he awoke, his curiosity led him to sample the leaves of the plant. Instantly rejuvenated, Shiva made the plant his favorite food and he became known as the Lord of Bhang.”

    • Starmaykr

      Thank you for sharing this.

  • TMink

    Mr. Ponieman, I appreciate your article and the way you represented Christian thought. I do not often find it expressed so accurately, and your thoughts showed understanding as well. Good job pal.

  • karen

    Thank you for this article. I am a clergy person in Vancouver and a medical patient and very much involved in cannabis advocacy and education. In fact we held a cannabis education session last Saturday at our church and 30 people attended (and it was not advertised). Time to end the stigma. This is medicine and created for our use and well – being. Like anything it needs to be used responsibly and with intention. People need to understand it and not be afraid. We hope to expand and teach the wider community and bring this faith-based approach to other communities.

  • Ramona Dare

    I’m Catholic. I have diverse beliefs in my family (Protestant & Wiccan & Muslim) and my take on weed is it’s okay to use it for recreation (again: all things in moderation) and for medical reasons. I’ve smoked it for 50 years come May 1. I don’t trip on the Evangelicals because their understanding of Sacred Scripture is faulty. I write this not to engage in debate but to state a fact as I believe it to be. That said, I guess the reason there is contention could arise from the scripture of Jesus stating to “Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasars'”. So up to a minute ago I am breaking Missouri law because until I am approved for the Missouri Marijuana Card I have to buy weed smuggled in from elsewhere at an exorbitant fee. (really like Green Crack). So, everyone has a conscience and a heart to follow and like ole Billy Shakespeare said “To thine own self be true”. The only regret I have about my use is the manner in which I obtained it in the past. Unknowingly and then knowingly I bought it and have no doubt during it’s travel to my hand someone died behind getting it to the street of my (many different) dealers.
    Just glad what was in the dark is now in the light. That’s just my thoughts and I’m not here to challenge anyone else’s experience or beliefs. Happy Trails To You!
    .

  • David Earnest

    Brief yet thorough. Thank you Natan! Although the exclusion of Hinduism was a bit of an oversight. What with more than a Billion followers and all…..

  • Hep Yo

    Hinduism is the 3rd largest religion, more than Buddhism and Judaism combined.

  • surrealistodefierros

    Totally missing from the article is the relevance of cannabis to Hinduism, particularly Shivasm…
    The authors would have done well to include it since Hinduism contains a quite large segment of the world’s religious population…

  • Dante-the-cat

    At times I give thanks before I spark up a bowl. It just feels right – this gentle plant is indeed a gift.