Project Genesis


Question: Is it permitted to smoke marijuana?

Answer: Thank you for your question. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein OB”M discusses this in his responsa Igros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah Vol. 3, Siman 35. The following is a loose translation of what he writes there:

“It is obviously forbidden to smoke marijuana, as this violates many basic laws of our Torah. First of all, it physically injures the person. Even if there are people who are not physically affected by this, it mentally affects the person as it destroys his mind, and prevents him from understanding things properly. This is a terrible thing, since not only can the individual not properly study Torah, he also can not pray and properly perform Mitzvos (commandments), since doing them mindlessly is considered as if they were not done at all. Furthermore, he is creating within himself a very strong desire (addiction?), which is much stronger than the desire to eat, etc. which are necessary for a person to live. There are many that can not control and withstand this desire. This is a very grave prohibition, as we find that a Ben Sorer U’Moreh [is killed] (See Deut. 21:18) for creating within himself a very strong desire, even though it is to eat Kosher food! How much more so it is forbidden for a person to bring upon himself an even greater desire, especially for something that a person does not need at all…

Additionally, the parents of the person smoking certainly are disturbed by his actions, in which case he is violating the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V’Em (respect for parents). He is also violating the Mitzvah of “Kedoshim Ti’Hiyu”(be holy), as explained by the Ramban in his commentary on the Chumash (5 Books of Moses). This also leads him to transgress other prohibitions, besides the actual prohibition of taking drugs. The bottom line is that it is clear and obvious that this is one of the grave prohibitions, and everyone must try with all of their strength to remove this impurity (Tuma’ah) from all Children of Israel.”

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler

[Reposted from the Archives]

3 Follow-ups »

  1. Question: What does Jewish law say about the use of daily prescription medication (legitimately prescribed)? Specifically, I have adult Attention Deficit Disorder treated by daily doses of dextroamphetamine. While it helps me, I wonder is it disrespectful to G_d altering the way he made me? Kindly advise

    Answer: Thank you for your question, although I’m sorry to hear about your difficulty. Marijuana that has been legitimately prescribed may be used.

    Take care,
    Rabbi Aaron Tendler

    Question: I am not convinced by your analysis of smoking marijuana, and I would appreciate a more thorough examination. First, you claim that marijuana is physically harmful, despite the overwhelming evidence denying this claim when used in moderation or with a vaporizer. Further, even the most anti-marijuana research shows that alcohol is significantly more dangerous and more physically harmful to the body than marijuana. How does Judaism explain the support (or, at the very least, tolerate) alcohol while condemning marijuana? Second, you claim that being high is impermissible because mitzvot are done “mindlessly.” Again, I fail to see the distinction between drinking and smoking. If anything, being high is much more intellectual than being drunk. Third, you claim that even if marijuana is not physically harmful, it is harmful in that it is addictive. Any fact-checking whatsoever will show that marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, nicotine or even caffeine. If marijuana is rejected on the grounds of addictiveness, why are caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine permissible?

    Answer: Your response is excellent – well thought-out, and in many ways, on the mark.

    To summarize, your points are as follows:
    1) You argue that marijuana is not physically harmful when used in moderation or with a vaporizer, and that alcohol is significantly more physically harmful than marijuana.
    2) You argue that whatever issue there is with “mindlessness” should apply to drinking.
    3) You respond to the charge of the addictiveness of marijuana by countering that alcohol, nicotine – even caffeine – are more addictive.

    Those are great responses, and let’s address them, one at a time.

    Firstly, you are just as guilty of understating the health threat of marijuana as some are of overstating it. As reported on the website of the Schick Shadel Hospital’s Drug Rehab program, today’s marijuana is not the pot of the ‘60’s. THC content has increased from 1% in 1975 to 14% in 1986, due to hybridization. The THC is absorbed quickly into fatty tissue and is stored there for a long time. Because of this, a single dose may take 3 to 4 weeks to get out of the system completely. The higher THC concentration of today’s marijuana has increased the percentage of people who will become dependent on it.

    Specific adverse affects include:
    • Adversely affects normal cell formation.
    • Produces feelings of isolation and depersonalization.
    • Produces shakes, lack of coordination and headaches.
    • Makes any mental or emotional problem worse.
    • Increases the heart rate.
    • Has 50% more tar per ounce than tobacco.
    • Decreases air flow and creates loss of lung capacity in little more than a month of regular smoking.
    • Produces chronic irritation of nasal and lung passages.
    • Creates precancerous changes in the lungs of smokers in their 20s.
    • Suppresses sex drive and sexual performance with prolonged use.
    • Can lead to impotence.
    • Harms the developing fetus.
    • Is associated with increased still births, neonatal deaths, decreased birth weight and abnormal reactions in children born to mothers on marijuana.
    • Decreases brain response, affects thinking and brain function, creates confusion and problems with short and long term memory, and distorts perception of time.
    • Causes blackouts.
    • Impairs driving skills. Studies show brake response time is increased, concentration is decreased and risk taking is increased.
    • Distorts peripheral vision, especially in the first two hours after using.

    In addition, people who smoke marijuana generally have reduced energy, reduced motivation and decreased drive. It is an especially harmful drug for young people. Just when teens and young adults are searching for motivation and the best way to achieve their dreams, marijuana robs them of motivation. Young people do less, learn less and become less capable when they smoke marijuana.

    So to “shrug off?? the deleterious effects of marijuana is GROSSLY irresponsible. I have a good friend and business associate who not only would smoke pot recreationally around the house, but would include his teenage son – after all, what’s the big deal? Well, his son has just finished his third round of rehab… I wish him luck.

    THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, you are absolutely right that alcohol is MUCH worse for the body when consumed the way MOST people consume pot. In other words, if the parallel to a casual drink would be a casual toke, I don’t think most people would throw their hands up in the air and assume the guy was about to become a coke head!. However, most users don’t just have a casual toke. And I don’t know of a single Posek [decisor of Jewish Law] in the world who allows anyone to get drunk. Purim is another discussion, and most authorities don’t allow it then, either.

    But you are correct – drunkenness is just like being stoned – they are both ABSOLUTELY forbidden.

    As for the question of addiction, once again I agree with you – I stopped smoking cigarettes 25 years ago, and there is not a DAY that goes by that I don’t crave a cigarette. Nicotine is VERY addictive – more addictive than heroin. I also believe that, slowly but surely, the Jewish community is slowly coming out of its denial of the closet alcoholism that is increasingly prevalent within our community.

    But that doesn’t negate the addictiveness of pot. It’s not the same addiction as nicotine or alcohol. Marijuana produces an artificial feeling of pleasant relaxation. Most addictive drugs are able to produce pleasurable effects by chemically mimicking certain normal brain messenger chemicals that produce positive feelings. This is like having counterfeit money that fits in a slot machine. When the drug comes in, it stimulates the reward center, short-circuiting the survival mechanism because the reward center can’t tell the difference between the drug and the natural chemical messenger.

    In the final analysis, the REAL issue is this: anyone who needs an artificial means to cope with life – stress, boredom, “chilling out??, pressure – isn’t really living. This applies to drinking, smoking cigarettes, smoking pot, an obsession with video games – you name it. To make a bogeyman of any one thing is to trivialize all the rest. Life is so wonderful and so blessed all by itself. In the same way that we feel pity and sadness for one who needs a respirator to breathe, we should feel pity and sadness for one who needs a chemical “respirator?? to live.

    Best of luck!

    Comment by ATR — June 29, 2006 @ 12:03 pm

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