Noble truths of marijuana

September 07, 2006

Mary Beth Hislop, Column, Spartan Daily

The first of The Four Noble Truths in the teachings of Buddhism is the truth of suffering - that life is suffering, and this encompasses birth, disease, old age and death.

My friend Barbara was not Buddhist, but she did experience suffering and death … she didn't make it to old age.

Barbara was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1995. During the next several months of weekly chemotherapy treatments, she lost her thick and curly hair, lost way too much weight and lost her exuberance and zest for life.

She didn't care about her hair, but she did care that she could not stand the sight and smell of food. Her husband was from the old school of thought and insisted that she cook his meals, even though she had no energy or appetite.

None of the anti-nausea medications worked for her. Whatever pain she experienced from the cancer itself was exacerbated by the daily wrenching spasms that shook her body.

Close friends in her congregation pitched in to support her: They cooked, cleaned and took Barbara to her outpatient chemo sessions.

If she was having a good day after a treatment, she'd go to McDonald's for the french fries - that was the only food her nose and stomach could tolerate in those first few months.

As her weakened immune system became more susceptible to infection and the lack of food fed her infirmity, Barbara's doctor suggested a new pill for the nausea. Her last lawful option for relief was no option at all.

Without medical insurance, each pill cost $1,000.

After the passage of Proposition 215, California's medical marijuana initiative, the doctor suggested a prescription for cannabis, even though he warned her that she could be arrested as soon as she walked out of a clinic with it.

Barbara was both mentally and physically torn. Marijuana was an illegal substance, and she didn't want her congregation to judge her actions as illegal or inconsistent with her faith in Jehovah. On the other hand, she was unable to fully serve her god because she was too weak.

 Desire and ignorance

The second of Buddhism's Noble Truths is that suffering is caused by desire and by ignorance, which ultimately depend on each other.

Barbara consulted with an elder, who told her that ingesting an illegal substance such as marijuana not only inebriated and incapacitated the mind, but left that mind open to the devil's influence. Barbara made her decision.

I do not know if Barbara's disease and suffering were rooted in desire and ignorance. I do know that she desired to suffer based on ignorance.

Barbara's doctor recommended marijuana based on medical information. Without considering the positive benefits that the Creator's plant could have on the suffering and embracing the beliefs of governmental propaganda, an elder recommended against it.

I cannot understand any reasoning that supports that it was OK for Barbara to take synthetically manufactured drugs to relieve her nausea, which are illegal if obtained without a prescription, but it was unconscionable for her to consider a remedy organically grown on God's green earth.

I cannot understand why a person's mind, under the influence of the dreaded marijuana, can be so easily influenced by the devil but a mind is not considered equally malleable if Vicodin is swallowed.

The third Noble Truth is the truth of cessation - suffering will end if desire and ignorance are removed.

Barbara's desire to end her suffering and stay true to her God left her no alternative. She gave up the chemotherapy treatments.

Barbara's thick and curly hair came back, more beautiful than ever. She gained weight, but not way too much. Her zest and exuberance for life came back, if only for a short while.

She died a short time later.


The fourth Noble Truth lists those things a person can meditate on in order to end desire and ignorance.

Barbara wouldn't have meditated on these things; she wasn't Buddhist.

But she embraced her knowledge of the Bible as the truth, and she suffered in her desire to please. Whether that made her ignorant is a question of semantics.

We may not all agree on what the truth is, but in truth, we all suffer.

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