On Thursday, February 24, Beth Gavriel Bukharian Jewish Center, in conjunction with Limud L’Chai, hosted a discussion on the risks and dangers associated with marijuana addiction, including halachic (Jewish law), hashkafic (Jewish perspective), and mental health issues. The event included remarks from Rabbi Tomer Zino, Rabbi Moshe Mehdyzadeh, and Rabbi Moshe Frankel, MSW, a 20-year veteran in victims of substance abuse and a representative of Amudim.

Marijuana has been popularized by the media, lobbyists, and advocates leading to socially acceptable recreational use by youngsters in yeshivos and religious girls’ schools. The claim that marijuana is safe and not addictive is ludicrous, as most marijuana available is not tested for safety and is instead contaminated with dangerous chemicals and bacteria, or possibly laced with other psychoactive drugs. One such common chemical is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, with reported overdoses in the laced marijuana. There was a time when tobacco smokers and the tobacco industry foolishly claimed that there is no direct correlation in cigarette smoking to cancer because not everyone who smoked got cancer. Today, the marijuana industry is doing the same, by dismissing evidence that does not support their narrative.

A heroin addict or an alcoholic may realize that the addiction is causing him or her all sorts of issues, and people around may help them seek treatment. However, marijuana does damage quietly and insidiously, and its users do not know that they have subtle brain damage. There is no specific time when one may become less interested in school or work. Rabbi Moshe Mehdyzadeh has been working with at-risk teens in this category for over a decade, and compared the situation to someone whose hat is burning but he does not feel the pain because he is numb.

Marijuana has detrimental effects on brain development, especially in adolescents. Teen marijuana use can impair thinking, memory, and learning functions, and affect how the brain builds connections to the areas necessary for these functions. In adult use, marijuana use increases the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses. These mental health issues are in addition to physical ailments that marijuana use can bring on, such as increase in the risk of lung cancer, increase the chance of heart attack and stroke within the first hour up to five times, and problems with child development during and after pregnancy.

Marijuana is also highly addictive and is known to be a gateway to other drug addictions. According to medical studies, marijuana is the second most addictive substance in America after alcohol. In the age group of 18 and under, marijuana is the leading most-used substance.

Because of the overwhelming evidence that recreational marijuana use presents various health effects on the body and mind, its usage would be violating halachah. The Torah warns us to guard our health. There is no poseik (halachic authority) who permits the recreational use of marijuana. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Dei’ah 3:35) ruled that marijuana is outright forbidden. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Maadanei Shlomo, pg. 148) ruled that someone who uses any type of drugs, including marijuana, transgresses a prohibition. Rav Zev Cohen writes that when he asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky about the use of marijuana, the rav responded that it is sam ha’maves (poison).

According to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), marijuana use is forbidden. Rav Chaim Ezra HaKohen Fatchia, known as the Chalban, stated that marijuana use brings the spirit of impurity and caused p’gam ha’bris (body immorality). Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok writes that drugs, including marijuana, poison the soul. Any spiritual experiences that the user has is from the forces of darkness that drag the soul down to the depths of perdition. The masters of the occult often take hallucinogenic drugs to invite a sheid (demon), soul, or spirit to enter their flesh and use it as a vehicle for communication. Marijuana causes people to have delusions from the side of impurity and visions stemming from the k’lipah. Rabbi Tomer Zino explained this as the reason why Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who was ill with pulmonary tuberculosis, refused to take marijuana and cursed the plant that it should not have intoxicating power.

Further information is available in “Marijuana in Halacha” via www.Amazon.com . To break addiction, it is recommended to follow the same 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (see www.aa.org/the-twelve-steps ). Support is available via Amudim at 646-517-0222, or www.amudim.org/contact.

 By Nissan Yusupov