O Steven Bancarz| Psychedelic drugs are a class of substances that interact with the serotonin receptors in the brain, causing an alteration in perception and sometimes resulting in visionary or hallucinatory experiences. The most commonly used psychedelic drugs are LSD, DMT, Mescalin, and psilocybin mushrooms.
While the use of these drugs may seem a little taboo in our society, These substances are glorified in spiritual movements such as Shamanism or the New Age movement, and are advertised as being gateways to supernatural realities and catalysts for metaphysical insight, but are also used for things like divination and inner healing. They have been used for such purposes for thousands of years.
Since coming out of the New Age movement, one of the most common questions I have received is what does the Bible say about psychedelics? Is it a sin to use them? As someone who has had some experiences with psilocybin mushrooms, has seen documentaries explaining the spiritual benefits these substances, and used to watch Terence Mckenna videos frequently and read his work Food of the Gods, I bring some level of person experience to the discussion of psychedelics and drugs as a whole.
While the focus of this article will be on psychedelics primarily, all of the Scripture and arguments we are going to look at here also apply to the use of other drugs as well, such as weed, meth, or cocaine. The question of marijuana for recreational use is one that comes up frequently in the Christian community, but as we will see from Scripture, using weed for fun, for pleasure, for an escape, and for any reason other than a medically justified one is not congruent with the ethic of the New Testament.
The meaning of life clarified
We should start off by establishing that the meaning of life is fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, not expanding our perspectives, being in contact with the spirit world, or fulfilling human curiosity. Not pleasure, balance, or social interactions. Even psycho-emotional development is not where we are here. The end of human life is to be restored to relationship with the Father through faith in Jesus through whom we are separated because of sin. It all comes down to salvation, available in Christ alone, which by itself is the entire purpose of our life here.
If it is not bringing you to your knees at the feet of the Saviour in conviction over your sin and His Lorship, it won’t matter in the end because eternity lies on the other side of the veil. And when we stand before God we are either covered by the blood of Jesus or we are guilty under the weight of our sin.
The interpretive frame of reference for all spiritual experiences must be the Gospel. God’s primary concern is bringing people into a loving, saving relationship with Himself. Every other spiritual experience, if it contradicts Jesus or is neutral to Jesus, is ultimately useless and in this case potentially dangerous for us in the end. Biblically speaking, the shifting of our consciousness with drugs is not something God calls us to do, it does not bring us closer to Him, and as we are about to see it is something that directly conflicts with the commands given in Scripture.
1) The Bible prohibits the use of drugs under the word “sorcery”.
The primary verse we will be looking at is in Galatians 5, where it reads:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” – Galatians 5:19-21 (ESV)
Those who partake in sorcery will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The Greek word used here is actually “Pharmakeia”, which is where we derive the word “pharmacy” from. While it’s true this word means magic and witchcraft, it also means magic with drugs or simply, the administration of drugs.
Here is how some of the best dictionaries available define Pharmakeia:
“use of drugs, esp. of purgatives… generally, the use of any kind of drugs,” – Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon (p. 1917). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
“the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people” – Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 544). New York: United Bible Societies.
“in its general sense “practice of drugging,” – Moulton, J. H., & Milligan, G. (1930). The vocabulary of the Greek Testament (p. 664). London: Hodder and Stoughton.
“the preparing and giving of medicine, also the preparation of magical potions, philtres or charms” – Bloomfield, S. T. (1840). A Greek and English Lexicon to the New Testament (p. 458). London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans.
“use of drugs; sorcery” – (2012). The Lexham Analytical Lexicon of the Septuagint. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
“the preparing or using of medicine, (Eng., pharmacy); then, the using of any kind of drugs, potions, or spells;” – Bullinger, E. W. (1908). A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament (Fifth Edition, Revised, p. 719). London: Longmans, Green, & Co.
“the use of medicine, drugs or spells” – NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation
“the use or the administering of drugs” – Thayer’s Greek Lexicon Electronic Database. Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc.
Psychedelics fit this definition perfectly. It fits the definition of being a use of drugs as well as being the use of drug for divination purposes. Now since we know that the Bible does not prohibit the use of medicine as even Luke (the author of Luke’s Gospel and Acts) was a practicing physician, we can conclude that would include drugs used for recreational, spiritual, or ceremonial purposes.
Potential extrabiblical support for the word “pharmakeia” being the use of drugs (perhaps even psychedelics in particular) comes from the Book of Enoch. While the Book of Enoch is not God-breathed like Scripture is, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain any truth. After all, Jude quoted from the Book of Enoch directly, meaning at least some of what it says is truth.
This is not the word of God but it does give us insight into potential truth, as well as a historical understanding of how Jews and early Christians may have understood the use of such substances.
Psychedelics as “sorcery” in the Book of Enoch
“When describing the fall of angels and the knowledge they taught to mankind to pervert the human race, it reads “And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms (sorcery in Septuigant, sorcery) and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants.” – Book of Enoch Chapter 7
The Hebrew word used for charms is “keyshaif”, meaing sorcery and/or withcraft. In the Septuigant, the Greek translation of the OT, the word used here is “pharmakeia”. Notice here how “Keyshaif” or “pharmakeia”, the cutting of roots, and the knowledge of plants are being taught alongside one another, as if they are all apart of the same office.
Again in Chapter 8 we see that one fallen angel named “Semjâzâ taught enchantments, and root-cuttings.” – Book of Enoch, Ch. 8
Why did this fallen angel insist in teaching mankind how to cut roots and make the acquainted with the plants? Since Adam already knew everything there was to know to garden before the fall, man was already acquainted with the plants in the context of horticulture. He knew how to use cultivate them, plant them, cut them, and so forth. This is not a fallen angel trying to teach humanity how to be a better gardener. He was teaching them root-cutting for the purposes of pharmakeia and magic.
Also, notice how we see that the same one who taught them sorcery, which can mean the use of drugs, is the one who taught them about root cutting and plants. As if to imply that sorcery, acquaintance with plants, and root-cutting are all a part of the same office.
While this may refer to roots being used in spell casting, a possible explanation for this reference is that the fallen angels taught mankind how to identify and utilize the psychedelic compounds found within the root systems of plants in order to trigger visionary experiences.
Some roots, such as the Iboga root, have been cultivated and used shamanic in mixtures and brews for thousands of years because they contain psychedelic compounds that, when extracted and consumed, give people supernatural metaphysical experiences. This would explain the references to root-cutting and being made acquainted with the plants, and why it is taught alongside enchantments and phamakeia.
Here is a list of plants with psychedelic compounds in their roots:
- Desmanthus illinoensis
- Desmanthus leptolobus
- Desmodium caudatum
- Codariocalyx motorius
- Desmodium triflorum
- Lespedeza bicolor
- Lespedeza bicolor var. Japonica
- Mimosa ophthalmocentra
- Mimosa tenuiflora
- Mimosa verrucosa
- Mucuna pruriens
- Phyllodium pulchellum
- Virola elongata
- Virola multinervia
- Virola rufula
- Virola venosa
- Testulea gabonensis
- Phragmites australis
- Tetradium ruticarpum
- Tabernanthe iboga
- Tabernanthe orientalis
Looking at all this, someone might say that “Pharmakei” in Galatians and Enoch is not referring to drugs, but to spell-casting. Sure the word can mean the use of drugs, but thats not what the Holy Spirit had in mind in Galatians and other parts of the Bible.
The use of psychedelics fits this definition perfectly regardless of whether or what aspect of “pharmakeia” the Holy Spirit was referring to specifically. If trans-personal, mystical experiences coming alongside the use of drugs cannot be called pharmakeia, I don’t know what can. This is literally what the word means in it’s primary usages.
But even if we want to turn a blind eye to the definition of pharmakeai and say this means performing witchcraft only, here are some additional indicators that God wants us to stay away from substances like these.
2) The use of drugs is “drunkenness”.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:19-20
“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” – Romans 12:13-14
The word used for drunkeness here is “Methe” in the Greek, and it primarily refers to intoxication by alcohol. However, it is not limited to this and also includes intoxication by other substances.
According to the New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, “methe” means:
“an intoxicant, intoxication, drunkenness, and habitual intoxication.”
So the Greek word here refers to alcohol primarily but also includes any kind of intoxicant. We are not to be drunk with wine or any substance.
The word “drunk” means: “relating to, caused by, or characterized by intoxication” – Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
"pertaining to or caused by intoxication or intoxicated persons.” – dictionary.com
The word drunkeness does not refer to alcohol alone, but any kind of intoxication.
And “intoxicate” means: ”to excite or stupefy by alcohol or a drug especially to the point where physical and mental control is markedly diminished.” – Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
The word drunkeness and the word Methe refers to all substances, not just alcohol, as the very word used here is the greek word for intoxicant. So if the Bible says that intoxication is a serious sin that will exclude someone from the Kingdom of Heaven, and the way psychedelics (and marijuana, cocaine, etc.) function is to intoxicate ones brain and blood stream with psychoactive chemicals, then using them is a sin that transgresses God’s commands to refrain from “methe”, from “drunkeness”. Again, this does not refer to alcohol only but to any kind of intoxication by drugs.
3) We are commanded to both sober and sober-minded.
“So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:6
“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober,” 1 Thessalonians 5:8
“As for you, always be sober-minded,” – 2 Timothy 4:5
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” – 1 Peter 4:7
“Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8
The word used here is Nepho (nayfo), which means to be temperate, self-controlled, and abstinent. These are direct commands in Scripture for us to be sober, especially in our minds and in our thinking. We can’t be sober in our bodies, minds, and thinking if we are intoxicated under chemically induced states of consciousness.
4) We are called to come separate from the secular/pagan world.
God wants us to live in a way that is pure and distinct from the ways of the world.
“What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,” – 2 Corinthians 6:15-17
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!” – Ephesians 4:17-20
We are commanded to cease from the actions that the world partakes in and to live a life that is set apart for God. This is why God gave commandments in the Old Testament to the Jews telling they how to dress and wear their hair, and not to make markings on their skin.
“They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts on their body” – Leviticus 21:5
Other cultures would do these things as part of their religious practices, and God didn’t want His people to be associated with the idolatrous ways of the pagan nations.
From the very beginning, God commanded His people to have nothing to do with the spiritual practices of the surrounding nations.
This is why we see dozens of verses about “sanctification”. How the Holy Spirit sanctifies, how the blood of Jesus sanctifies us, how the Word of God sanctifies us. The word sanctified means to be set apart, to be dedicated, to be consecrated, and God wants a people set apart for Himself that is virginal, pure, and conformed to the image of His Son. He wants us to look different, think different, and act different.
And historically speaking, the only cultures who used these substances were pagan. Siberia, Ancient Egypt, Asia, Columbia, Brazil, Ecuador, China, ancient Greece, India, Peru, Maya, and other Mesoamerican cultures, Native America, all these cultures have been using psychoactive drugs for thousands of years for spiritual, recreational, and ceremonial purposes.
God is telling us to come out from the way these cultures think and act, especially in regards to their spirituality. To be using drugs is to be yoked in with the practices of the very kinds of nations the Bible commands we come out from. There is no precedence for drug use for anybody in the Bible (especially psychedelic drugs). The only historical precedence we have comes from pagan nations that God commands we be distinct from.
5) We are called to obey the laws of the land
God wants us to live lives that are above reproach and in accordance with the laws that government has put in place. In doing so we glorify God and keep our conscience clean.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” – Romans 13:1-5
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,” – Titus 3:1-2
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” – 1 Peter 2:13-15
It dishonours God when we live our lives in a way that makes us blameable under the law, and so using drugs transgresses God’s commands to live lawful, obedience lives. Obviously, if the law commands we do things that contradict his commandments, then we are to obey God instead. But apart from laws demanding that we sin against God, we are to follow the laws of the land.
And for the vast majority of the people reading this, psychedelic drugs and marijuana is illegal in their country and state. And for those who want to say “well some of these drugs are legal in my state and country”, the other points we have looked at will still apply.
We could look at our verses talking about how we need to stay away from youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22), how we are to honour God with our bodies because they no longer belong to us but were bought with the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), how we are to imitate Jesus who did not use drugs (Ephesians 5:1), but we can clearly see the Bible communicates a variety of different principles that put the use of psychedelics (and drugs in general) in a class of pretty serious sin, going as far as the say that drunkeness (methe, intoxication) and sorcery (pharmakeia, the use of drugs) will exempt a person from the Kingdom of God.
The use of any substance for recreational, spiritual, or ceremonial use is pharmakeai, it’s drunkeness/methe, it causes us to be intoxicated in our bodies and minds, it conforms us to the pattern of the pagan and secular world around us, and it is against the law which God commands we follow to honour Him.
And so we need to turn from our sins, put away the use of these substances that intoxicate our bodies, put our faith in Jesus for our salvation, enter into a New Covenant relationship with God through the blood of Jesus, and follow the straight and narrow path that leads to everlasting life.