The impetus for this post is a recent report that a mission president in Oregon has told the missionaries in his mission that an investigator using medical marijuana cannot be baptized unless they first stop. From the outset, let’s be clear about what we are talking about. This is medical marijuana for which someone has a valid prescription. This also necessarily implies that the person lives in a state where medical marijuana has been declared legal. Before reading my thoughts on the issue, I’d be interested in your opinion, so please consider answering the following simple question:
It’s obvious that marijuana isn’t specifically mentioned in the Word of Wisdom as revealed by Joseph Smith. But it is also obvious that many LDS members consider medical marijuana to be against the Word of Wisdom. (DISCLAIMER: I have never actually used marijuana in any form, legally or illegally, so perhaps for me the question is moot) It is interesting to me why some people consider medical marijuana to be against the Word of Wisdom? Not a good idea or a bad idea, but specifically against the Word of Wisdom. Let’s consider some of the reasons people have given:
This is almost entirely false. I say “almost”, because ALL drugs have side effects and can be dangerous. An important concept when looking at safety of drugs is Therapeutic Index. This is essentially a ratio between a TOXIC dose of a drug and an EFFECTIVE dose of a drug. Some drugs have a NARROW therapeutic index, the range between the toxic and effective doses is small, while others have a WIDE therapeutic index, where the range is large.
As an example, consider alcohol. This has a narrow therapeutic index of approximately 10:1. This means that a where a given amount of alcohol is needed to get a desired “effect”, only around 10x that amount can be toxic or lethal. In medicine, we regularly prescribe drugs with a narrow therapeutic index. A perfect example is pain medication. Narcotics also have a fairly narrow index, where some are needed to get the effect, but not too much more can kill you.
The use of these potentially dangerous medications with narrow therapeutic indices is widely accepted in the LDS Church. Because my medical practice is based in Salt Lake City, the majority of my patients are LDS, and I write prescriptions for literally thousands of pain pills per week (NOTE: This sounds like a lot, but is realistic. 10-15 surgeries / week x 40-80 pills per post-op patient is at least a thousand. And I see 80+ patients / week for follow-up, injuries, etc., which is at least another thousand). Besides my anecdotal experience, the insurance plan used by LDS Church employees is DMBA, which has tens of thousands of members, which are generally worthy, temple-recommend holding members. The second most commonly prescribed group of medications in the DMBA system (after anti-depressants) is narcotics. So, as Church members, we regularly use A LOT of dangerous medications, and don’t consider them against the Word of Wisdom.
How about medical marijuana? Is it more dangerous than these other commonly accepted drugs? The therapeutic index of marijuana is actually extremely WIDE, and is estimated to be 20,000-40,000:1, thereby making it a very “safe” drug. Putting this in perspective, the DEA has estimated that a man would have to smoke 1,500 pounds of marijuana in 15 minutes to reach a lethal level. That means it is essentially impossible to overdose on marijuana, and in fact, there are NO REPORTED DEATHS from marijuana anywhere in the world. Ever.
So, the argument that medical marijuana should be against the Word of Wisdom because it is a dangerous substance is pointless. We regularly use MUCH more dangerous things.
This is a gray area. Marijuana is classified by the Federal government as a Schedule A drug, which means it cannot be legally prescribed in the United States. At the same time, there are a growing number of states where marijuana CAN be legally prescribed. Technically, federal law trumps state law, but it mostly depends on how the executive branch wants to enforce it.
Some people have claimed that medical marijuana is against the Word of Wisdom because it is illegal according to federal law. But does this make sense? Do we, as members of the LDS Church, follow all laws of the United States, officially or unofficially? The answer here is very clearly no.
In the earliest days of the Church, we practiced polygamy, which was in direct violation of federal law. While we no longer practice polygamy, the practice of ignoring federal laws with which we disagree continues. For example, there are congregations in the Salt Lake area where the majority of the members are living in the United States illegally. People in these congregations are called to positions of leadership, are granted temple recommends, and are called on missions. And missionaries can teach and baptize people who are in clear violation of federal law.
This is NOT a post on illegal immigration. However, our implicit and explicit institutional acceptance of violation of Federal law regarding immigration does somewhat weaken the claim that someone is breaking the Word of Wisdom because medical marijuana is a violation of federal law. This argument therefore doesn’t make much sense.
3) Medical marijuana is addictive
For most people, marijuana is not addictive. Over 90% of people who use marijuana do so on an intermittent basis, and less than 10% will develop an addiction. Even with an addiction to marijuana, the withdrawal symptoms are very mild.
While any addiction is obviously bad, we accept addiction in our church. Many people drink caffeinated drinks daily. Many of my patients can’t sleep without their “sleeping pill”. Many of my patients take anti-anxiety or pain medications or anti-depressants on a regular basis and have built up tolerances. Several of these medications can actually have much more significant withdrawal symptoms if they are stopped suddenly than medical marijuana. So, as long as we accept these other addicting substances, declaring medical marijuana against the Word of Wisdom because a small percentage might become addicted makes no sense either.
Duh. So is everything else. We have members who have made millions of dollars because of “profit-motives”. It is the basis of our capitalistic society. Mitt Romney made hundreds of millions breaking-apart “rescuing” companies because of profit motives. The Huntsman family made billions making plastics because of profit motives. We celebrate them.
Regarding drugs, the pharmaceutical industry accounts for approximately $300 BILLLION in sales in the US alone, each year . The industry spends over $30 BILLION marketing drugs in the United States alone, each year. So saying that medical marijuana should be against the Word of Wisdom because people are driven by making money off it is ludicrous.
5) Medical marijuana is stronger than marijuana from 20 years ago
This is true. But is making a drug stronger a reason for making it against the Word of Wisdom? Essentially ALL of our drugs are highly concentrated and chemically refined forms of things found in nature. In surgery, we regularly use drugs that are hundreds of times stronger than naturally occuring morphine, yet they aren’t against the Word of Wisdom. While they are stronger, we just use lower doses to get the same effect. Studies of different strains of marijuana also show that users tend to self-regulate in the same manner – people tend to use less of stronger marijuana. So this isn’t a great reason either.
6) Medical marijuana can affect someone’s thinking process
True. But so do pain medications, anti-anxiety medications, cough and cold medicine, allergy medicines, anti-histamines, anti-depressants, sleep medications, etc. None of these are against the Word of Wisdom.
True. But so do other drugs. Utah has the HIGHEST per capita rate of “non-prescription use of prescription medications” in the ENTIRE COUNTRY. This is essentially someone getting a prescription for Lortab or Xanax or Valium or whatever, and it being used by someone else for recreational purposes. And we lead the country in this regard.
I haven’t heard of anyone suggesting these drugs should be against the Word of Wisdom because they might be diverted. As mentioned above, anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications and narcotics are the most commonly prescribed medications in the Church’s insurance plan. And they are all certainly more dangerous than marijuana.
Anyway. These are just some of the common reasons I have heard why medical marijuana should be against the Word of Wisdom. I don’t know that any of them make sense. Marijuana certainly has a social stigma. There are people who get hung up on issues like this.
In my hospital a few years ago, one of the anesthesiologists was talking to a patient before surgery, going through their medical history, etc. She was on a number of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, etc. She explained that they helped a lot by the end of the day with all she had to go through. He was only somewhat joking when he suggested that it would probably be healthier if she just had a glass of red wine in the evening instead of all the chemicals she was putting into her body. She formally reported him for suggesting something against her beliefs, but I think he was probably right.
So, are we missing the forest for the trees? Are we perhaps too focused on the minutiae that we are missing the bigger picture? Medical marijuana is much safer and much less addictive than many other drugs we use to get the same effects, yet many people get hung up on it.
And just as food for thought, the closest the Word of Wisdom comes to talking about medical marijuana is the following:
10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, whether you think medical marijuana is AGAINST or ALLOWED by the Word of Wisdom. It doesn’t matter if you have ever used it or not. Hopefully, these thoughts are more than just “It’s bad just because”.
- Do you feel medical marijuana is against the Word of Wisdom?
- Should an investigator be allowed to be baptized if they use medical marijuana for which they have a valid prescription?
- If you feel it is NOT against the Word of Wisdom, would you personally use it if it was legal in your state and was prescribed by a doctor?
- If you feel it IS against the Word of Wisdom, what is your reasoning?