The Word of Wisdom instructs us to avoid certain harmful substances. Present-day leaders have told us that we must avoid illegal drugs as well. However, a general exception is made for drugs prescribed by a doctor. In addition, there is, in my observation, a widespread belief that over-the-counter medicines such as NyQuil are permitted to be used for valid medical reasons (despite containing substances such as alcohol).
This makes me wonder: What about medical marijuana? May a church member take medical marijuana if prescribed by a doctor? And if it is not prescribed by a doctor, could the perceived right to certain types of (word-of-wisdom-violating) self-medication — the “Nyquil exception” — also allow a church member to use marijuana?
As a quick bit of background, there are now many organizations that claim that some types of seriously ill patients may be helped by the medical use of marijuana. (Here is one website advocating this position). Some states have laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled on a case in favor of medical marijuana. (Plaintiffs won an injunction against DEA enforcement of drug laws that conflicted with California’s medical marijuana law).
In these states, there are licensed physicians and caregivers who administer medical marijuana. Are they within the physicians’ exception to the Word of Wisdom? An argument can be made that they are. On the other hand, the church may decide that all marijuana is not allowed. Until it does so (I am not aware of it doing so), doctor-prescribed marijuana could probably be reasonably considered as allowable.
A more troubling question is self-medication. Straightforward application of the Nyquil exception suggests that members in serious chronic pain could use marijuana to ease their pain. However, there are at least three reasons to wonder whether this straightforward application should apply. First, marijuana is illegal without prescription, so its use as self-medication would (unlike Nyquil) involve breaking the law. Second, it is often distributed by unsavory characters (again, unlike Nyquil) who might encourage other misbehavior. Finally, marijuana is considered addictive, and we might reasonably think that many members claiming to be using it for self-medication might in fact be using it for other purposes. (Also, self-medication opens the door for medically dubious uses — “I need some because I don’t feel happy”). So my inclination is to believe that self-medication by using marijuana is not permissible under the Nyquil exception.
An interesting aside is the issue of whether this kind of use of drugs — for numbing — is permissible at all under Word of Wisdom exceptions. There is an often-told story of young Joseph Smith’s surgery, where he was offered alcohol to numb the pain, and refused it. That would have been a valid medical use of alcohol. Is there an exception to the (general medical use) exception? Is the general-medical-use exception inapplicable when drugs are used as numbing agents? (Note that it is the numbing effect of drugs that is often condemned). I do not believe so (that is, I do not think the general-medical-use exception extends only to non-numbing situations). There is no counsel to avoid codeine, for instance. So, it makes sense that, if marijuana is otherwise permissible, then its effect of numbing the taker is not a reason to bar it.