Is Marijuana a Depressant?
Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Marijuana can be considered a depressant. However, it can also be classified as a stimulant or a hallucinogen, depending on the context, dose, and the cannabinoid-terpene profile of the cannabis variety being used.
Depressants are drugs that decrease the activity of your brain and have an effect on your central nervous system. As a result, they make you feel sleepy, relaxed, and slow, and you may experience poor concentration and problems with memory.
Since cannabis can exert these effects, it is classified as a depressant. However, we will also discuss why marijuana can act as a stimulant or hallucinogen.
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Types of Drugs
There are four main subtypes of drugs, and marijuana fits at least three of the four subtypes. These are depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and opiates.
Cannabis can be considered a stimulant, depressant, and mild psychedelic because cannabinoids affect the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which influences the behavior of other receptor systems, including serotonin, dopamine, glucocorticoid, and GABA receptors. Despite not being an opioid, cannabinoids can influence opioid receptors as well. This broad mechanism of action is why medical cannabis may help reduce or replace the need for some prescription drugs. It is also why medical cannabis could be considered a “Pharmacy in a plant.”
Stimulants have the opposite effect as depressants and increase brain activity instead of decreasing it. Stimulants can make you feel more alert by increasing your blood pressure and heart rate, and they can also make you feel happy or euphoric. A light stimulant that many people use daily is caffeine.
Most stimulants work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norephedrine released in your brain. Like GABA, dopamine and norephedrine are two chemicals that affect your brain activity. When dopamine levels increase, this leads to euphoria, and when norephedrine is increased, your blood pressure and heart rate rise.
However, it should be noted that stimulants do not have this effect on everybody. For example, when certain stimulants such as Ritalin are prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they can make that person feel more calm and relaxed instead.
Depending on the desired outcome, stimulants are helpful when you need to feel more alert. However, when stimulants are not used responsibly, adverse effects can occur, such as rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, confusion, anger, panic, tremors, and fever.
Depressants are drugs that lower your brain’s activity and other areas of the central nervous system. A common example of a depressant that most people are familiar with is alcohol. In addition, some prescription-only drugs like benzodiazepines are also depressants.
Most depressants work by increasing the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a chemical that can decrease brain activity, which has several effects.
Because there is a decrease in brain activity, depressants such as benzodiazepines are used to make people feel drowsy and calm. Some have a slightly sedating effect, while others can make you fall asleep. Benzodiazepines are often prescribed for anxiety disorders and epilepsy.
While the sedating and calming effects of depressants are sometimes beneficial, misusing depressants can lead to severe complications. This can include low blood pressure, addiction, slow breathing, poor concentration, poor memory, problems with movement, headaches, and dizziness.
Hallucinogens are psychoactive drugs that cause hallucinations. A hallucination is when you experience something that is not real or present. You may also hear the term “psychedelic,” another word for hallucinogen, and however, the words aren’t entirely interchangeable.
Some drugs are not strictly hallucinogens since most hallucinations occur with higher doses or drug misuse. Nonetheless, hallucinogens are drugs that can alter your mood, perception, and cognitive processes, such as thinking and speaking.
Hallucinogens are believed to work by activating receptors in the brain that the chemical serotonin usually binds to. However, different hallucinogens might work differently on each brain.
Hallucinations are often considered an adverse side effect of a drug because some people report unpleasant perceptions. They are also regarded as negative because cognitive impairment is not always ideal. That aside, hallucinogens remain popular recreational drugs, and there is much research on the medical benefits of psychedelics.
Opiates are a class of drugs used for severe pain, typically after surgery. Therefore, opiates are a painkiller, except they are different from the over-the-counter painkillers you might typically use. Due to the side effects, opiates are usually prescription-only drugs.
Some opiates are derived from the poppy plant, and the active ingredient is morphine. In terms of prescription drugs, there is a range of morphine-derived and synthetic opiate painkillers that all vary in strength.
While renowned for being strong painkillers, side effects include constipation, addiction, dependence, and respiratory depression. Because of this, opiates are prescription-only drugs, and lower doses are recommended.
Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is an illegal opiate synthetically derived from morphine.
What Type of Drug Is Marijuana?
You may have realized that marijuana can fit into almost every subtype, which is true. Marijuana can be classified as either a depressant, stimulant, or hallucinogen. However, cannabis cannot be classified as an opiate since it is not derived from the poppy plant or morphine.
Why Marijuana Is a Stimulant
While marijuana can be a depressant, it can also be a stimulant due to its ability to increase brain activity. Cannabis can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, although it is not likely to make you feel alert.
Whether cannabis has a depressant or stimulant effect depends on your type and the dose. Marijuana that contains THC, some tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabigerol (CBG), more limonene, and less myrcene might have a greater stimulant effect. In contrast, marijuana with higher myrcene, humulene, and cannabinol (CBN) content combined with THC might have a greater sedative effect. However, this ultimately depends on how your particular body responds to marijuana and the dose you are taking.
Why Marijuana Is a Depressant
Marijuana is sometimes considered a depressant because it can lower the activity of your brain and other areas of the central nervous system. For example, cannabis can make you feel sleepy, reduce your blood pressure and relax your muscles. In some cases, this might also lead to slower breathing, dizziness, headaches, and poor concentration.
Why Marijuana Is a Hallucinogen
Marijuana can act as a hallucinogen or psychedelic because it alters your perception of reality, mood, and cognitive processes. Indeed, cannabis is sometimes considered a “mild psychedelic.” Different doses and the type of marijuana you use will also play a part in this effect.
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The Bottom Line
Marijuana can be classed as a depressant, stimulant, or psychedelic/hallucinogen, depending on the strain (chemotype) of marijuana you use, the dose amount, and other factors.
If you want to avoid the depressant effects of marijuana, the best place to start would be to reduce your dose of THC and consider products with more CBD and less myrcene. You should also avoid using marijuana alongside other depressants like alcohol or prescription drugs, which have these effects since these depressing effects can combine, making them worse.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is CBD a Stimulant?
Depending on the person, low doses of CBD (around 20 mg per day or under) can be more stimulating. Reports suggest that consuming higher doses of CBD in a day (50 mg +) may have more sedative effects. When a different dose of the same substance has a different effect, it is known as a “biphasic effect.”
Is Marijuana Good for Mood?
Marijuana can be good for your mood if it makes you feel more relaxed and calm. However, for some people, it can cause a feeling of panic, and this feeling is usually associated with consuming too much THC.