“What’s so bad about weed?”
The first time I had this conversation was with a new believer. He followed up his question with the observation that the Bible never expressly mentions nor prohibits marijuana. I was a new believer myself, and as such, I didn’t have a thorough understanding of the matter. I (shamefully) remember all I had to answer was an insufficient and unsatisfying recitation of all I had ever heard: “It’s a drug. Drugs are bad.”
But why? Yes, marijuana is bad in that it has lasting, long-term physical effects on the brain of a regular user. But what about for the occasional user? How bad can it be? After all, countless defenses abound: Smoking weed doesn’t hurt anyone. It doesn’t cause drunk driving accidents. It doesn’t create a risk or threat to society. It isn’t addictive. It’s not a gateway to hard drugs. It has medicinal properties. It chills you out. It numbs pain. It’s harmless.
Marijuana’s appeal is largely due to the way it relieves the mind. It may heighten certain senses, it may spark the imagination, but when it comes to mental processing, everything gets slower. Things don’t seem to matter as much. Serious issues become less serious. Critical thinking becomes impossible. And everything just becomes… okay. It dulls and distracts the mind, providing a mental and emotional escape of sorts.
Think about it. The only way Tove Lo can keep him off her mind is to stay high all the time. Halsey’s friend is only happy when his sorry head is filled with dope. Kid Cudi’s blunt is the only thing that keeps him leveled in his crazy head. Tom Petty has to roll another joint, because we don’t know how it feels to be him, and he doesn’t want to. AfroMan gets high, his life falls apart, so he keeps getting high. Wiz Khalifa and Snoop feel young, wild, and free, because as soon as they think they’re down, they light up and turn things around. Bob Marley’s got the kaya that makes him feel so good in his neighborhood. Black Sabbath’s life was empty and forever on a down until sweet leaf took them and showed them around.
This world really sucks, doesn’t it? It only makes sense that when there is pain, frustration, or sadness in one hand, and a means of relief in the other, we would opt for the means of relief. Everyone endures difficult days and longs for alleviation before bed; everyone experiences low or dull moments and desires a mood boost. Relief in the form of mind-numbing, mood-altering substances is understandably enticing. After all, pain is felt in the heart but processed in the mind; to distract the mind is to suppress the emotions.
My intention through this post is not to contribute to the conversation on the morality of weed. Rather, in light of everything mentioned above, I’m writing this because recently I’ve been challenged by my own sources of weed.
Just like supporters of marijuana, I could rattle off a million reasons why the below activities are good. In fact, they can be good – as with all of God’s creation, marijuana included. But ever since the fall of man when our venom poisoned the perfection of creation, we have had this incredible knack for taking what was originally good and using it destructively. And so, though these are good things, I often use them as a hurting person might use weed: to escape, to turn off my brain, to shrink away from pain, to evade emotion.
STORIES. I wanted to call this one “books,” but it isn’t books in general I run to in these moments – it’s fictional stories. Stories are the ultimate of all escape routes. If I don’t want to deal with my current reality, I can easily enter into another “reality,” one in which I am made to forget, for a period of time, that my present circumstances exist. Stories are like a paintbrush dipped in watercolor that blur the borders of real life, causing you to seep and blend into the lives of others. And although you are walking through these characters’ struggles alongside of them, there is still a degree of separation protecting you from the weight of their lives.
MUSIC. Music does two things. First, it helps me escape from myself. My go-to remedy when I experience negative feelings is to lock myself in my room, turn off the lights, lay on my bed, and blast music. Very teen angst-y, I know. (But it helps.) Likewise, If I’m walking out of work after a long day and have a lot pummeling my mind, I only need to plug in my headphones to obstruct my thoughts.
Second, music helps me shut others off. Have you ever noticed how wearing headphones in public makes you much less attentive and empathetic towards others? Music has a way of isolating you by ushering you into another world of which no one else around you is a part. It drowns out the noises, voices, and realities of other people.
PHONE. Our phones have essentially become adult pacifiers. I’ve had moments where I’ve been emotional over something, and rather than face those emotions, rather than cry out to God as my rock and my refuge, I will do the easier option: reach, click, swipe, scroll. In his book on technology, John Dyer writes: “We also use our idols, especially our technological ones, as a means of distraction. When we find something that offers us temporary relief from the curse of sin, instead of allowing its shortcomings to make us long for our Savior, we allow the technology to distract us from our obvious need of a savior.”
The natural reaction to all of this is: so what? Why is mental and emotional relief such a bad thing? Can’t escape ever be useful and necessary?
Taking a quick glance at Jesus gives escape a new meaning. Jesus escaped often, but only ever to the same place. When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matt. 14:13). We know what this desolate place meant: intimacy and communion with his father. “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16); “And rising very early in the morning, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35); “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
This secret place with the Father was how Jesus dealt with both the pain of everyday life as well as prepared for bearing the colossal weight of the world’s sin. The difference between Jesus’ means of escape and mine is enormous: his spirit was being strengthened, his relationship with and love for his father reinforced; my spirit is being neglected, while my mind is seduced by quick-fix but short-lived solutions.
The answer to the “so what?” is this: escape is a huge deal. It can either be used sinfully – believing that something or someone else can provide the healing or relief that only God can; or righteously – seeking strength, peace, comfort, wisdom, and sustenance from God.
Presently, I am fighting to flip my instincts of escape. Weed and all of its likenesses may calm our senses and comfort us in the moment, but they never do more. There is a place that can sufficiently meet all my needs for the present and the future: the secret place with my Father, where I meet with his greatness, his love, the saving power of his Son. It’s a place that, by his grace, I am fighting to run to, to make my impulse in every emotionally taxing or monotonously dull moment. I want to choose the quiet chamber over the distractions of men, as Blaise Pascal writes:
“When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves… I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”