Marijuana: a Depressant, a Stimulant, and a Hallucinogen?

Marijuana addiction

We know Marijuana by many other names such as weed, pot, bud, and dope. It is usually a crushed mixture of dried leaves, flowers, stems, or even seeds of Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. It is one of the most frequently used drugs in the world. 

Marijuana contains almost 500 compounds, collectively termed cannabinoids. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is its primary psychoactive ingredient, the culprit of the intoxication that users seek.

How is Marijuana Used?

There are a few ways to use marijuana. To smoke it, physical parts of the cannabis plant are either rolled up like a cigarette (referred to as a joint), like a cigar (referred to as a blunt), or from pipes. 

People may also use a water pipe (referred to as a bong), or even inhaled with a vaporizer or e-cigarette. Some prefer to put marijuana into food (referred to as edibles) items like brownies, cookies, or candy.

A growingly popular but increasingly dangerous method for using the drug is in different resins, which contain high concentrations of THC. Aside from recreational use, some like to brew marijuana as tea, most often for medicinal purposes. Some like to apply it topically as a lotion, oil, or cream. 

Lots of research is being done about the applications of medical marijuana, such as in reducing anxiety, reducing inflammation, pain relief, relief of nausea caused by chemotherapy, killing cancer or slowing tumor growth, relaxing muscles, and stimulating appetite. 

Current research in this area is still limited, and since reactions to marijuana are quite varied, more studies still have to be conducted over the next few years. 


What Kind of Drug is Marijuana?

We usually classify different kinds of drugs according to the effects of their use. Although categories may vary, there are three broad categories:

Depressants produce feelings of relaxation and numbness. Some depressants can get addictive because they induce a sense of euphoria in users. Depressants are also the more likely type of drugs to cause an overdose. Some examples are alcohol, opiates (heroin, morphine), and barbiturates.

Stimulants give users bouts of energy and wakefulness. They make users focused and alert, giving them a rush or a boost in their moods. Stimulants give a “high”, inducing feelings of pleasure. They are highly addictive, and their use over time can lead to paranoia. Examples include methamphetamine and cocaine. ADHD medication such as Adderall or Ritalin has also been abused as stimulants.

Hallucinogens or dissociative drugs alter the perception of reality. As the name implies, drugs that fall into this category give visual or auditory hallucinations. They are often less addictive compared to depressants or stimulants, but they pose a more immediate danger to users. Some examples are lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin (shrooms).

Cannabis is distinctive because it has properties of all three classifications. Its effects are highly variable among individuals, so it’s hard to put it into any one category. However, unlike most drugs, cannabis isn’t known to cause an overdose. But just because you can’t overdose, doesn’t mean you can’t overdo it.

Marijuana as a Depressant

From a more scientific perspective, marijuana is a depressant, mainly because it slows down the central nervous system activity. As a depressant, marijuana produces the following effects:

  • Relaxation
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Short-term memory loss 
  • Calmness
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Reduced anxiety and inhibitions

Marijuana as a Stimulant

Lots of people use cannabis to heighten their mood or to address symptoms of depression. Many users enjoy the high that marijuana gives. Marijuana as a stimulant can make people feel:

  • Elevated mood
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia

Marijuana as a Hallucinogen

Despite the popular portrayal, visual and auditory hallucinations are quite rare with marijuana use. However, marijuana exhibits some effects associated with hallucinogens, such as:

  • Altered perception of space and time
  • Poor control over motor functions
  • Sense of detachment from self or surroundings (including, but not limited to “spacing out”)
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea

Different people react differently to marijuana use, since body composition, medical conditions, and age can alter its effects. For some, getting high may cause feelings of contentment, while for others, it may cause alertness.

Some use marijuana to curb their anxiety, while others experience anxious episodes while high. Because of these variable responses, marijuana is a very difficult drug to classify.

What are the Risks of Marijuana Use?

THC from marijuana enters the bloodstream during use. This causes it to spread to the brain and throughout the rest of the body.

Aside from the effects mentioned earlier, marijuana use also has a few other short-term effects, such as:

  • Difficulty with higher cognitive functions (problem-solving, decision-making)
  • Delusions (especially in high concentrations or doses) 
  • Psychosis (rare, but risks increase with high concentrations or doses)

What is more problematic for some people, however, are the long-term effects of marijuana use

Although not considered a highly addictive substance (withdrawal symptoms are usually mild at worst), regular marijuana use for temporarily coping with anxiety, mood improvement, or even to sleep can lead to a significant dependency on the drug. Also, people can build up a tolerance for it, meaning people gradually need more to produce the same desired effect.

Contrary to popular belief, smoking anything at all will irritate your respiratory tract and increase your risk for complications like chronic cough or bronchitis. Although we need more research, we know marijuana smoke contains carcinogens, which increase your risk of developing lung cancer.

Long-term use of marijuana has been shown to cause learning and memory issues, especially when regular use begins during the teenage years. Despite being used to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety, marijuana use has been linked to the development and worsening of anxiety and depression.

About Marijuana Use

Marijuana can have many effects on different people. Although it could help some people, we have also seen it can have adverse effects. Although usually described as a general depressant that has accompanying stimulating and hallucinogenic effects, marijuana is not so simple. 

Many factors, such as age and genetic history of the user, and the amount of THC and method of use all factor into individual experiences of marijuana. While it could relieve symptoms of anxiety in some, it could just as easily contribute to anxiety in others. 

The unpredictability of marijuana as a depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogen still requires further research. For drugs, it is always safer to err on the cautious side and avoid it altogether. 


Marijuana is a drug usually smoked or ingested through food that has characteristics of the three main types of drugs: depressants, hallucinogens, and stimulants.

Although not enough research is available to categorize marijuana definitively, its effects are shown to be addictive and can cause drug dependence among its users.

With drugs, it is always best to err to the side of caution and avoid them altogether. Temporary highs are never worth the adverse long-term damage.

To learn more about how drugs can ruin you or your loved one’s life, visit our addiction treatment blog to help you avoid falling victim to drugs.

Disclaimer: This post serves a strictly educational use. It does not necessarily reflect the services, products, or therapeutic approaches of this establishment or its healthcare practitioners. The purpose of this blog is not to advertise the products, services, or therapeutic approaches of any other establishment that may be associated with this site. On the subject of safe or legal services, products, and appropriate therapies, recommendations ought to be given by a qualified professional on a case to case basis.

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