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What Type of Drug Is Marijuana?

Marijuana isn’t easy to classify. Some users feel hallucinogenic effects, while others feel depressant or stimulant changes from their weed use.

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It’s also hard to classify the legality of marijuana. Federal organizations place it within restricted categories, while some states approve it for medical use or recreational purposes.

Why It’s Difficult to Classify Weed

Researchers consider cannabis a “complex plant.”[1] It contains elements (like delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol) that have opposing effects within the human body. 

Three main species of cannabis exist, including the following:[1]

  • Cannabis sativa, often associated with stimulant effects 
  • Cannabis indica, often associated with depressant effects 
  • Cannabis ruderalis, often associated with hallucinogenic effects 

Marijuana dealers can also create hybrid plants that have characteristics of both plant parents, delivering mixed results. 

Further complicating classification, there are more than 700 strains of cannabis.[2] Each one has a colorful name and can work in a different way. Some strains contain a pure type of cannabis, but others mix strains for complex highs. 

“Cannabis is a complex plant with over 400 chemical entities of which more than 60 of them are cannabinoid compounds, some of them with opposing effects.”[1]

These are typical side effects of weed by classification: 

Depressant Stimulant Hallucinogen 
Relaxation Increased sense of energy Hallucinations (mild or rare) 
Lack of motivation Potential for higher focus Enhanced perception
Lowered inhibitions Potential for aggression Paranoia 
Sedation Sped-up breathing rateIncreased appreciation for music or visual cues 

Effects of Weed as a Depressant 

Marijuana can slow down neural signaling in the brain, the primary determining factor that makes a drug a depressant.[3] Other typical depressants include alcohol and opioids. 

Drugs in this class cause the following symptoms:

  • Euphoria 
  • Relaxation 
  • Reduced inhibition 
  • Lack of motivation 

Common marijuana strains that cause this effect include Afghan Kush, Northern Lights, and White Widow. 

Effects of Weed as a Stimulant

Some marijuana strains increase brain activity, causing people to feel sped up or energized. Drugs like this are typically classified as stimulants. Other typical stimulants include cocaine and methamphetamine. 

Stimulants cause the following symptoms:

  • Increased focus
  • Rapid-fire speech 
  • Restlessness 
  • Potential for aggression 

People who use marijuana regularly often call these marijuana strains a “heady” high. Examples include Sour Diesel, Jack Herer, and Durban Poison. 

Effects of Weed as a Hallucinogen 

Most people who use marijuana don’t experience true hallucinogenic effects (like wild hallucinations). But some strains can produce subtle shifts in perception that are similar to those experienced with small doses of magic mushrooms or other classic hallucinogens

Potential hallucinogenic side effects of marijuana include the following:

  • Increased appreciation for music or art
  • Enhanced perception 
  • Paranoia 

Common strains that cause these effects include Amnesia Haze, Headband, and Lemon Power Haze. 

Should Marijuana Be Schedule I?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance.[4] Drugs in this class have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use in the United States, and are considered dangerous even when used under medical supervision.

While it is possible to use marijuana in a self-destructive way, many people have criticized this classification. 

As of June 1, 2023, 23 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted measures to regulate cannabis for adult recreational use.[5] An overwhelming 88% of American adults say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use by adults.[6]

It’s not clear when federal rules will move closer to state-created versions or when states and federal rules match what consumers want. 

“Cannabis policy entails unavoidable trade-offs between competing social values in the face of considerable uncertainty about the effects that more liberal cannabis policies will have on cannabis use and its consequences for better or worse.”[7]

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Researchers say 30% of people who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.[8] While some people can use the drug occasionally, others develop significant problems with their pot habit. 

Addiction to marijuana is characterized by an inability to limit or stop drug use despite the desire to do so. While no FDA-approved medication can treat marijuana use disorders, treatment can help people spot their triggers and build up relapse prevention skills. 

In therapy, you can learn what led to your marijuana abuse and how to address those problems without substances. You’ll also acquire skills to build a more fulfilling life in recovery. While marijuana can be tough to quit after sustained use, you can do it with the right help.

Updated March 25, 2024
  1. Atakan Z. Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2012;2(6):241-254.
  2. Gloss D. An Overview of Products and Bias in Research. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):731-734.
  3. Brumback T, Castro N, Jacobus J, Tapert S. Effects of Marijuana Use on Brain Structure and Function: Neuroimaging Findings from a Neurodevelopmental Perspective. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2016;129:33-65.
  4. Marijuana/cannabis. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published April 2020. Accessed June 21, 2023.
  5. State vs. federal perspective. National Conference of State Legislatures. Accessed June 21, 2023.
  6. Van Green, T. Americans overwhelmingly say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use. Pew Research Center. Published November 22, 2022. Accessed June 21, 2023.
  7. Hall W. The costs and benefits of cannabis control policies. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2020;22(3):281-287.
  8. Cannabis (marijuana) research report: Is marijuana addictive? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published July 2020. Accessed June 21, 2023.
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