Many people use cannabis without really understanding the effects that it has on the brain and body. Many people feel relaxed when they use cannabis, but others have reported feeling more focused.

So is cannabis a depressant, a stimulant or something else entirely?

The Debate Around Cannabis

As a naturally occurring drug that affects the mood and senses, cannabis has been used around the world for thousands of years. The first documented mention of its use goes back to China in 2,800 BC and therapeutic use of cannabis is mentioned in texts from Indian Hindus, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans, among others.

In more modern times, cannabis remains a controlled substance in most countries, although it is still widely used recreationally. In the UK, it was by far the most widely used illegal drug, with 7.4% of all adults and 16.2% of those aged 16-24 having used it in the year ending June 2022. There have been calls for the legalisation or decriminalisation of the recreational use of cannabis in many places around the world, and a number of places, including some states of the USA, Canada, Luxembourg, and New Zealand, have taken steps towards doing so. There is also an ongoing parallel debate about the medical use of marijuana.

Some of the arguments for legalisation involve the widespread use of cannabis pushing people into criminality and the black-market criminal gangs that this supports. Some perceive the drug as relatively safe, and numerous studies have suggested that cannabis can have legitimate medical uses. Against this, other studies show that there is a risk in cannabis use, especially recreational – and uncontrolled – use of the drug. Cannabis addiction or dependency is a risk among frequent users, and cannabis can affect mental health. As well as being associated with depression and anxiety, adolescents, in particular, have a significant risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia with prolonged use.

Despite the large amount of medical research in this area, it is still not fully understood exactly how marijuana works, and the debate looks set to continue.

What Are Depressants?

A depressant is a substance that reduces stimulation by affecting the central nervous system, slowing down the messages between the brain and body. This can have a number of medical applications, including inducing sleep, relieving anxiety, reducing muscle spasms and preventing seizures.

They can also have various other effects on the mind and body. Depressants can reduce reaction time, impair mental functioning and judgement, and cause confusion. Physical side effects can include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Weakness,
  • Headache
  • Light-headedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness,
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing

Common depressants include prescription drugs known as barbiturates and benzodiazepines, which may be used as sleeping pills to reduce anxiety or for other legitimate medical purposes such as treating muscle spasms.

Some people seek out prescription depressants and illegal alternatives like GHB for recreational use, due to their relaxing and sometimes euphoric effects. Many people are not aware of it, as the early stages of intoxication can make you feel more outgoing and confident, but alcohol also acts as a depressant on the central nervous system.

Is Cannabis a Depressant?

So is marijuana a depressant? Using the drug can certainly create a number of the effects listed above that are typical of ‘classic’ depressant drugs.

Many users report feeling more relaxed when they use cannabis. The Sleep Foundation reports that cannabis is frequently used as a ‘sleep aid’ both by recreational users and where it is prescribed as a medical product. The foundation says that cannabis may improve sleep in people with certain conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. For these people, it may help them fall asleep faster, wake up less during the night, and enjoy better overall sleep quality.

It may also promote sleep in recreational users. Many cannabis effects occur because the active element known as THC is able to attach to molecules called cannabinoid receptors on neurons in the central nervous system. This can affect functions such as pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception. When cannabinoids bind to receptors, they also send messages to increase levels of a sleep-promoting chemical called adenosine and suppress the brain’s arousal system.  It also notes, however, that THC also changes sleep patterns decreasing time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is important for dreaming, processing emotions and cementing new memories.

Is Weed a Stimulant or Depressant?

While cannabis can have depressant effects on many people, it can also produce effects that have more in common with stimulants. While THC generally acts as a sedative, it can have a stimulating effect on some people, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep. CBD is the other main active ingredient and appears to promote alertness at lower doses, and sleepiness at higher doses.

So is weed a stimulant or depressant? It is actually both, with hallucinogenic effects thrown into the mix for some people. As one study found: “Marijuana is complex chemically and not yet fully understood, but it is not a narcotic. Like alcohol, marijuana acts as both stimulant and depressant, but it lingers in body organs longer than alcohol.”

The Impact of Cannabis on Mental Health

Most studies on the impact of cannabis on mental health have focused on the development of psychosis caused by weed and there is evidence that using cannabis can increase the risk of developing psychotic illness, including schizophrenia. There is also evidence that regular cannabis use can increase the risks of anxiety and depression. There have also been studies exploring the controlled use of medical marijuana to treat various mental health conditions. There have been some promising results but further investigation is needed.

Find Help For Cannabis Addiction today

There is also a growing body of evidence to show that cannabis can also be addictive for many users. If cannabis use is impacting your physical and mental health, or having a negative effect on other areas of your life, you may need expert help to be able to kick it. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, get in touch today or phone 01908 489 421 and find out how Asana Lodge can help.


John Gillen - Author - Last Updated: 11 August 2023

John has travelled extensively around the world, culminating in 19 years’ experience looking at different models. He is the European pioneer of Nad+ (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) treatment to Europe in 2010; and recently back from the USA bringing state of the art Virtual Reality Relapse Prevention and stress reduction therapy. his passion extends to other metabolic disturbances and neurodegenerative diseases.

The journey continues, in recent times john has travelled to Russia to study and research into a new therapy photobiomudulation or systemic laser therapy working with Nad+ scientists and the very best of the medical profession in the UK and the USA, together with Nadcell, Bionad Clinics own select Doctors, nurses, dieticians and therapists, Johns’ passion continues to endeavour to bring to the UK and Europe new developments with Nad+ therapy in preventive and restorative medicine and Wellness. In 2017 John Gillen was made a visiting Professor at the John Naisbitt university in Belgrade Serbia.

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