Is Marijuana A Depressant Or A Stimulant?

Is marijuana a depressant

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What are the effects of marijuana?

Like most questions; Is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant? Doesn’t provide us with a straightforward answer.

The benefits of medical marijuana have been discussed more and more in recent years.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that cannabis can help combat chronic pain and reduce muscle spasms in diseases such as Parkinsons.

There has been a range of CBD products released onto the market, all promoting the benefits.

But what about the side effects that we were brought up believing were true?

Is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant?

Will it cause short-term memory loss?

What about mental health problems from heavy marijuana use?

Fear not! In this article I’m going to take a look at what the categories of psychoactive substances are and where marijuana fits.

Although in my experience if you are looking for a reason to justify heavy recreational use of cannabis then you should perhaps seek to address it first.

What are the categories of drugs?

Before we answer the question, is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant? We first need to know what those terms mean.

Psychoactive drugs are grouped into four main categories based on their effects and more specific categories based on their other properties like their chemical structure.

Marijuana can fall into multiple categories, the four main ones are detailed below.

1. Depressants

So is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant??

First, let’s define a depressant.’

Depressants are substances that suppress a person’s central nervous system excitability in the brain.

Common depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.

They typically work by affecting a chemical messenger in your nervous system called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).

By increasing the efficiency of this chemical, you experience relaxation, sedation, drowsiness, slowed cognitive ability, loss of motor control, and other effects of a suppressed nervous system.

In recreational terms these drugs would be known as ‘downers.’

2. Stimulants

Stimulants do what they say on the tin and are the chemical opposite of a depressant in many ways.

Stimulants increase excitability in the central nervous system by promoting levels of dopamine, a chemical that’s tied to reward, motivation, and alertness.

Common Illegal stimulants include recreational drugs cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine (crystal meth).

Made your mind up yet – Is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant?

Keep reading to find out.

3. Opioids

There is an argument to say that opioids belong in the ‘depressant’ category however they are also unique in many ways and are chemically similar to a person’s own naturally occurring endorphin. 

In the body the endorphins bind to opioid receptors and influence the nervous system directly.

Opioids are extremely powerful, dangerous and one of the most addictive drugs.

They have been used for centuries as pain-relief.

Common opioids include heroin, oxycontin and fentanyl.

Opioids are the strongest and perhaps the most dangerous of the four categories.

To answer our question; Is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant? We need to look elsewhere.

4. Psychedelics

Psychoactive drugs that cause an altered state of consciousness are called psychedelics or hallucinogens.

This category evokes images of the swinging 1960’s or South American tribes licking poisonous frogs.

Recreational Drugs in this category include LSD, peyote and magic mushrooms.

Psychedelics are known to affect the brain in many different ways depending on the person and their situation.

Is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant or maybe a psychedelic?

What type of drug is Marijuana?

So is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant?

Well, as we’ve said from the outset, this is not straightforward.

Marijuana can have a depressant effect, but it can also act as a stimulant or hallucinogen (psychedelic).

An active ingredient contained in marijuana is a psychoactive chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol commonly referred to as THC.

It is THC that combines with a person’s cannabinoid receptors, alters people’s mental state and gives them the euphoric effect when they use marijuana.

Smoking, vaping, or consuming marijuana affects every person differently.

Marijuana may have a strong depressant effect for some people but not others.

Although long term there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that heavy use can cause permanent mood changes. 

Different cannabis strains of the plant may also produce different effects on the body and mind.

Check out our article on Indica vs Sativa strains to find out how.

When people use marijuana, THC is absorbed into the bloodstream, which takes it to the brain and other organs.

When THC reaches the brain, it acts on specific brain cell receptors (cannabinoid receptors).

Here, marijuana can produce depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogenic effects depending on the strain that is being ingested.

12 Common effects Of Marijuana

  1. Relaxation (potential depressant effect)
  2. Mild euphoria or elevated mood (stimulant effect)
  3. Heightened sensory perception (hallucinogenic effect)
  4. Altered perception of time (hallucinogenic effect)
  5. Memory loss (hallucinogenic effect)
  6. Anxiety (stimulant)
  7. Panic (stimulant)
  8. Hallucinations (hallucinogenic effect)
  9. Psychosis (hallucinogenic effect)
  10. Sedation (depressant)
  11. Pain relief (depressant)
  12. Nausea suppression

Let’s break down the range of effects we have after taking marijuana and put them into each category.

Then you can make your own mind up and answer for yourselves; is marijuana a depressant or a stimulant?

Is Marijuana a Depressant?

The depressant properties of marijuana occur because depressants calm the central nervous system and slow down brain function.

These include:

  • Feeling relaxed
  • Feeling less anxious
  • Aiding sleep

Depressive symptoms relating to marijuana include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Memory problems
  • Poor concentration

Is marijuana a Stimulant?

The stimulating effects of marijuana will take effect because of how they cause dopamine to react in the body.

They will affect different functions of the body including.

  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing rate

Adverse side effects of stimulants relating to marijuana can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia

Is Marijuana a Hallucinogen

Is marijuana a depressant or stimulant or maybe even hallucinogen?

Marijuana can have hallucinogenic effects on the body because it can alter serotonin levels in the brain.

Using marijuana can cause someone to have heightened sensory perception, resulting:

  • Seeing brighter colors
  • The perception of slow motion
  • Hearing sounds differently
  • Being more sensitive to touch

The possible adverse side effects of hallucinogens include:

  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Paranoia
  • Powerful hallucinations

Made up your mind yet, marijuana a depressant or stimulant?

Keep reading to find out.

Mental health Effects of Marijuana Use

As we have discussed there are many varying effects of cannabis use.

Whether you believe that marijuana a depressant or stimulant, medical professionals agree that it has both short-and long-term effects on the brain.

Short term effects of marijuana

When a person smokes marijuana, THC and CBD quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream.

The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body.

THC acts on the cannabinoid receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals.

These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function.

Marijuana over stimulates these receptors.

This causes the “high” that people feel. Short term effects on the brain include:

  • Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • Altered sense of time
  • Changes in mood
  • Impaired body movement
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory
  • Hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
  • Delusions (when high doses of marijuana are taken)
  • Psychosis (risk is highest with regular use of high potency marijuana)

Long Term Effects of marijuana

Marijuana also affects brain development.

If a person starts using marijuana at an early age when their brain is still developing ie. their teenage years then this makes it more susceptible to change.

Early use can impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.

These changes can be permanent especially with prolonged use over many years.

A study from New Zealand conducted in part by researchers at Duke University showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana dependency lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38.

The lost mental abilities didn’t fully return in those who quit marijuana as adults.

Those who started smoking marijuana as adults didn’t show notable IQ declines (1).

physical effects of marijuana

  • Breathing problems. Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, and people who smoke marijuana frequently can have the same breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco. 
  • Increased heart rate. Marijuana raises heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This effect may increase the chance of heart attack. Older people and those with heart problems may be at higher risk.
  • Problems with child development during and after pregnancy. One study found that about 20% of pregnant women 24-years-old and younger screened positive for marijuana. 
  • Intense nausea and vomiting. Regular, long-term marijuana use can lead to some people to develop Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. This causes users to experience regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, sometimes requiring emergency medical attention. (2)
  • Long-term anxiety and depression. Long-term heavy cannabis use can create dependency issues and paranoia/anxiety.

Warning signs of Marijuana

If you are still set on using recreational marijuana as a way to relax and increase mindfulness then make sure you are aware that your quality of mental health can be affected.

If you begin to feel the following then it is worth making a lifestyle change and ditching the weed.

  • Lower life satisfaction
  • Poorer mental health
  • Deteriorating physical health
  • Frequent mood swings

Is marijuana addictive?

In short, the answer is yes, well certainly it has the potential to be.

Research suggests that 9 – 30% of those who use marijuana may develop some degree of marijuana use disorder.

People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.

Marijuana is also commonly referred to as a gateway drug and as well as alcohol is usually the first step into illegal drug abuse.

Many people who use marijuana long term and are trying to quit report mild withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult.

These include:

  • Mood swings
  • Sleeplessness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Cravings

If you’re struggling with marijuana addiction check out this article on songs about addiction recovery to help you kick the habit.

Is Marijuana A Depressant? The Bottom Line

In answer to the question; Is marijuana a depressant or stimulant?

The answer is both! There are different elements of the drug that produce different effects.

Some of these can be stimulating and some depressive different cannabis strains affect people in different ways.

Long-term abuse of recreational marijuana is likely to be a depressant.

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Academic references

  1. Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(40):E2657-E2664. doi:10.1073/pnas.1206820109.
  2. Richardson GA, Ryan C, Willford J, Day NL, Goldschmidt L. Prenatal alcohol and marijuana exposure: effects on neuropsychological outcomes at 10 years. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2002;24(3):309-320.
  3. Panlilio LV, Zanettini C, Barnes C, Solinas M, Goldberg SR. Prior exposure to THC increases the addictive effects of nicotine in rats. Neuropsychopharmacol Off Publ Am Coll Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013;38(7):1198-1208. doi:10.1038/npp.2013.16.
  4. Cadoni C, Pisanu A, Solinas M, Acquas E, Di Chiara G. Behavioural sensitization after repeated exposure to Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cross-sensitization with morphine. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001;158(3):259-266. doi:10.1007/s002130100875.