41. Stoicism & Marijuana [QP]

Stoicism is the philosophical standpoint which states that the wise “live in harmony with divine reason” and recognise that fate or some form of divine Providence, is genuinely indifferent to life. We know of Stoicism from the philosopher Zeno of Citium (334 B.C. – 262 B.C. ) who founded the first school in Athens. More commonly, we know that Stoicism helps us to deal with pain in our lives. Far and away the best Stoic philosopher was the Roman Seneca the Younger (4 B.C. – 65 A.D.).

Seneca was an acute observer of the human condition and amidst all the turmoil in Ancient Rome, he wrote a beautiful essay entitled “On the Shortness of Life”. In it, he explores the nature of time and the various frivolities which we too frequently indulge. We are not ‘pleasure bots’, at least we were not biologically designed to be as such and in the long run, we really do not feel all too satisfied from superficial and sensual stimulation. If we are guaranteed a relatively short time on this lovely planet, it appears that we must be prudent in the very seconds that we spend upon it. This is when Seneca declares that: “Life is long if you know how to use it.” In essence, life should not be lived passively, our bodies are not just vehicles for our souls. The Stoics acknowledged that the existence of an afterlife is uncertain and therefore what time we are guaranteed, i.e: our brief episode on this planet, should be lived wisely. Here are more of Seneca’s fragments:

  1. “Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.”
  2. “You must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.”
  3. “Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”
  4. “Life is short for those who forget the past, neglect the present and fear the future.” – Seneca

Now we turn to the second half of the title, Marijuana. This psychoactive drug seems to be difficult to reconcile with a life of Stoicism, because, for one thing, it numbs pain. The Stoics believed that one must endure pain in the same way as they undergo pleasure. Marijuana permits the user an escape, not allowing them to deal with their problems properly, by elevating and altering their state of consciousness. Some will necessarily argue that their marijuana consumption does not differ when they are in pain or in a pleasurable state, rather, it is because of mere boredom that they partake of the drug. Considering that marijuana use is increasing significantly, numbering in the millions, one must look at the effects that it induces and see if it fits the Stoic philosophy at all.

The common effects resemble an elevated consciousness and a lack of inhibition. Biologically speaking, marijuana stimulates the uptake and concentration in the brain of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine thus enhances creativity and removes the elements of hesitation in one’s life. Seneca also suggests the following as a guide for prudent living:

“It does not matter how much time we are given if we have nowhere for it to settle.”

Users of marijuana will definitely affirm the feeling of being ‘slowed down’. In a fast-paced world, which makes choices for you more often than you get to make choices for yourself, the valued quality of situational awareness cannot be overestimated. This is not a blatant endorsement of marijuana, but of course a vindication of its effects. Interestingly enough, we remain rather polarised on the use of marijuana, either being entirely against or entirely in favour of its use. The opinions sway us and perhaps this last fragment of Stoic wisdom will suffice:

“Wise men reject the decrees of the masses.” – Seneca.


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