Cannabis Science

Is weed a depressant, stimulant or hallucinogen?

is weed a depressant

There are four categories of drugs: depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens and opiates. If you have wondered whether or not weed or marijuana is a depressant or fall into any of those categories, you’re not alone. According to Medical News Today, someone who uses marijuana may experience depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogenic effects. Therefore, weed doesn’t fall into just one category. Here is why. 

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Weed As a Depressant

According to Healthline, depressants are substances like alcohol and Xanax that slow down your brain function, calm nerves and relax tense muscles. That’s why depressants are typically used to treat anxiety, insomnia and muscle spasms. So is weed a depressant?

If when you use marijuana, you feel relaxed, less anxious and sleepy according to Medical News Today, those are depressant effects. 

Effects of Depressants

Other effects of depressants that may not be as desired, according to Medical News Today are:

  • slurred speech
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • slowed breathing
  • memory problems
  • poor concentration

Healthline also made the point that while depressants are typically not addictive, you may develop a tolerance to the depressant effects which means you may need to consume more of the drug to get the same effect. In addition to that, you may even become dependent on weed for a particular effect such as sleep. 

Weed for Insomnia

Speaking of sleep, in another Healthline article it is stated that marijuana is sometimes used to treat insomnia. According to Dr Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician and cannabis therapeutics specialist, if you’re using marijuana to get a good night’s sleep, make sure sure you get a strain that has less than 20% THC to avoid being groggy in the morning. He recommends the Indica strain. Indica is known for producing soothing and relaxing effects according to Healthline. It’s recommended that it’s taken “at least an hour before bedtime”.

Marijuana for Insomnia over Short-term

Before you self medicate for insomnia, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Firstly, the Healthline article posits that using marijuana to fix insomnia is a short term fix and you should definitely look into having proper sleep hygiene as well as picking up habits such as not consuming caffeine late. Secondly, according to Dr. Matt Roman, a medical marijuana physician, “People with recent heart attacks or poor cardiovascular health should refrain from cannabis use due to increased incidence of myocardial infarction”.

Marijuana for Stress

Does weed help with stress? According to a small study, low doses on THC may help to reduce stress while higher dosage may have the opposite effect. According to the study, “We found evidence that a low dose of THC, which produced negligible subjective and physiological effects by itself, counteracted the negative emotional effects of a standardized psychosocial stress task without influencing performance.” The study went on to say, “ In contrast a higher THC dose increased negative mood and subjective distress, impaired task performance, and attenuated blood pressure responsivity to acute stress.”

The study also suggested that more research should be done using people who consume more cannabis than those selected for this particular study. 

Weed As a Stimulant

Is weed a stimulant? Weed is a stimulant. According to both Healthline and Medical News Today, marijuana sometimes operates as a stimulant. According to Healthline, stimulants are substances that “elevate your mood and increase your alertness and energy”. Medical News Today said that stimulants produce these effects because they interact with the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. The Sativa strain is most commonly known for making people feel excited, happy and energized, according to Healthline. 

While that sounds great, as with everything there are pros and cons. Healthline went on to mention that stimulants are pretty addictive and may cause paranoia over time. While we know marijuana isn’t particularly additive, drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine produce more negative side effects that are long-lasting. They are highly addictive. Weed carries just about the same low risk it does when it acts as a stimulant. Stimulants can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure as well as cause rapid breathing, according to Healthline.

Effects of Stimulants

Healthline posits that weed is seen as a stimulant as it may cause:

  • elevated moods
  • racing heartbeat
  • anxiety
  • paranoia

Weed for Anxiety

Does weed help with anxiety? To further prove that marijuana affects everyone differently, while some say it lessens their anxiety for others, it increases it. James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, was cited in a VICE article explaining that when THC binds to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, it causes the release of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. He said with an increase of serotonin and GABA activity, norepinephrine, which is a neurotransmitter that has a role in alertness and anxiety has a decrease in activity. That is why most people feel calm.

Some People Experience Increased Anxiety

However, unfortunately for some people, the reduction in norepinephrine causes stimulation in brainstem’s locus ceruleus and limbic forebrain. Giordano says that sends the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive which in turn leads to “ a rise in heart rate and release of cortisol, which we tend to perceive as anxiety.”

Weed As a Hallucinogen 

Is marijuana a hallucinogen? According to Medical News Today, hallucinogens are drugs that “alter a person’s perception of reality.” They do this by increasing serotonin levels in the frontal cortex of the brain, which, according to Medical News Today, is the area responsible for mood, perception, and cognition. 

Effects of Hallucinogens

According to Healthline, some of the effects of hallucinogens like marijuana are:

  • altered sense of time or space
  • loss of control over motor skills
  • increased heart rate
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • detachment from self or environment

Medical News Today said that marijuana as a hallucinogen cause you to experience the heightened sensory perception which is a mild form of hallucinations. If you are seeing brighter colors, hearing sounds differently and are more sensitive to touch then those are mild forms of hallucinations. 

Healthline posits that hallucinogens may cause:

  • speech problems
  • memory loss
  • anxiety
  • Depression

And in rare cases:  

  • Psychosis
  • Flashbacks
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder

However, Healthline says that the only symptoms weed may cause is depression and anxiety. The article made the point that it helps those two conditions in other people. 


So yes, weed is a depressant, it is also a stimulant and hallucinogen. The bottom line is, everyone experiences weed differently. For you, weed may produce depressant effects, your friend may get the stimulant effects and someone else may experience the hallucinogen effects or a combination of hallucinogenic effects and another type. It really depends on the individual.


About Trevann

Trevann is Stoner Rotation’s Jamaica-based lead writer for the Science section of our cannabis blog. She graduated with honors receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology from the University of West Indies, Mona. For the last three years, she has covered some of the biggest questions around cannabis and health underpinned with research from supporting studies, medical journals and scholarly articles. Got something on your mind? You can reach her at [email protected].