Christianity and weed — natural enemies or unusual bedfellows? Contrary to mainstream belief, cannabis has long enjoyed a place within religion and spirituality. The same goes for shamanic practices and the Rastafari religion, but what about Christianity?
There is a general consensus that Christianity prohibits using most recreational psychoactive substances, including cannabis. However, there are recent efforts to rehabilitate the image of cannabis within the religion and challenge the so-called antagonism between Christianity and weed.
The Historical Relationship between Christianity and Weed
Many historians agree about the presence and use of cannabis products in the Middle East before the birth of Christ. Some scholars cite a religious site in Tel Adar, Israel, as, apparently, a place for rituals that involved the burning of cannabis, allegedly to induce a high among worshippers.
Christ himself may have had close encounters with the plant. Some researchers believe that the oil Jesus so often used to heal others was actually cannabis oil.
There can be little doubt about a role for cannabis in Judaic religion.
Carl Ruck, professor of classical mythology, Boston University
The Bible itself points to evidence for this. The book of Exodus first references the anointing oil, which predates Jesus. The oil is said to have come from a plant known as kaneh-bosem. Before Jesus, priests and royals used the oil exclusively. However, Jesus purportedly went against the grain by using it to heal the masses.
News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering acute pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed–and He healed them.
In the Gospel of Mark, the author talks about the twelve apostles learning the healing arts from Christ. These apostles then set out to spread the Gospel. In the course of this, they also “drove out many demons and healed many of the sick, anointing them with oil” (Mark 6:13). This passage points to the fact that the oil itself had healing properties. Also, that anyone, not only Jesus, could have used it.
Early researchers theorized that the kaneh-bosem plant could be calamus, also known as sweet flag. While calamus is known to be psychoactive, science has since come to discount the plant’s so-called healing prowess, thereby casting doubt on it as a candidate for this Biblical anointing oil.
On the other hand, the people of the region already knew of cannabis, as evidenced by its discovery at the ancient temple site mentioned above; and its healing properties are confirmed by science and corroborated by contemporary patients.
In addition, there is speculation that the term “kaneh-bosem” is where we derive the word “cannabis.” The Hebrew root KaNeH refers to a reed or stalk, which some have said is descriptive of a cannabis plant.
Christianity and Weed: Potential Allies?
It’s not enough to rely on historical precedent. Many contemporary Christians continually fight to destigmatize cannabis through moral arguments and the reinterpretation of Scripture.
The writer Jonathan Merritt makes two distinct moral arguments for the destigmatization of cannabis. One, to help the sick and two, to prevent injustices committed on communities of colour.
That evening, I sampled a small dose and experienced what some might call a miracle. The excruciating pain receded and the cloud encircling my head lifted for the first time in months. I laid in bed and wept for more than an hour.
Merritt writes that justice, being one of the dominant pillars of both the Jewish and Christian faiths, should motivate Christians to get behind legalization to curb the continued persecution of people of colour in the name of a futile War on Drugs.
Merritt is not alone. Increasingly, more and more churches and Christian organizations are advocating for changing attitudes on marijuana, with some even citing Scripture as evidence that God intended for cannabis for consumed:
Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
For these Christians, it is vastly important to combat stigma. Many continue to grapple with reconciling their faith and their cannabis use.
It remains to be seen what will come first and lead to the other: widespread acceptance or legalization. Nevertheless, there is hope that more people worldwide will at least be able to reap the benefits of medical marijuana soon as governments realize the importance of the sector.