Is Weed a Depressant, Stimulant, or Hallucinogen?
What are the main drug types?
Drugs are categorized based on their effects and properties. Each one generally falls into one of four categories:
- Depressants: These are drugs that slow down your brain function. Examples include alcohol, alprazolam (Xanax), and barbiturates.
- Stimulants: These drugs elevate your mood and increase your alertness and energy. They’re usually highly addictive and can cause paranoia over time. Examples include cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription medications for ADHD.
- Hallucinogens: This type of drug alters your perception of reality by changing the way the nerve cells in your brain communicate with each other. Examples include LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA.
- Opiates: These are powerful painkillers that quickly produce feelings of euphoria. They’re highly addictive and can have lasting effects on your brain. Examples include heroin, morphine, and other prescription painkillers.
So, where does weed, otherwise known as marijuana, fall among these categories? The answer isn’t as tidy as you might think. Its effects can vary widely from person to person. In addition, distinct strains and types of weed can produce different effects.
As a result, weed can be classified as a depressant, stimulant, or hallucinogen, according to the University of Maryland. However, it’s never classified as an opiate.
Keep reading to learn more about what makes weed a depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogen.
Depressants affect your nervous system and slow brain function. Together, these actions can help to calm nerves and relax tense muscles. Depressants can help to treat several conditions, including insomnia, anxiety, or muscle spasms.
However, depressants can also have negative short-term effects, such as:
- reduced motor coordination
- low blood pressure
- slowed breathing
- slurred speech
- blurred vision
- short-term memory loss
Weed produces similar positive and negative effects, including:
- muscle relaxation
- short-term memory loss
While depressants are generally less addictive than other types of drugs, some of them, like barbiturates, carry a much higher risk. Over time, you can also develop a tolerance to depressants, including weed, meaning you need to use more of it to feel the effects that you used to feel.
You can also become dependent on weed for certain things. For example, if you use weed to help you sleep, you may eventually have trouble falling asleep without it.
In addition, smoking anything, whether it’s tobacco or weed, irritates your airways and can increase your risk of respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis or a chronic cough. Learn more about the effects of weed on your body.
Stimulants have the opposite effects that depressants do. They often increase your heart rate and blood pressure, causing rapid breathing in some people. Stimulants can also improve your mood, especially right after you take them.
While depressants often make you feel sleepy or relaxed, stimulants make you feel alert and energetic. They can also help to increase your attention span.
Stimulants can also have negative, and sometimes dangerous, effects, including:
- increased body temperature
- irregular heart beat
- heart failure
Weed is sometimes treated as a stimulant because it can cause:
- elevated moods
- racing heartbeat
Remember, weed affects everyone differently. Some people might feel relaxed and at ease after using it, while others might feel highly alert or anxious.
Weed carries fewer risks than many other stimulants. For example, methamphetamine and cocaine are highly addictive drugs that can have lasting effects on both your brain and body.
As a stimulant, weed carries the same risks it does as a depressant. You can eventually become dependent on it for its mood-elevating effects, and smoking it can lead to respiratory issues.
Weed is perhaps most often stereotyped for its hallucinogenic effects. While hallucinations are possible, they happen rarely and don’t occur in all users. But the symptoms of weed, such as time distortion, are also part of a hallucination.
Hallucinogens are substances that alter your perception of reality, either through changes in your sensory perception or visual or auditory hallucinations.
Keep in mind that hallucinations and paranoia, which is associated with stimulants, are different things. While hallucinations are false perceptions of objects, events, or senses, paranoia involves a false idea that’s usually accompanied by suspicion.
For example, a hallucination might make you see the person walking in front of you as an animal. Paranoia, on the other hand, might make you think the person has been following you in order to harm you.
In addition to hallucinations, hallucinogens can also cause:
- altered sense of time or space
- loss of control over motor skills
- increased heart rate
- dry mouth
- detachment from self or environment
Weed can have all of these additional effects, which is why many people and organizations classify it as a hallucinogen.
Over time, using hallucinogens can lead to speech problems, memory loss, anxiety, and depression. In rare cases, people may be left with psychosis, flashbacks, or a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder.
As a hallucinogen, weed doesn’t do this, but it may cause both anxiety and depression, though it can also relieve these symptoms in some people. Remember, you can also develop a tolerance to or dependence on weed, and smoking it can harm your respiratory system.
Is weed a depressant, a stimulant, or a hallucinogen? We’ll walk you through the different types of drugs as well as their effects and risks. You’ll learn why it’s difficult to place marijuana in a single category and how it behaves like each of these drug categories.
Is Cannabis a Depressant? A Stimulant? A Hallucinogen?
The annals of marijuana history are surely filled with no shortage of winding, late night conversations between cannabis consumers about how exactly to classify the plant. It calms the nerves, but is it a depressant? It sparks creativity and gets the mind racing, but is it a stimulant? And while it can put a certain misty, ethereal haze on the here-and-now, does that make it a hallucinogen?
In order to answer those questions — Is marijuana a hallucinogen? Is weed a stimulant? Is cannabis a depressant? — let’s look at the terminology.
What is a depressant?
Commonly referred to as “downers,” depressants are drugs that produce a relaxing, calming, even tranquilizing effect. They slow down your brain function and can be used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, insomnia, and seizures.
Well-known depressants include benzodiazepines (“benzos”) like Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin, often used to treat anxiety and insomnia, anti-psychotics like Zyprexa (Olanzapine) and Haldol, and barbiturates like Nembutal and Seconal, which have a strong sedative effect.
Arguably the most famous depressant by far though, is alcohol. It causes many of the classic side effects of depressants — impairs memory, slows reaction time, produces a tranquilizing effect, and slurred speech.
One of the most important types of depressants are opioids. These drugs interact with opioid receptors in the body, are prescribed for pain, and can be used for anesthesia. They can be highly addictive, and include legal pharmaceuticals like Oxycontin, Fentanyl, and Vicodin. Similar to opioids, opiates are drugs that are naturally derived from the opium poppy, and include codeine, heroin, and morphine.
Depressants can be highly addictive, and by no means only in terms of alcohol. Furthermore, they can easily be abused, and in the United States alone, the number of overdoses on benzodiazepines climbed from 1,135 in 1999 to 11,537 in 2017. Opioid abuse has become a national crisis in the United States, and on average 130 people die every day in the United States from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2018, 10.3 million people misused prescription opioids in the United States, and 2 million had an opioid use disorder, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
What is a hallucinogen?
Hallucinogens are drugs that alter the user’s perception of reality, sometimes to an intense degree. The user can experience strong visual distortions, a warped sense of space and time, and in some cases, even hallucinations. They are typically classified into three types: psychedelics, deliariants, and dissociatives.
Well-known psychedelics include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), commonly known as “acid,” mescaline (found in the buttons of peyote and San Pedro cacti), psilocybin (the active chemical in “magic mushrooms”), and Dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
Dissociative drugs include Phencyclidine (PCP or “Angel dust”), Ketamine (“Special K”), and in high doses, cough syrups based on Dextromethorphan. These drugs produce a strong dissociative feeling from the user’s environment.
Deliriants produce effects similar to sleepwalking or a fugue state, and are less commonly used for recreational purposes.
Hallucinogens have a well-known history as psychiatric drugs and psilocybin (mushrooms), LSD (acid), and mescaline were all manufactured by major pharmaceutical companies for use in research and/or psychiatric therapy until they were rescheduled as controlled substances in 1967.
For centuries, indigenous peoples in the Americas have used San Pedro and Peyote cacti for ritualistic and medicinal purposes. In the United States, federal law protects the ceremonial use of peyote by Native Americans.
And while Ketamine was originally developed as an anesthetic, it is gaining popularity as a treatment for depression and anxiety.
What is a stimulant?
Commonly referred to as “uppers,” stimulants are drugs that boost your alertness and energy and give you a euphoric, elevated mood — until you come down.
Common stimulants include cocaine, methamphetamines, Ritalin, and the caffeine in your morning coffee. Stimulants can be highly habit-forming, and can produce a “crash” when the effects wear off.
Stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are commonly prescribed as treatment for attention
deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), though they can also be highly habit forming, like many other stimulants.
So where does marijuana fit in?
Marijuana definitely can provide some of the same effects as depressants, and perhaps this is what it’s most popularly associated with.
Consuming marijuana can produce a calming, relaxing effect that can also soothe pain and ease anxiety. Taken before bedtime, it can counter insomnia and help people sleep through the night. Many people enjoy cannabis because of the “couch lock” effect, where it helps them sink into the couch or favorite chair and get deeply — deeply — into their favorite TV show.
It can also produce some of the negative effects associated with downers, including sluggishness, short-term memory loss, and lowered motivation at times.
There is another side to the coin, though.
Marijuana can also be a stimulant
Using cannabis can elevate your mood, heighten your creativity, and make you feel especially interested in music, movies, and the outdoors. It can heighten the senses and make sex and physical intimacy more enjoyable. By making everyday tasks more fascinating and enjoyable, it can be an energy boost that many find motivating.
It can also have some of the negative effects of stimulants. For many people, marijuana can produce anxiety and paranoia, which in really severe cases can produce panic and fear. It can also increase the heart rate and for many people make it harder to sleep as the mind races. To some extent, it can also have a “crash” like stimulants, producing a “marijuana hangover” of sorts.
And while marijuana typically does not cause the same powerful, dissociative, and reality-bending effects associated with hallucinogens, this is not always the case. Someone who takes far too high a dose — especially with edibles — could feel effects similar to those of hallucinogens. Their perception of time could slow down, they could enter a dreamlike state, they could even find that their grasp of reality has loosened a bit as their earthly bonds begin to slip.
Indica vs Sativa
When it comes to how to classify or characterize marijuana, the type of marijuana in question shouldn’t be overlooked.
Most cannabis strains are commonly categorized into sativa and indica (hybrids have also become very common). Conventional wisdom is that sativa strains produce a more energetic high that makes it more suited for daytime use, while indica strains produce more of a relaxing body high, what’s commonly referred to as the “couch lock” sensation. These are considered strains that are more suited for winding down at the end of the day.
And while these distinctions are taken as a sort of gospel within wider marijuana culture, there is no scientific evidence to support them.
Another aspect of cannabis that can play a role is a given strain’s profile of terpenes. Terpenes produce a variety of flavors and aromas in cannabis, and can affect the potency and effects of the plant.
In addition, the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the primary cannabinoid that produces the psychotropic effects of marijuana) in a particular strain should play a role in the potency of the strain, and how the user feels.
So what’s the verdict?
While the research may say that the botanical distinctions between indica and sativa strains cannot predict their effects, it’s hard to argue with anecdotal evidence. (Unless you’re a scientist, of course.)
For some users, a certain strain will produce a sensation that is more lively, while for others, the strain may produce a tranquil, relaxing effect. Another user could try the exact same strain and feel neither lively or tranquil, they could feel anxiety and paranoia, or just a heightened appetite and a newfound fascination with jazz. Add to that cannabis’ biphasic response curve, and things get even less clear-cut.
The bottom line is that it’s hard to simply say that cannabis is either an upper or a downer, or that it’s a hallucinogen. Simply put, marijuana is in a league of its own.
Commonly referred to as “downers,” depressants are drugs that produce a relaxing, calming, even tranquilizing effect. Read about is marijuana a depressant?