Temperance and recreational drugs (pt. 1)

Say I’m committed to the idea that recreational drug use is wrong. What are my reasons?

The Catechism does not mince words:

2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health [or well-being:  valetudinus] and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

“Grave offense” means “mortal sin” in Catholic theology, or a sin which is incompatible with the love of God and so incompatible with doing to heaven. It’s hard to avoid thinking that the Catholic claim is that one can go to hell for once inhaling marijuana, even if it were legal to do so, even if it were as socially acceptable as drinking alcohol. The Latin text, though it varies almost not at all from the English, does describe the relevant subject of condemnation in a much more illuminating way:

2291 Stupefactivorum medicamentorum usus gravissimas infligit valetudini et vitae humanae destructiones. Extra indicationes stricte therapeuticas, gravis est culpa.

Instead of the English “drugs”, we get the much more precise condemnation stupifactiva medicamenta, that is, of stultifying or  stupefying drugs.  The immoral or sinful character of “drugs”, therefore, consists formally in their being stupefying or stultifying. Most of the ready-made attempts to condemn drugs use overlook this formal characteristic and therefore lead us down blind alleys, and, to be honest, most such condemnations are based on either folklore, exaggeration, or outright fabrication. True, if all recreational drug use led to immediate overdose, addiction, and/or the sort of physical degradation that one sees in homeless meth addicts, or if all performance enhancing drugs led to the mythical “roid rage’ or brain cancer it would be easy enough to see why non-therapeutic drug use was immoral, and no one would even suggest legalization. One would just as soon legalize mustard gas. Everyone recognizes that this isn’t so (or that, to the extent that it is so, drug use is obviously immoral) but we remain bewildered over any non-dramatic heath problem that might arise from drug use, which leads to the desperate idea of “a gateway drug”, which, in order to do any work, has to be a drug that is not excessively risky in itself but disposes one towards using drugs that have dramatic effects on health. As though there was something odd in a person valuing a drug because it was mind altering without destroying health!

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