Dear Lauren,

Last week at a party my friend offered me a joint. I've never smoked pot and I'm tempted, but I feel guilty about doing it since I know my parents don't approve. What should I do?

Let’s examine the pros and cons of smoking marijuana. What are the reasons you would want to smoke it? What are the reasons you think you shouldn’t? You say your parents don’t approve. Do you know that for a fact? Have you asked them what their opinion is on the matter, and their reasons for that opinion? By the way, I applaud the fact that you've considered the viewpoint of someone older (and maybe even wiser!) in this decision.

The next question you could ask yourself about getting high is: do you want to float through parts of life on a cloud of ether? Personally, I wouldn’t enjoy getting high or drunk because I find so much satisfaction in being present in my life as I’m living it. I wouldn’t want to miss out on life with myself, my family, my friends, my God, my books, my music by slipping into an alter-version of reality. Even when life is tough or rough or difficult, personally, I wouldn’t want to escape from it by getting high, because when the high wears off, the same issues are there, and I would not have worked on growing through my challenges if I'd just check out. I’d come down from the high in the exact same place as I was before I smoked the joint. In my opinion, that would be a shame, because life is for growing and learning and forging connections with people through being fully present.

Another point to consider is that things are usually not as they seem—I can guarantee that from my work as a therapist; I am honored daily by intimate glimpses into people’s inner lives, and those lives are rarely as exciting, fulfilling, happy, and problem-free as they seem from the outside. People who are high seem to be enjoying themselves, but what is true enjoyment, what is true pleasure? Is checking out true pleasure, or is spending real time, where you’re actually present, with the people and music and books and spiritual experiences that you love true pleasure? Consider this question: the people who seem to be enjoying pot—are they really enjoying the experience? Or are they enjoying escaping their reality for a few moments?

Many pleasures of this world—especially illicit pleasures—are a smokescreen. They seem pleasurable, but they don’t afford you actual, deep, meaningful, lasting pleasure.

Will smoking pot enhance your life, or just give you illusory pleasure?

I do apply the word “illicit” to marijuana, since it is illegal in the United States. Depending on which state you live in, if you are caught smoking or possessing marijuana, you could be fined, sent to jail, or put on probation (which means random drug tests and checking in with a probation officer to make sure you’re not using the drug again), all of which would stay on your permanent record and may make getting in to college or graduate school or finding a job difficult. By the way, because marijuana is illegal, it is also unregulated, which means that you don’t really know what you’re smoking, and poisonous or dangerous compounds could be in the joint you smoke. Quite a lot of damaging possible consequences for an experience you’re not even sure you want to have.

Related Article: Drugs: A Jewish Problem?

Among addiction specialists and mental health experts, marijuana is considered to be the drug which makes people lazy, unmotivated, and willing to settle in their lives for the status quo; it’s the “motivator terminator” drug. Not a pretty title.

From a spiritual point of view, will smoking pot enhance your life, or just give you illusory pleasure? Will it even give you pleasure at all, or just a lot of headaches? What will you gain in your life from getting high, and what might you lose? Also, who will make sure you’re safe, physically and sexually, while your faculties are impaired? Do you want to put yourself into a position where your judgment is hazy?

I challenge you to honestly think about all these question before you decide to light up, and I’m extremely impressed that you took the first step in that direction by writing in and asking me about this issue.