Thoughts on the Evils of Hallucinogens, Psychedelics, etc.

If we can see the value in chastity, we can see the evil of drug use: just as artificially altering impeding the function of one’s reproductive organs is a great evil, so a fortiori is artificially altering and impeding ones organs of thought and reasoning.


I can alter the natural disposition of my consciousness; I can alter the natural object of my consciousness as present in mind. But the natural object of my consciousness is truth. Therefore if drug use is good, error and falsehood are as well.


Truth consists properly in conformity to mind. The intentional and deliberate desire to alter consciousness is therefore a desire to alter truth- it is in a very real sense a rejection of all truth as such.


To seeks an artificially altered consciousness requires that we find or natural consciousness lacking. But our natural consciousness is has as its first connatural object being. Drug use, then, involves some rejection of existence, and a judgment calling it insufficient. 


The use of psychiatric drugs also proves the same point: the purpose of drugs acting on the mind is to return the mind to its natural state. Again, the very moral measure of the drug is how well it can move a damaged consciousness to its natural state.



  1. Peter said,

    November 21, 2007 at 4:10 pm


    I agree with everything you said in this post. I wonder, though, what the principle is that determines whether or not the functioning of an organ is being impeded or altered.
    Drug use and impure acts are clear examples of misuse that only a dissembler would deny. But I remember reading once the objection (I think by Grisez) that if, for example, the stomach is for eating and the lungs for breathing, then to chew gum or to smoke are evil acts. (Apparently, common sense is supposed to assume these to be not-evil, resulting in the conclusion that the traditional explanation that you posed above is wrong).
    It seems to me that the smoking example is legitimate. The gum chewing example doesn’t ring true to me. Chewing gum doesn’t pervert in any way the functioning of the stomach and digestive system; it just makes minimal use of them. Or, at least it seems to be neutral in not really using them at all. At this point the lame objection is usually brought forth: what, then, is chewing for? (Implying: if it is to masticate food for eating, then isn’t chewing gum a violation of this?) Any thoughts on how we separate function-abuse from nonsense?

  2. a thomist said,

    November 25, 2007 at 6:37 am

    I’ve been having a problem posting comments so I have to be quick:

    Grisez’s (or whoever’s) comment is strange. The purpose of the activity of smoking, so far as the lungs are concerned, is to use the lungs as media for drug transfer, which is neither a per se evil nor contrary to right use- in fact, smoking presupposes breathing!

    His example of gum is based on the accidental. No one chews gum in order to spit it out, and a gum that you swallowed wouldn’t cease to be gum. One could also say that “chew” need not always mean the same thing.

  3. Peter said,

    November 30, 2007 at 6:32 am

    I found the argument! It is on page 46 of Russell Shaw’s/Grisez’s “Fulfillment in Christ” — which is a summary of Grisez’s larger 3 volume work.
    In the chapter entitled “Some Mistaken Theories of Moral Principles”, this objection is found in the rejection of Scholastic Natural Law Theory.
    This section is ripe for a Thomistic critique.
    I will post it in its entirety so that the context is clear.


    C: Scholastic Natural Law Theory
    Scholastic natural law theory comes much closer to the truth than any of the approaches examined so far. It should be noted, though, that its name is something of a misnomer. “Scholastic” associates this theory with Thomas Aquinas and other schoolmen of the late Middle Ages, but the theory was actually developed mainly by Francisco Suarez and others in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Until quite recently it was dominant in Roman Catholic moral thinking.
    The theory proceeds along the following lines.
    Human nature is a given. It comes from the mind of God the creator, and it makes sense. The patterns of some actions which human beings are capable of performing agree with the intelligible structure of human nature considered in all its essential aspects (bodily, spiritual, and so on) and all its essential relationships (to God, to other people, to self), while patterns of others do not. Those which do are good; those which do not are evil. And what gives obligatory force to the moral norms derived from this kind of analysis? In the final analysis: God’s command to do what is in harmony with our nature and refrain from doing what is not.
    Scholastic natural law theory has several things to recommend it. In this view, morality is not arbitrary, not something “made up” by individuals or groups. Creation has meaning and value placed there by God; to do what is morally right is to act in accord with the truth about ourselves. Thus, the theory seems consistent with the fact that nature has a certain normative character. By nature, for instance, monkeys thrive on bananas but not on hamburgers; they ought therefore to eat the one and avoid the other. Similarly, it seems plausible to say that, as nature generally sets certain requirements, so human nature sets requirements for what human beings should do and not do. In this view, too, morality is not reduced to a mere adjunct to society and its requirements for survival and smooth functioning, for human nature is more basic than human society.
    Furthermore, as we saw earlier, Scripture itself speaks of the “natural law.” Although the gentiles lack the revealed law of God, the law written in their hearts testifies to whether they act well or badly. Thus, scholastic natural law theory is not just another philosophical school; its proponents take seriously what Scripture says and the Church teaches. This is a genuine theological account of morality.
    All the same, and with due respect to its proponents, this too is an inadequate theory. Indeed, its inadequacies account for, or at least contribute significantly to, a number of the problems of classical moral theology which we examined earlier.
    Central to the theory is a logically impermissible leap, from human nature as a given to the way human beings are morally obliged to choose and act. Logically, one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is.” How reality is (a fact) does not by itself tell us how to respond to reality (a moral norm). The theory tries to overcome this problem by saying that God commands us to act in accord with nature, but that only pushes the difficulty back a step. Supposing God *does* so command, that by itself is only another fact; it tells us nothing about why we ought to obey God.
    The theory, furthermore, misunderstands the normative character of nature, which is *not* the same as the normativity of morality. Morality is concerned with free choices. But that monkeys ought to eat bananas rather than hamburgers, true as it is, has nothing to do with any choice, for monkeys do not make choices. Presented with a banana and a hamburger, a healthy monkey will take the banana, not because it has chosen to but because it is doing what comes naturally. In the absence of choice, the behavior of monkeys and other animals has no moral character even though it is “according to nature.” A fundamental confusion must underlie a moral theory which confuses the normativity of nature with the normativity of human practical reasoning.
    As that suggests, scholastic natural law theory does not adequately grasp the role of free choice and self-determination. “Here is nature,” it says. “You can choose either to act in conformity with it or not.” In this perspective, choice merely triggers behavior which is or is not in conformity with nature. The creativity of moral reflection with respect to possibilities and the self-determining—one could almost say self-creating—role of freedom are overlooked.
    As a result of such defects, this theory fails to offer convincing arguments concerning concrete moral issues. Its arguments on behalf of specific moral norms are question-begging ones. Why is contraception wrong? Because, the theory replies, it perverts the faculty which is naturally oriented toward procreation. If that is a good argument, then it is also a good argument to say that chewing gum after the sugar is gone is wrong because it perverts the faculty which is naturally oriented toward nutrition or that holding your nose in the presence of a bad odor is wrong because it perverts the faculty which is naturally oriented toward smelling or that using ear plugs is wrong because it perverts the faculty which is naturally oriented toward hearing. Contraception really is always wrong, but chewing gum and holding your nose and using ear plugs are not, and a theory incapable of explaining the difference cannot show that contraception is wrong.
    The negativism and minimalism of classical moral theology are to some extent rooted in this theory. For those who equate moral goodness with conformity to nature and moral evil with failure to conform, the emphasis comes to be placed on what does *not* fit the pattern, and these clearly evil acts come to be treated as a moral minimum which tends to become the standard of the morally acceptable: Avoid these things, and it will be enough. As for things which are good but not, in this account, absolutely required—they fall under the heading of “counsels” and moral heroism, admirable for the few but not required of the many.
    This approach is inevitably static. For it, given human nature is not a set of goods to be realized; it is as it is. There is no basis here for creativity and innovation. The role of human beings as co-creators and co-redeemers, cooperators with God in bringing about the fullness of the kingdom, gets short shrift. To the extent that this role is acknowledged, it is assigned to extraordinary persons living extraordinary lives; the rest of us, ordinary people doing ordinary things, are held excused.
    The intrinsic linkage between human moral life and supernatural life is slighted. If moral goodness is simply conformity to human nature, what does it have to do with being an adopted child of God? Yet Christians are God’s children by adoption, and a moral theory adequate to this fact must be able to show how God joins together human and divine life in the Christian without confusing them. This was beyond the reach of classical moral theology. It could only say that people must live morally good lives or else they will lose grace. But why do people lose grace if they do not live morally good lives? Classical moral theology had no real answer.

  4. John said,

    February 16, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Who knows maybe when are brain is influenced by society it is being altered from its true natural state? Maybe some hullucinogens other than the pleasure seeking ones( ecstasy, cannabis, ketamine, pcp) might have the ability for just a few minutes or hours to take are brain way back to a very ancient state of mind well before society got to it. Natural isn’t always what it seems to be.

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