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Bible Thumpers Get Stoned More Than You Might Think

By David Jenison on June 26, 2018

The idea of Christians getting stoned typically involves Old Testament-style rock throwing at wayward churchgoers who committed adultery, murder, blasphemy or voted for Hillary Clinton. A new study in the Journal of Drug Issues, however, suggests the ready-to-rapture crew often does the gentler type of stoning as well.

University researchers from Mississippi, Florida and Arizona examined 41,517 adult responses from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to explore the relationship between church attendance, religious devotion and cannabis. The main headline, of course, is that pew junkies prefer to pass over puff, and for recreational users in good health, usage rates decrease as church attendance and religiosity increase. However, the difference in past-year use between the heathen and brethren is not as dramatic as most people might think.

Let's start with recreational use by adults in good health: Slightly more than 20 percent of non-churchgoers lit up in the past year, while just under 15 percent of weekly churchgoers did so. That's not a big difference. It means seven weekly churchgoers sparked up for every 10 heathens who did so. Of course, many in the flock are merely real estate agents looking for sales leads, so church attendance does not always reflect religiosity. About 24 percent of those sporting the "lowest religiosity" smoked out in the past year, compared to around 14 percent of full-blown bible thumpers. That means one-in-seven members of the flock are redefining the term holy roller. If you don't think that seems like a high number, go to church this Sunday and try to guess which one in seven potentially toked up before service.

The study becomes more interesting when the conversation shifts to medical cannabis. Among those in good health, a similar decline in use occurs as church attendance and religiosity increase. For those with health issues, though, increases in church attendance actually correspond with increases in medical cannabis use. Those in bad health who never go to church, or who only go a few times per year, were less likely to claim past-year medical cannabis use than those who go all the time. Monthly churchgoers had the highest rate at around five percent, but even those who go several times per week still hovered around the four-percent mark, which was slightly higher than the weddings-only folk. As with recreational, the difference is more stark for those who consider themselves "highly religious," but even that group topped three percent for members with health issues.

"Our findings for recreational marijuana use are somewhat unsurprising given previous research on religious involvement and illicit substance use, [but] our findings for medical marijuana use are remarkable… [as] the impact of religious involvement on the likelihood of medical marijuana use is attenuated under the conditions of poor health," admitted the researchers.

When it came to recreational use amongst the full NSDUH sample, age definitely played a major role: 66 percent aged 18 to 29 acknowledged past-year use compared to 6.5 percent for those aged 50 and up. However, 12.5 percent of the latter age demographic consumed medical cannabis.

The researchers concluded the "moral domination" of medical institutions appears to challenge the "moral authority and social control functions of religious institutions," making religious involvement a less effective deterrent. Also noting surprise, they added that churchgoers in poor health also had higher rates of recreational use compared to churchgoers in good health.

While the numbers seem high, they ultimately reflect a seismic shift on moral perceptions of cannabis as seen in a Gallup poll released in June 2018. Per the morality-themed poll, sixty-five percent of the country said cannabis consumption is morally acceptable—just two points behind gay/lesbian relationships, four points behind unmarried sex and 13 points behind drinking alcohol (so only about one in eight Americans believe alcohol is okay but cannabis is not). Likewise, the survey participants viewed cannabis as more acceptable than having a baby outside of wedlock, watching porn, teen sex and the death penalty.  

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