Here’s what you need to know about its use as a depressant or stimulant. You know it as weed, pot, grass, or cannabis. It is the most used recreational drug in the world, and it is even sold in edible forms and drinks. In recent years, many states have legalized the sale and use of cannabis, even for non-medical reasons. Does this mean it’s safe to use, or should you avoid it?
What Is Marijuana?
The compound in marijuana that gets you high is the chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The cannabis plant produces it. To use it, people smoke a substance made from the plant’s buds. They might also brew it into tea or add it to food.
In recent years, people have increasingly used cannabinoids (CBD), which are the products of the cannabis plant that have medicinal value. Many treatments that use CBD have no THC. They allow people to get the benefits of the cannabis plant without the mind-altering effects. Doctors prescribe many CBD medications. Cannabidiol, for instance, is the brand name for a CBD medicine used to treat seizures. Another name for cannabis without THC is hemp.
The Different Drug Types
To understand the difference between stimulants and depressants, it’s helpful to know the various categories of drugs. Some of these drugs cross into both categories; for instance, alcohol is a depressant and a psychoactive drug, which is a helpful breakdown.
- Depressant: Depressant drugs induce sleep and relieve anxiety. They include barbiturates, prescription sleep aids, and alcohol. Marijuana is also used as a depressant.
- Stimulant: A stimulant gives you energy and boosts your mood. Typical drugs include caffeine, cocaine, and amphetamines.
- Psychoactive: Psychoactive drugs affect the way your brain works. They affect your perception and consciousness. Psychoactive substances are found in alcohol, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the date-rape drug Rohypnol. Marijuana contains psychoactive compounds.
- Hallucinogenic: These drugs cause significant disruptions in your thinking and perception of reality. You may see or hear things that aren’t there. Common hallucinogens include mescaline, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and LSD. Cannabis can also be a hallucinogen, especially if taken regularly.
- Opiate: Primarily used as pain relievers, these drugs also induce euphoria. Natural opiates include heroin, morphine, and codeine.
- Opioid: These synthetic opiates have come under scrutiny for their dangerously addictive qualities. Well-known opioids include Dilaudid, Demerol, and Fentanyl.
As you can see, cannabis falls into more than one category. It can be classed as a depressant, a stimulant, and a hallucinogen.
How Do People Use It?
As a depressant
Many people use cannabis as a depressant. They use it to calm anxiety and induce sleep.
Several studies support the medical use of cannabis to reduce anxiety. For instance, a 2014 study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found significant relief from their worst symptoms by using marijuana. The study also concluded that these users did not suffer problems in function or feeling after using cannabis.
Other studies have found that it can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in some users.
Depressants also come with some adverse side effects, however. Over time, they depress your brain function and can lead to adverse side effects, including:
- Loss of motor coordination
- Mental confusion
- Blurred vision
- Short-term memory loss
- Low blood pressure
- Slurred speech
As a stimulant
Although cannabis is not technically a stimulant, it can act like one in specific ways. It doesn’t speed up the central nervous system, but it can affect the parts of the brain that control focus, attention, and emotion. It also induces a sense of euphoria.
Many users report feeling more focused on their work or mundane tasks when using it. Many people report being more creative and invigorated.
However, they also report physical side effects remarkably like those of classic stimulants:
- Increased heart rate
- Anxiety attacks
- Inability to focus
On the other hand, it does not have the same dangerous side effects or withdrawal symptoms as cocaine and methamphetamine. It is also not as addictive as those substances.
As a hallucinogen
Although cannabis has been depicted popularly as a hallucinogen, a hallucinogenic reaction is rare for users. It tends to happen more often in people who use it daily, users who begin at an early age, and those who use strains with high THC levels.
Even if you don’t experience the full hallucinogenic effect, however, you may experience mild hallucinogenic symptoms, including:
- Distorted sense of time
- Uncontrolled body movements
- A feeling of detachment or unreality
- Increased heart rate
- Intense sadness
Why does it have these contrasting effects?
It’s important to note that the cannabis plant is extraordinarily complex. It has over 500 chemical compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, all contributing to the plant’s effects.
The drug’s effects on you will depend on the strain you’re using and your state of mind when you use it. Some strains are more likely to create specific effects than others. Growers can breed plants designed to produce specific physical and mental reactions.
Is It Addictive?
Researchers are split about whether THC is addictive. However, if you’re struggling with an addiction or in recovery, you should probably steer clear of all drugs. Cannabis may have medicinal value, but regular use comes with several problems.
Studies have found that around 30% of people who use cannabis to cope with anxiety or depression can become dependent on it. The risk is highest for people who start using it before age 18.
Frequent use of cannabis can result in sleep disorders, insomnia, anxiety, and irritability. Using cannabis can trigger psychosis or schizophrenia in people with underlying mental illnesses.
Lack of motivation:
The stereotype of a regular cannabis user is a lazy pothead with no explanation. That stereotype holds up in the research. Scientists have discovered that everyday cannabis use caused lower initiative, persistence, and self-direction, even more than alcohol use.
If you’re considering using this drug for its medical benefits, use only products that have no THC. You can buy CBD products legally in many states now, and they’re the safest way to get those benefits without the risk of unwanted side effects.
So How Should We Categorize Cannabis?
As you can see, it doesn’t fit easily into a single category of drugs. THC is a complex compound that can produce varying results.
Cannabis can have many effects, depending on your current mood and how you use it. It can enhance your mood, lift depression and help you relax. Regular use can trigger dependency and unpleasant side effects. It can also cause anxiety, insomnia, and lack of motivation.
Is It Safe for You To Use Cannabis?
If you’re recovering from drug addiction, you should avoid using medical marijuana. Even though it’s considered a mild drug and is legal even for recreational use in some states, it’s best to stay away from anything that alters your mood. Use of anything that produces a high can trigger your addiction and put you back at square one.
However, you can use hemp-based or CBD products that don’t contain any THC to get the medical benefits. Products with CBD have proven effective at helping people sleep, increasing relaxation, enhancing focus, and relieving symptoms of stress and depression. Cannabis with THC has profound effects on your mind and mood, and you should avoid it as part of your recovery.
Science Daily: Cannabis Effects on PTSD.
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Is Cannabis Addictive?
Prevention Science: Testing the Amotivational Syndrome.