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The Problem With Drugs

The Problem With Drugs

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I once heard from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in a private audience, an observation about drugs.

He was speaking about the effect on a person taking drugs. He was, incidentally, very careful about not saying anything negative about anybody. He said that the opinion of the Torah in general is that the person should be the master over his or her self, and enslavement of any sort is wrong.

Can a person still be the master over himself when involved with drugs and other addictive substances?

The problem with using any kinds of drugs or almost anything that has a little bit of psychoactive material is the same. Indeed, almost everything is psychoactive, including bread. If one fasts and then takes a piece of bread, it is possible to see how many changes are made in one's psyche.

The specific problem, however, with drugs is that people come relatively fast to a point of no return. In truth there is never a point of no return; but one quickly reaches a point from where it is very hard, almost impossible, to return...


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is internationally regarded as one of the leading rabbis of this century. The author of many books, he is best known for his monumental translation of and commentary on the Talmud. To learn more visit his website.
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Yaakov Mark Los angeles September 9, 2014

Hemp does not get you high. Eating the essence of hemp will actually block the effects of marijuana. Can we move on now? Reply

Mr. Danny Nemu October 10, 2010

Kuttonet Having looked into this, and having found that translation in various places including the Encyclopoedia Britannica, I asked a rabbi.

The word is kitana, or kuttonet (not kara, the pumpkin or squash which confused you). It is usually translated as "flax", "linen", "tunic", "garment" and so on. Flax and hemp are similar, both physically and in their products - seeds for oil and for food, and strong cloth. Given also that hemp was one of the most common fabrics in the ancient world (hence shared etymology of "cannabis" and "canvas"), and given that Hebrew is famously vague in the meanings of its words, I think we have fairly good reason for giving the Encyclopoedia Britannica more credence than your opinion (though I invite you to substanitiate it).

The real question is what benefit Rav Yehuda was worried that illiterate men might derive. Makes you think...

Whilst on the subject, if you have a quality bible from before the 1930s, the chances are it is made of hemp. Reply

lee ktz October 6, 2010

Hi Danny I don't think the Nedarim transation is accurate.

You're correct about the acacia wood. It can be translated as "craziness". Obviously this is intended in the good sense, i.e. that we have to serve G-D in an unlimited fashion. Though, i must say, i never saw it as referring to drugs but rather working hard to go beyond one's limitations.

In short I haven't seen any Toarh source that says one took drugs.

G-D bless, Reply

Mr. Danny Nemu September 28, 2010

Where did you look them up? Thankyou for bringing this discussion back to sources.

I'm not a Hebrew scholar, so I am relying on translations, but many texts translate it as noted. See 'Hebraic Literature' by Maurice H. Harris, in Google books, p. 75. Or google: "Nedarim, fol. 49, col. 1 hemp". Perhaps someone more learned can comment on the accuracy - any rabbis listenning?

Leaving canabis aside, acacia, from which the tabernacle was made, and which is saluted (Abodah Zarah 24b), contains DMT, (and apparently the Hebrew word derives from the word 'nonsense', but again, my Hebrew is poor). See 'Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis', by Prof. Shanon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Time and Mind, Vol. 1, No 1, March 2008 , pp. 51-74), which describes his theory in detail.

A hembane design on the High priest's hat? (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 3.7.6)

Finally, a respectful note to the editor: I haven't tried mandrakes, but many published descriptions note their psychoactive properties. Reply

lee ktz September 27, 2010

Dear Danny Nemu sorry but i looked up your sources in Torah and they don't exist. Nedarim 49a talks about pumpkins not hemp!

please post reliable sources.

wishing you all the best, Reply

Anonymous ny, ny September 26, 2010

Moralizing? If you can condone drug use for recreational purposes then moralistically or not, in my opinion, you are giving yourself permission to be an addict. Reply

Danny Nemu London, UK September 25, 2010

drugs in torah The consensus here, that pain justifies drugs, and anyone else steer clear, sounds like 21st centuary moralising rather than scholarship.

Kaneh Bosem fragrant cane, linked to kannabis, Scythian word for cannabis, by etymologist Sula Benet. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan marshalls evidence in Living Torah

Rabbeinu Be'cha'yei ben Acher: psychedelics are the purest of foods, and the tree of life and manna were the best of them (quoted by Shanon in Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis in Time and Mind, vol 1, pp. 51-74)

Zohar: There is no grass or herb that grows in which G-ds wisdom is not greatly manifested and which cannot exert great influence in heaven

Rav Yehudah: good to eat the essence of hemp seed; but it is not lawful to mention this in the presence of an illiterate man, because he might derive a benefit from the knowledge not meant for him
Nedarim, fol. 49, col. 1 Reply

bvw Wahsington Crossing , PA September 20, 2010

Opium poppies Gerson, I am not sure why, but when I was reading this parsha (weekly Torah portion) in "The Living Torah" translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan back on Shabbos HaAzinu, that's the strong association I remember taking away. I looked in that text again before I posted my 1st post here and didn't see any supporting commentary there.

Heroin, like many drugs is an alkaloid, alkaloids tend to be bitter. The bulb of the poppy from which the syrup is harvested is green and looks like a big green grape. The way the cut is made to harvest the poppy -- how the bud is held -- is similar to who one holds a poisonous snake to milk its venom. The milky sap that comes out is similar to the venom that is milked.

Why would it be this passage have to interpreted only allegorically?

I also note that when I read the parsha that day, it was very scary to me as every passage of rebuke resonated strongly with our times. And yet I also had a sense that the rebukes are not rebukes at the deeper levels, they are ... Reply

lee ktz September 20, 2010

Cathy fear not Cathy - there is a lot of good out in the world. Good shall win very soon.

Fear not! trust in G-D! Reply

Cathy NY, NY September 20, 2010

drugs Of course the Rebbe is speaking of illegal drugs or legal drugs that are not taken as prescribed. We live in a world of drugs. Prescribed drugs used properly has helped and saved many a life. However, the use of recreational drugs, I believe have destroyed many more lives. Drugs in the baby boom has escalated and is now going on for generations. I never took drugs but some of my friends in the late 60's have been in prison, divorced, and destroyed lives. My cousin is a heroin addict and my other cousin went to live in Haight Ashbury during the 60's never to be heard of again by his family. Today .teens take drugs still and become addicted and get into car crashes. etc. The world is in flux directly as a result of people not wanting to deal with the hardships of life and solving them. Instead they get high and live for the moment. I really can't imagine how addictions like this can ever end. The addict will always be the addict, and slowly the world gets darker. Reply

Gerson September 19, 2010

BVW Why would you suggest that it is a reference to opium? Why can it not simply be saying that the actions and ensuing punishment of sinners are bitter as Rashi suggests? Reply

lee September 17, 2010

to bvw don't know - but would be interesting to research if there's a Torah Giant who says that....

have a happy healthy sweet New Year! Reply

bvw Washington Crossing , PA September 16, 2010

Song of Moses In HaAzinu

"For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter;

Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the cruel poison of asps."

Is this a reference to opium, which is bitter, if not other kinds of strongly psychoactive drugs? Reply

Reuven Green, Hertzliya, Israel September 2, 2010

Drugs And Tora When I say the Tora is against drugs, I understand it to be in cases where drugs are used for escapism from dealing with lifes challenges- not from physical pain. Regarding cases where drugs are administered to alliviate chronic pain -I have no say whatsoever but utter respect for who's suffering, and for the professionals who are to decide which drug should be administered and in what amount.
The way i understand it, the Tora isn't against medication(drugs). It's against the uncontrolled, capricious and simply hedonist use of chemically active substances Reply

izzy ktz September 1, 2010

To Charles Weinblatt I agree with you 100%. I think we all agree here. If it’s taken as a medicine; fine. But let us not encourage people to start smoking crack etc because of its interesting effects.
I have friends who OD’d and let me tell you – they didn’t start taking drugs because of back pain!

Once again, G-D bless you with a speedy recovery,
May you have sweet and pleasant New Year, Reply

Charles Weinblatt Sylvania, OH/USA August 31, 2010

Free Choice defines Humanity Free choice and logic are completely separate and unique characteristics. Free choice gives us the opportunity to make cognitive decisions, helpful or hurtful, sustaining or destroying. Free choice separates Moses from Hitler. Free choice is the quintessential ability of humankind to rise above nature's destructive tendencies and to preserve that which ennobles us as humans. It provides our progeny with the building blocks of sentient and cooperative living.

Free choice is the most astounding and preserving characteristic of humanity. What we do with our choices defines us as humans. It is the only way that we can contribute to the salvation or destruction of our environment. Logic does not deny free choice. It defines humanity. It is real, logical and completely essential to our survival. Reply

Charles Weinblatt Sylvania, OH/USA August 31, 2010

Millions Require Narcotics for Chronic Severe Pain There are millions of people with chronic severe, intractible pain. Without narcotics, they would decide not to live. I don't expect you to comprehend this. And, I hope that you will never encounter this agony. Yet, we exist and we are in the millions.

For most of us, "recovery" is inconsistent with veracity. I was born with a narrow spinal canal. So are millions of others. There is Tens of thousands of others have chronic severe neuropathic and/or nociceptive pain. When every pain treatment has failed, we have narcotics between us and an existence so miserable that death is preferable.

Narcotics come primarily from plants that God palced upon our planet. A few of us abuse them. Millions of others depend upon them to remain alive. We are not criminals. We are people, just like you, who have chronic severe pain. There is nothing mendacious about using narcotics when necessary. Reply

izzy ktz August 31, 2010

To Charles Weinblatt G-D does indeed punish people for their behavior. How and when, in this world or in the next, I don’t know; but reward and punishment is one of the foundations of Judaism based on the principle that each person has free choice.

On a side point, the concept of free choice is a G-Dly concept and inherently beyond logic. According to the rules of “logic” (cause-and-effect etc) there is no such thing as free choice. “Logic” is a creation like any other intended to be used as a tool utilize the universe not perceive its truth. Don’t make “logic” your fantasy deity.

Re: you taking drugs – your unfortunate predicament that needs medication is not the situation for the majority of drug users. Don’t make your exception the general rule.

May G-D bless you to have a speedy recovery, Reply

June Valley Glen, California August 30, 2010

intoxicants Deuteronomy 14:25-26 says to enjoy cattle, sheep, wine and other intoxicants and feast in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice with your household. Reply

beatrice pogin Blaine, WA August 30, 2010

drugs and common sense, literalism i don't get how some of you need to be so literal and fundamentalist concerning these medicine, drugs. Of course properly administered when one is in complete pain, why is there sinfulness? Why even bring it up? In a religious discussion-don't you think a better avenue would be "how can we help one another and decrease the pain"? And why is there so much emphasis on the 'letter of the law', then the spirit of the law?? Reply

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