Is Marijuana a Depressant?

Step by step on rolling a joint.

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Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that many people use recreationally. Many people respond to it differently so while it may act as a depressant for some, it may result in stimulant or hallucinogenic effects for others.

This article discusses what marijuana is, its long- and short-term effects, and how it may affect those who use it.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana

Marijuana is a drug made out of the dried leaves and buds of a plant called Cannabis Sativa. It’s also casually referred to as grass, weed, herb, and Mary Jane. Marijuana can be smoked, consumed as a tea, or combined with certain foods such as cookies to make edibles. 

Marijuana is a recreational drug that is legal in some areas of the world and illegal in others. While it remains illegal in many countries, there has been a shift in the United States over the last couple of decades. Many states have legalized its recreational and medicinal use, and marijuana can casually be bought at local dispensaries in some states.

Marijuana is made up of several chemicals called cannabinoids. The two most recognizable cannabinoids are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)  and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the main active ingredient in marijuana. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effect you feel when using the drug. 

Is Marijuana a Depressant?

There have been decades of research into how the drug affects the human body. However, it’s still not clearly understood how exactly it works.

While marijuana can have a depressant effect, it’s not technically a depressant. The effects of marijuana are wide-ranged and individualistic. While some people might experience depressant effects while using marijuana, others might not.

Factors such as the way it’s consumed and which strain is consumed also come into play when considering whether marijuana will act as a depressant or not. 

What Is a Depressant?

To understand marijuana’s depressant qualities, you must first understand how a depressant affects the mind.

A depressant is a drug that slows your brain activity. The most common depressants include benzodiazepinesbarbiturates, and sleep medication.

While on a depressant, you will feel relaxed and less inhibited. Depressants have several advantages, such as:

  • Reducing anxiety 
  • Helping you sleep better
  • Reducing feelings of stress

People who feel the depressant effect of marijuana tend to use the drug for the above reasons. However, depressants are not without side effects.

A depressant could cause side effects such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems

Marijuana Use and Mental Health Conditions

Some research shows that for people with mental health conditions such as depression, the depressant effects of marijuana could worsen the symptoms of their disorder.

On the other hand, people with conditions such as anxiety sometimes report that marijuana helps with their condition.

Although marijuana is technically not a depressant, combining it with other depressants while experiencing its depressant effects can be harmful.

The link between depression and marijuana is often discussed, whether as a cause or treatment. However, there isn’t sufficient evidence to back either claim. This link is often referred to because of the depressant effect marijuana sometimes has.

In a 2014 study, researchers found that marijuana could even be helpful in the reduction of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Effects of Marijuana Use

The effects of marijuana use on your body and mind have long been debated. Conflicting reports from research into the drug claim that using the drug could either be advantageous or result in long-term adverse effects. 

The effects of marijuana on a person are highly individual. However, several people report that they experience feelings of exhilaration and ease when using marijuana. This is a result of the active ingredient THC.

On the other hand, some people report experiencing feelings of anxiety, paranoia, or panic. This is more likely to occur when you use large quantities of the drug. Some people also develop an addiction to marijuana.

Short-Term Effects

The most common short-term effects you are likely to experience when using marijuana include: 

  • Mood swings 
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Feeling an altered sense of time
  • Altered senses, for instance, seeing colors more vividly or hearing music more loudly
  • Memory impairment 

When smoked, you are likely to immediately feel the effects of marijuana. However, when ingested, it can take several minutes to hours. This is because the drug must first pass through your digestive system into your bloodstream. The effects of marijuana on your body also last longer when ingested.

Long-Term Effects 

More research needs to be done to identify the long-term effects of marijuana on your body and mind. So far, there’s some proof that marijuana could affect you in the long-term in the following ways: 

  • Respiratory problems: Smoking marijuana regularly could irritate your lungs. It’s unclear whether it’s the marijuana itself or the rolling papers and other tools used. In a 2014 study, researchers found that smoking marijuana habitually was linked to an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis.
  • Increased risk of heart attack: When using marijuana, your heart rate spikes. This could increase your risk of having a heart attack if you have any other underlying conditions or are taking certain medications.
  • Risk to your baby’s health: Research shows that marijuana use during pregnancy isn’t safe for your baby. Studies show that it could cause brain development problems, low birth weight, premature birth, or an increased risk of stillbirth. 
  • Brain health: There are many studies that suggest there may be a long-term effect of marijuana on your brain. In a 2014 study, researchers found that marijuana use could affect neural connectivity in parts of your brain that carry out memory and learning functions. A 2022 study found that long-term use is connected to cognitive deficits and decreased hippocampal volume in mid-life.

Can Marijuana Be a Stimulant or Hallucinogen?

In addition to having depressant effects, marijuana could also act as a stimulant or hallucinogen. Again, factors like how it’s consumed, which strain is used, and how much is consumed come into play. 

Stimulant Effects

Stimulants are psychoactive drugs that are capable of increasing brain activity. They are capable of improving your mood and causing feelings of euphoria. Marijuana sometimes has stimulant effects.

People who experience the stimulant effects of marijuana experience elevated moods, high energy levels, and alertness. Marijuana dependency has been linked to its ability to create these effects. While using stimulants, some side effects you might experience include anxiety, paranoia, and restlessness. 

Hallucinogenic Effects

Hallucinogens are drugs that are capable of altering the way you view reality. When using a hallucinogen, you might hear or see things that aren’t there. While marijuana isn’t a hallucinogen, it could cause mild hallucinogenic effects. It’s rare for people to experience hallucinations while using marijuana. 

A Word From Verywell

Because marijuana may have negative long-term effects, it’s advisable to use the drug minimally. If you use marijuana and experience worrying side effects, please visit your nearest emergency room.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.