Parliament is currently debating a Private Members’ Bill asking for the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. So, what does the Torah say about this?
The Torah’s approach to herbal medicine is positive, although the risk of damage to health through addiction means that even use in moderation is questionable.
Before drinking a Kiddush cup, we declare ‘savri’, which means ‘exercise caution’. This is because not only is moderation required, but also knowing when to take benefit and when to abstain altogether.
Extreme pain suffered by patients is equated in scriptural and halachic sources to an existential threat to life itself.
When King Saul was in his death throes, he preferred to die rather than suffer extreme pain. Rabbinic sources do not criticise him for this.
In the early medieval period, Moses of Oxford applied the example of Saul before the assizes of the Sheriff of Gloucester to argue that suicide is not forbidden in Judaism if the pain is impossible to bear.
Nowadays, thank God, excellent standards of pain relief mean this argument is usually unnecessary. However, self-medication is just as perilous as non-medication. Only responsible, registered and accredited practitioners, who carefully observe the developing condition of one who uses cannabis should administer and track the provenance and dispensation of every drop and gram on the permitted market.
The Torah itself is compared to both the elixir of life or a death potion; it depends on the doses administered, when and to whom.
Current evidence indicates that cannabis oil is neither addictive, nor does
it contain the effects of other forms of cannabis. If this is so, the grounds on which one could object is the stigma attached to its use.
These grounds are irrelevant to Judaism, as what matters is relieving pain, not what non-sufferers declare for ideological reasons.
- Rabbi Ariel Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is Padre to HM Armed Forces