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“Ask a Priest: Is It Sinful to Use Medical Marijuana?”
Q: Since it’s such a gray area within the Catholic Church, I was wondering what your opinion was on marijuana/THC/CBD. Personally, I use it to help me with my chronic pain; otherwise, doctors just want to prescribe me things like oxytocin since over-the-counter drugs don’t help my pain at all. So, I’m not sure if that is more of an exception, or if it is frowned upon in the Church. In general, is it a sin to use it? — Grace
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: There are various factors to weigh, including legal, medical, ethical and moral issues.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, or marijuana. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most prevalent active ingredient in marijuana.
Obviously, it’s not good to get involved with marijuana if it’s illegal in your area. That would amount to supporting an illegal drug trade and involve formal and proximate material cooperation in evil.
Then there is the medical issue. Some researchers and doctors are very skeptical about the medical value of marijuana, as this National Catholic Bioethics Center posting points out.
Among the warnings sounded, the article states that the chemical components in marijuana can contribute to emphysema, bronchial irritation and inflammation.
It does note, however, that in regard to marijuana its “isolated components, the cannabinoids and their synthetic derivatives” show more promise. Several cannabinoid medications have been found to work as well as or better than marijuana, with fewer side effects.
From the ethical point of view, there is the application of the principle of double effect.
This principle states that unintentional bad effects can be tolerated in certain cases, though the good effect must be proportionate to compensate for the bad effect.
In this case, that means that the use of medical marijuana could be at times justified when there are no alternatives and the proportion of benefits outweigh risks. Again, as mentioned above, there are cannabinoid medications that might be suitable (and thus more ethical) alternatives.
There are also moral issues to consider. Given the potential for addiction, would your use of marijuana scandalize others, including children?
Also, would your demand for marijuana help promote a market that is geared more and more toward drugs? Will legal marijuana send signals to young people that distort their values?
In any case, you might want to get a second medical opinion from a physician. And then take all these issues to prayer.
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