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Meditation or Drugs: The Downside of Cannabis

New research shows that teenage cannabis use causes lasting damage. As well as the physiological damage, Buddhism suggests that drugs are  about avoiding experience rather than engaging with mindfully with it 

Some of the parents I know with teenage children who use cannabis are fairly relaxed about what’s happening. ‘It isn’t doing any harm’, one tells me. ‘Alcohol’s much worse.’ Others would really like their children to stop but are at their wits end. It’s OK, they say, but not in the house, not on weekdays, or only after you’ve done your homework.

I don’t envy them and no doubt the scientific study reported this week will fuel their worries. It finds that, true to the stoner stereotype, cannabis users have problems with memory, attention and processing information. Most worryingly, the IQs of people who start using cannabis before eighteen drop by an average eight percent, and the damage persists even if they later stop.

The cannabis users I know usually want to chill out, escape stress and access a state of mellow relaxation. Some say it’s natural: a herb, not a drug and an alternative to harried modern living. In fact, some believe, it’s rather like meditation. However, Buddhism has five main ethical precepts and the last is ‘abstaining from intoxicants’. This isn’t a rigorous prohibition, and Buddhists aren’t always strictly teetotal or drug-free. It’s a ‘principle of training’, as we say, that encourages people to avoid drink and drugs because they ‘cloud the mind’ and cause ‘heedlessness’.

The positive counterpart of the precept is the practice of mindfulness: the capacity to be fully present and attentive to whatever’s happening in our experience. In other words, Buddhism posits a choice in our mental lives between avoiding what’s happening if it’s difficult or troubling; and acknowledging or even accepting it.

People who use drugs to circumvent serious emotional difficulties are choosing avoidance, and the work of therapists is helping them to find alternatives to escaping their problems. But the Buddhist perspective is also relevant to those for whom smoking cannabis is just an enjoyable way to relax and be with friends.

This has become increasingly acceptable because it seems harmless. However, the new research suggests that, in the case of teenage cannabis use, that’s far from the truth. If the research withstands scrutiny, laissez faire attitudes will have to change. But alongside the physiological dangers are the emotional and psychological effects of drug use. The fundamental choice we all face is whether to inhabit a haze filled by dope smoke or some other form of sedative, intoxicant, entertainment or distraction; or to engage with our lives wholeheartedly, with all their frustrations and all their beauty.

This was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day slot on  29/08/2012. UK readers can listen to the audio here

 

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About Vishvapani

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Vishvapani is a teacher, writer and broadcaster whose work focuses on Buddhism. Gautama Buddha: the Life and Teachings of the Awakened One was published in 2011. See more writing by Vishvapani at www.wiseattention.org and learn about his mindfulness training work at www.mindfulnessinaction.co.uk. Read more articles by .

Comments

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Comment from Loretta
Time: September 2, 2012, 11:24 pm

I know in my life that I work more and more at being present and enjoying my life in all it,s stages. I used to smoke marijuana when younger until one day I realized that I was wasting my precious life and was not able to do anything without getting stoned first. That was nearly thirty years ago. I also used to drink alcohol until one day I knew it was not useful to me. This article was very relevant to me and I have pasted it on my Facebook page so others may also read it. Thankyou

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