Is Marijuana use mortal sin? I say YES... (and it's now legal in my province.)
So, here's my reasoning as to why marijuana use is a mortal sin in itself, but could in certain cases be considered a venial sin or perhaps in a few more rare cases, no sin at all.

In passing, this is the same as with lying : a mortal sin in itself, but when the matter is light, it might be venially sinful.

First we have to distinguish between use and abuse with any drug. 

Using a drug can be for therapeutic purposes (for a real medical condition under the supervision of a doctor or equivalent authority, e.g. OTC drugs) or recreational purposes (without medical justification or supervision and only for psychoactive effects but in a moderate quantity inflicting no serious damage to one's body or rational power). Abusing a drug is use in a way which may cause physical, psychological, legal, economic, or social harm to oneself or to others. Addiction is simply compulsive abuse. Abuse and addiction clearly are grave sins.

In marijuana the principle psychoactive component is THC. Its effects vary from person to person and from use to use. Most natural marijuana before modern use as a drug had a THC content from about 0.5 to 3 percent. (This amount is similar to the alkaloid content of the coca leaf, from which cocaine is made, and this leaf is commonly used and chewed without major deleterious effect). Modern cultivars of marijuana have increased THC upwards of 30 percent, though some have approximately 7 percent THC content. Clearly marijuana today has been specially cultivated to produce a "high" and is not simply the same substance it was 100 years ago, nor is it the same as a standard hemp plant.

The effects also vary based on the quantity used, how it is used, one's physical condition, the environment, and one's psychiatric state, among other factors. Even from use to use people may have different experiences. 

While there are physical effects (increased heart rate, muscle relaxation, vasodilation, blood pressure changes), most of the effects are psychoactive and particularly hallucinogenic, but not to the extent of true hallucinogens like LSD. It produces euphoria, relaxation, altered sensation especially towards visual and auditory stimuli, changes in emotional responses and fear, reduction of pain stimuli. At high doses true hallucinations, loss of voluntary coordination, disruption of memory and learning functions, increase in episodic memory with disruption to continuous memory. Long term, marijuana has been shown to lead to irreversible cognitive impairment especially in adolescents, risk of psychosis and depression, possible addiction though much lower than even nicotine and only at very high and long-term doses. Regular use, however, can create physical dependence and withdrawl symptoms. 

Effects depend on the method of ingestion, but peak 15-30 minutes after use and can last, depending on dosage, up to 4-6 hours. Because THC is fat soluble, however, while the "high" wears off relatively quickly the THC will remain and cause effects for days to weeks after use.

The morality of an act depends on several factors, the object, the intention and the circumstances as well as the moral duties that might be violated. In the case of marijuana we can see that it does have possible harmful effects on body and mind, if used recreationally the intention is pleasure not the good of the body or soul, the circumstances are not benign (often it is an illegal action with fairly stiff penalties, it can easily cause scandal, the environment in which it is used is not usually one dispositive towards traditional Catholic morals, there is risk of greater sins quite easily especially because of the manipulation of our emotional faculties and dulling of our reason). Recall also that we have a duty of Justice towards God who is has absolute dominion over us and our body, we have a duty of Justice towards neighbor and society and drug use has societal effects and harms and we also have a duty toward the use of pleasures with temperance and prudence.

As an added circumstance, marijuana production is illegal in most places, and even where legal is a "fruit of a poisonous tree". The marijuana culture we have that is becoming more permissive is built off of decades of highly illegal actions which have resulted in thousands of deaths, the ruination of countless lives and a drug-trade in which terribly sinful actions have been the norm. This cannot be separated from marijuana use any more than medical procedures developed by Nazi eugenics can be separated. The Catholic who freely accepts marijuana use is also in a certain way approving of this culture which has been the foundation of the modern drug culture. This is a reason for a great part of the scandal.

Given this, and that the precepts mentioned above bind under pain of grave sin, I find it hard to suggest that marijuana use is anything but mortally sinful in itself. Since it is the willful choosing of pleasure over our duties, with significant harm possible, especially the damage to physical health and the normal use of our rational faculties, and for no really proportionately grave reason. The intention is a high, and the effects are not merely a short term "relaxation" but last for a long time after the "high" and therefore, it really cannot be use "in moderation." Further, the culture that lies behind its use is so tainted that the scandal that will be given is always a serious evil, it is, in a great way the modern world's "mysticism" like in Eastern cults—not an encounter with God, but an escape into nirvana or dissolution of self into the mystical "god" of nothingness.

That said, hypothetically, I could see there being only light matter, like a "white" lie. A one-time or extremely occasional use with low-grade marijuana ("natural" levels of THC), with limited exposure (a few puffs), and there being no risk of scandal in obtaining or using. Practically, I don't see those conditions as often happening since most marijuana is fairly high-grade and often mixed with other substances, and is not just a one-puff incident. If one uses alone to avoid some scandal, then he will probably consume a full joint, but among a group there is risk of scandal and also usually it is not just one joint passed around so everyone has one puff, plus there is the second-hand effects. Finally, the illegality in many places adds a level of scandal and malice.

Now, that is without speaking about alcohol and tobacco, the typical go-to objections of those who favor marijuana use. Indeed both have physical and psychoactive effects and both are properly drugs, but it is apples and oranges, really.

Firstly, there is a cultural and societal acceptance of tobacco and alcohol use, meaning that there is no serious risk of scandal except in the case of inordinate use, where as marijuana does not have that acceptance. Think about Fr John Doe. If you saw him sipping a glass of whiskey and puffing away at his favorite cigar with his fellow priests, you would not be scandalized. You might want to sit down and join them for some good Catholic conversation. If he were puffing on joint and passing it to Msgr MacGillicuddy? If you would be shocked at the latter, why would you ever make the comparison between tobacco and alcohol and marijuana as if they are equivalents?

With tobacco if you look at the actual effects, marijuana is far worse. While tobacco is far more addictive and open to abuse, the damage is far worse with marijuana. The Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care in a 2012 study showed that a joint causes the damage equivalent to 5 cigarettes, also the carcinogenic agents in marijuana are more numerous and because the smoke dilates the bronchial passages more and is held for longer is far more damaging. The reason cigarettes actually cause more damage is more because of frequency, since marijuana use is not typically the equivalent of a pack-a-day habit. Five cigarettes a day is mild use for tobacco. Five joints a day is not mild marijuana use. Finally, tobacco does not produce the alteration of consciousness or behavior.

With alcohol, clearly we do see that with abuse there is serious harmful effects, but there are actual health benefits for moderate use in both ill and healthy persons. Marijuana does show some pain- and nausea-relieving effects but only for the sick, and show no beneficial medical effects for otherwise healthy people. A serving of alcohol per day, particularly wine, has been shown to help protect from heart disease, blood clots, helps normalize blood pressure, and raises HDL levels. Psychoactive effects are relatively minimal and appear only at about a 3-drink equivalent (about 24 g of alcohol) for the average person. The same Pontifical Council report shows that a joint is the equivalent of about 2 full-sized drinks of an 80-proof liquor. With moderate use, even up to about 6-7 drinks weekly, there are no negative accumulative effects in the body. That obviously has to be distinguished from abuse, since many with absolutely no problem with alcohol can easily use it in moderation without risk.
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RE: Is Marijuana use mortal sin? I say YES... (and it's now legal in my province.) - by MagisterMusicae - 10-18-2018, 12:02 AM

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