Is marijuana a stimulant? The answer isn’t so simple
With more states legalizing cannabis, curiosity about the plant’s effects is increasing. That may include how cannabis pairs with other things, like caffeine or alcohol. And since some varieties of the plant feel uplifting and others are more heavy, many people wonder, “Is marijuana a stimulant? Or is it a depressant?”
The truth is that cannabis is an extremely dynamic plant. There are thousands of different varieties (aka strains), and each one affects every person in unique ways.
Because of this, it can be difficult to make generalizations about what end of the spectrum the plant sits on. And it’s not just anecdotal—a report published in the Journal of General Psychology says that “marijuana acts as both stimulant and depressant.”
Dr. Leigh Vincour, a physician and cannabis expert, says it’s impossible to say for certain if marijuana is a stimulant or depressant since the experience is so subjective.
“Everybody reacts differently—you have to find your individualized dose,” she told GreenState.
Those who smoke marijuana often find themselves in a trial and error situation when it comes to determining outcomes. However, there are a few anecdotal hints.
What is a stimulant?
Stimulants are chemical compounds that activate the nervous system. They typically boost energy, alertness, and focus.
This classification includes prescription drugs used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder such as Adderall and Ritalin, as well as illicit drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.
Stimulants may increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Other effects can include elevated blood sugar and increased breathing. Long-term use may cause heart failure or skewed perception of reality.
Since one of the side effects of cannabis (specifically THC) for certain people can include raised heart rate, it would make sense that some consider the plant to be a stimulant—not to mention that certain varieties may be more invigorating.
On the other side of the spectrum are depressants. These compounds reduce activity in the nervous system and slow down brain function. Stimulants have the opposite effects.
Certain prescription painkillers, sleep aides, and drugs to treat mental health conditions like anxiety typically fall into the depressant category. They often make people feel drowsy, and can lead to decreased blood pressure, distorted sensory perception, and dry mouth.
The same can be said for cannabis, particularly the sedative effect. According to a recent survey by New Frontier Data, 61% of cannabis consumers use the plant to improve their sleep. Therefore, marijuana could be called a depressant as well.
Cannabinoids and terpenes make the difference
Another reason why cannabis is so subjective is the fact that concentrations of active ingredients range widely from plant to plant. A variety rich in CBD is likely going to produce different effects versus one higher in THC—but even that can vary.
“CBD can be stimulating at low doses and sedating at higher doses,” Dr. Vincour explained.
THC is somewhat similar, but the chances for variability are even more extreme.
“As far as THC, there is some anecdotal evidence that very low doses may, in fact, allow people to feel more alert and productive, as opposed to higher doses making them feel sedated,” Dr. Vincour said. “We also know that very high doses of THC can actually agitate people and make them feel anxious and sometimes even paranoid.”
Terpenes also play a big role in how marijuana affects you. These molecules are responsible for the rich flavor and aroma of cannabis, and also drive how it makes a person feel.
There are dozens of unique terpenes in cannabis. Some, like citrusy limonene, are thought to elevate your mood. Others, like lavender-scented linalool, tend to be more relaxing.
Once again, these effects are all anecdotal, making it even more challenging to settle the stimulant or depressant debate.
So, is marijuana a stimulant? It depends.
For new consumers, determining which cannabis product is best based on how it will make them feel is easier said than done. Since the effects of marijuana vary from person to person, it can be hard to know what a product will do until someone tries it for themselves.
Marijuana fits into both stimulant and depressant categories, so it’s up to the individual to decide its definition as it relates to their experience. While they may feel frustrating in the beginning, over time, things will become clearer.
Those who are beginning their cannabis journey may want to consider journaling, noting how particular products make them feel. By noting the cannabinoids and terpenes, along with effects, it may help remove the guesswork from future dispensary shopping trips.
Goldleaf makes a line of science-forward journals specifically for this purpose. They have options for medical patients, connoisseurs, and even growers. The guided diaries even contain pertinent information to help users learn about the plant and themselves at the same time.
And remember: it’s crucial to “start low, and go slow.” When it comes to flower or vapes, take one or two hits, then wait fifteen minutes to see what transpires. With edibles, eat only a tiny amount—maybs 2.5 milligrams—and wait at least 90 minutes before having another bite.
By doing the required cannabis homework, consumers can then conclude where the “stimulant versus depressant” conversation lands for them.