Is Marijuana a Stimulant or a Depressant? The Answer will Surprise You

Last Updated on Oct 6, 2022 by Mark Conklin, RN, MHA

Marijuana can be relaxing and physically sedating but also invigorating and creatively uplifting. So is marijuana a stimulant or depressant?

Marijuana has been used by humans for centuries for a plethora of reasons. But after all these years, many people are still unsure what marijuana actually is.

Most people understand that sleeping pills and sedatives, like Xanax and Valium, are depressants, whereas caffeine and cocaine are stimulants.

However, marijuana has the characteristics of both, and its effects vary considerably from person to person. So, is marijuana a stimulant or a depressant? Or is it something else entirely, like a hallucinogen?

Before we answer these questions, let’s closely examine how we categorize psychoactive drugs.

How Are Drugs Categorized?

Drugs can be placed into four main categories based on their effects:

  • Depressants: slow down the central nervous system and make you feel relaxed, calm, and less inhibited.
  • Stimulants: speed up the central nervous system and increase your energy, mood, and focus.
  • Hallucinogens: disrupt the central nervous system, altering your senses and perception of reality.
  • Opiates:  these are highly addictive, relieve pain, and produce feelings of euphoria.

So, Is Marijuana A Stimulant Or A Depressant?

Surprisingly, marijuana actually fits into three drug categories—it can be classified as a depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogen. To make things more complicated, it’s also being called an analgesic, anti-nausea, and anticonvulsant, thanks to its medicinal properties.

While this may seem counter-intuitive, it’s important to understand that marijuana is derived from Cannabis sativa, a highly complex plant. It contains over 500 naturally-occurring chemical compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids–all of which influence its effects.

For example, some marijuana strains, particularly those that are sativa-heavy, are more likely to act as a stimulant, causing a euphoric high. Indica-heavy strains tend to promote feelings more typical of a depressant, such as sleepiness and relaxation. The effects of each strain depend largely on the plant’s cannabinoid profile. You can jump to the FAQs to learn more about sativa vs. indica.

Now let’s get into what makes marijuana each of these classifications.

How Is Marijuana A Depressant?

Marijuana is considered a depressant as it slows messages between the brain and the body.

When marijuana enters your system, it gradually increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that blocks brain signals and ultimately decreases activity throughout your central nervous system.

As a result, marijuana slows down breathing and promotes feelings of relaxation and drowsiness—common effects of all depressants. Due to its calming properties, marijuana may help to manage conditions like anxiety, insomnia, and muscle spasms.

However, as a depressant, marijuana can also have the following adverse effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speed
  • Blurred vision
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired coordination
  • Low blood pressure
  • Short-term memory problems

At high doses, depressants can cause cardiac arrest and death, particularly in people with pre-existing heart conditions. However, marijuana has a low toxicity rating, and fatalities are very rare.

Examples of other depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium and Xanax), ketamine, barbiturates, and opioids (e.g. heroin and morphine).

With prolonged or frequent use, it’s possible to develop a tolerance to depressants, meaning you need a higher dose to feel the same effects. There’s also a high risk of addiction and dependency on certain depressants, particularly opioids and barbiturates.

You can also become dependent on marijuana for certain things (such as socializing or sleep) and experience withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and diminished appetite.

How Is Marijuana A Stimulant?

Stimulants are drugs that speed up messages between the brain and body, in particular the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. As a result, these drugs can increase mood, attention, and focus.

Essentially, stimulants do the exact opposite of depressants; they speed up activity within the central nervous system, increasing your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate and giving you a burst of energy.

Stimulants can also have adverse and highly dangerous side effects, including:

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure

Marijuana is sometimes considered a stimulant as it can produce a euphoric high, which experts believe is related to its effect on the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Examples of other stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines (speed and ice), methamphetamine (ecstasy), and cocaine.

Marijuana carries fewer risks than other stimulants, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, which are highly addictive drugs. Although, as a stimulant, marijuana still poses a risk of dependency on its mood-enhancing effects.

How Is Marijuana A Hallucinogen?

Hallucinogens, also known as psychedelics, are a class of drugs that powerfully distort a person’s perception of reality. Someone under the influence of a psychedelic may see, feel and hear things that are not real, or have a heightened sensory perception of what’s going on around them, such as noticing colors more vividly or being more sensitive to touch.

Research shows that hallucinogens temporarily disrupt the messages between the brain and body; in particular, they interfere with the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Marijuana has historically been stereotyped for its hallucinogenic effects. However, hallucinations rarely occur in most users and typically only result from strains with high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. Examples of other hallucinogens include ketamine, LSD, PCP, and magic mushrooms.

In addition to hallucinations, hallucinogens can cause:

  • Lack of motor coordination
  • Altered sense of time or space
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Panic or Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Detachment from self or environment

Hallucinogens are generally considered safe and don’t produce dependence or addiction. However, long-term use has been linked with memory loss, anxiety, and depression. In rare cases, hallucinogens have left people with psychosis, flashbacks, or a condition now medically recognized as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder.

How Should You Classify Marijuana?

Consumers may find it more helpful to consider the variables that could cause a cannabis strain to act as a depressant, stimulant, or hallucinogen. The effects of marijuana are the result of three interacting variables:

  • The drug: the unique cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid profile of the strain, the dosage, and the method of administration all play a major role in how a person reacts to cannabis. For example, the ratio of THC to CBD will influence any strain’s high.
  • The individual user: physiological factors, such as gender, age, and history of marijuana use, will change how marijuana affects each person. For example, a first-time user will be more sensitive to THC than someone who has built up a tolerance through long-term use over time. Also, individuals who carry specific genes are more susceptible to marijuana-induced psychosis (e.g., hallucinations and delusions).
  • The environment: your reaction to any given strain of marijuana is influenced by the environment. For example, any strain’s effects can be different if taken alone at home as opposed to strangers at a wild party.

Summary

Marijuana has the characteristics of both a stimulant and depressant but also a hallucinogen. It may enhance mood, promote relaxation, and increase sensory perception. But it can also cause unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects, which are common to all three types of drugs.

The bottom line is that marijuana affects each person differently, depending on a variety of factors, some of which are out of your control.

Anyone concerned about marijuana use can speak with a doctor about support and options available.

THC physicians are here to help people in New York and Florida receive the medical treatment they need. If you have any questions about getting a marijuana card, please browse our how-to page for more information or contact us if there is anything we can answer for you!

Growing cannabis or hemp plants for alternative medicine.

FAQs:

  1. What is sativa?

    Sativa is a strain of marijuana that is said to have uplifting and stimulating effects. The effects of sativa are thought to be caused by its higher THC content.

  2. What is indica?

    Indica is a strain of marijuana that is said to have relaxing and sedative effects. The effects of indica are thought to be caused by its higher CBD content.

  3. What is hybrid?

    Hybrid is a type of cannabis plant that is a mix of sativa and indica. Hybrid plants are said to have effects that are somewhere in between sativa and indica.

  4. Is marijuana addictive?

    Marijuana is not considered to be addictive, but some people may develop a dependence on it. Dependence means that someone feels withdrawal symptoms when they stop using marijuana.

  5. What makes a drug psychoactive?

    A psychoactive drug is a chemical substance that changes a person’s mental state. Psychoactive drugs can be divided into three categories: stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens.

  6. How do different strains of marijuana affect the user?

    The effects of different strains of marijuana on the user depend on the ratio of THC to CBD. The higher the THC content, the more psychoactive the marijuana will be. The higher the CBD content, the less psychoactive the marijuana will be.

  7. What are some of the risks associated with long-term use of hallucinogens?

    Long-term use of hallucinogens has been linked with memory loss, anxiety, and depression. Some people who use hallucinogens regularly may also develop psychosis, which is a mental disorder characterized by hallucinations and delusions.

Howard Seth Meiselman, DO

Medically reviewed by Howard Seth Meiselman, DO — Written by Mark Conklin 

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Author

Mark Conklin, RN, MHA

Mark Conklin is the founder and CEO of Tierra Healthcare Concepts and is also part of the medical team. He has over 25 years of experience in the healthcare field working at the executive management level and as a medical professional. Education RN, BS Biology, and Master of Health Administration course curriculum.

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