Is Cannabis Classified as a Hallucinogen, Stimulant, or Depressant?

April 7, 2020 10:03 am ET
Is Cannabis Classified as a Hallucinogen, Stimulant, or Depressant?

In 1970 cannabis was federally placed as a Schedule I drug in the US, a category that is tightly restricted and reserved for drugs not medically accepted. When it comes to classifying drugs medically or recreationally, generally there are four categories. Based on their properties and effects, a drug can either fall into opiates, depressants, hallucinogens, or stimulants. Cannabis is legally and medically a narcotic because narcotics are defined as any substance that is illegal and induces sleep but, scientifically – no cannabis is not a narcotic.

Responses to Cannabis Vary Significantly

Ingesting cannabis can have a variety of psychological and physical effects that often vary from person to person. It can make some people tired or relaxed and give others an energy boost and increase alertness. It can also help to treat mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, in some people. In others, it can actually cause anxiety over time. Cannabis is complex chemically and not yet fully understood, but it is scientifically not a narcotic. Like alcohol, cannabis can act as both stimulant and depressant. 

So What Category Does Cannabis Fit in?

Research has indicated that cannabis intoxication definitely hinders attention, long-term memory storage, and psychomotor skills. As a psychoactive drug, cannabis alters mental functioning in some fashion. Cannabis drug classification is a controversial question because it is not merely a stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogen. People respond to cannabis in different ways. While cannabis has depressant, hallucinogenic and stimulant properties, it does not fit into any one of these categories.

Many Classify Cannabis a Depressant

Depressants are drugs that have a relaxing effect. They may reduce anxiety and muscle tension and make a person feel sleepy. Cannabis is largely viewed as a depressant because it slows down messages that travel between the body and brain. Like traditional depressants, cannabis’ depressant properties can cause sleeplessness, dizziness, and short-term memory loss. 

Cannabis Has Stimulant Properties

Stimulants are drugs that increase alertness and elevate mood often by targeting the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Stimulants increase alertness, attention and heart rate. Like other stimulants, cannabis has shown in some consumers to increase heart rate, alertness, elevate mood, and improve attention.

Some Even Classify Cannabis a Hallucinogen

Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that cause profound distortions in a person’s perceptions of reality. These substances are also found naturally in certain plants and fungi. Even though the effects are often temporary, the massive doses of the substance can cause delusions, hallucinations, and alter the sense of personal identity. The substance can also cause hallucinogen symptoms like heightened sensory perception and detachment from self. A heightened sensory perception is a mild form of hallucination that some people may actually find enjoyable.

Too Many Variables

Facts remain that cannabis induces all three categories of response: a sense of relaxation (depressant effect), mild euphoria or elevated mood (stimulant effect), and heightened sensory perception (hallucinogenic effect). There are many factors and variables to consider when trying to categorize potential responses to cannabis ingestion. The percent of THC in the drug, dosage, and method of administration are also significant factors in how a person reacts to cannabis. Various phenotypes and cultivars of the plant may also produce different effects on the body and mind.  

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