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With the wide array of effects cannabis provides consumers, it’s natural to wonder exactly how THC is classified.
Some strains can surely be more active, leaving people with a bit of a wired, uplifted feeling similar to caffeine or other stimulants. Conversely, THC and cannabis may also lead to a very sedated, heavy feeling, resembling effects that a depressant may offer. Those who have ventured into higher THC doses may also attest to the cannabinoid’s more hallucinogenic properties.
So, how exactly do we categorize THC? Given its sometimes invigorating, yet sometimes relaxing properties, is THC a stimulant?
- There are a handful of main drug types that each offer unique, specific benefits.
- When it comes to classifying THC, it is never considered an opioid. However, when we look at the traits of stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens — along with the wide array of factors influencing cannabis effects — the answer gets a bit more complex.
What are the Main Drug Types?
Before we take a closer look at cannabis and THC specifically, it helps to understand the main drug types and what specific distinguishing features they each carry.
Stimulants encourage stimulation, or raise the levels of physiological or nervous activity in the body. These drugs often increase alertness and energy, along with potentially elevating the mood. Stimulants target neurotransmitters in the brain, namely dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine affects the mood, while norepinephrine affects blood vessels and blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar levels, and breathing.
A stimulant may cause feelings of euphoria, though they may also lead to increased heart rate and breathing, anxiety, and restlessness. Well-known stimulants include amphetamines, cocaine, nicotine, and caffeine.
Once again, the name says it all — or at least tells part of the story. Depressants are named for their ability to reduce certain feelings and functions in the body and mind. Specifically, these drugs calm the central nervous system and slow down brain function. Depressants may lessen anxiety, muscle tension, and often make users feel relaxed or sleepy.
These drugs can have immense medicinal benefits, though like any other drug also carry the potential for abuse. Because of the function of depressants, they may also lead to dizziness, slowed breathing, confusion, and poor concentration, among other effects. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, Xanax, and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) are a few examples of depressants.
A hallucinogen alters a person’s perception of reality. These drugs alter the ways nerve cells communicate in the brain and increase serotonin levels in the brain’s frontal cortex, an area responsible for mood, perception, and cognition.
Hallucinogens, like higher doses of psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA, may come with a very clear sense of altered reality, though some hallucinogenic properties may be more subtle, like seeing brighter colors, hearing music in a different way, or being more sensitive to touch. Though more intense hallucinogenic experiences may come with anxiety, increased heart rate, powerful altered perceptions, and nausea.
Opiates are powerful painkillers that tend to produce euphoric feelings, which is why these substances tend to be so addictive and hold higher risk of abuse. While they have long been used as pain-relieving drugs, the long-term effects of opioids can take a toll on the body, which is why many opioid users have turned to cannabis instead.
Heroin, morphine, and a number of prescription painkillers are considered opioids.
Those who have tried cannabis and THC can likely see a bit of overlap when it comes to stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens.
THC and cannabis are never classified as opioids, but in many ways, the plant fits into the other three categories and may be considered a stimulant, depressant, and/or hallucinogen depending on specific factors.
Is THC a Stimulant?
Some cannabis strains and cultivars surely can be considered stimulants. Many cannabis strains and high-THC offerings may be more mellow and relaxing, it’s widely known that the other side of the THC and cannabis coin comes with feelings of energy and alertness.
Many strains are used for focus and attention, to give users a boost as they go about their day, and to generally lighten their mood.
And even looking at some of the less desirable effects of these more uplifting strains shows that THC and cannabis can be considered stimulants. These more heady, active strains may lead to increased heart rate and anxiety, especially those with high THC and little CBD.
Of course, weed affects everyone differently, so the same strain may offer a more mellow feeling for some and a more hyper, active feeling in others.
It’s also worth noting that, when compared to other stimulants, cannabis and THC is far safer and less risky. Amphetamines and cocaine, for example, can be highly addictive and have lasting effects on the brain and body. While we’re still learning more about cannabis and THC, developing a dependence tends to be more mental than physical, overdosing in a traditional sense is not possible, and side effects tend to be much milder when compared to these other drugs.
So, is THC a stimulant? It can be, yes.
Is THC a Depressant?
Many consumers use cannabis specifically to help treat insomnia, lessen anxiety, relieve pain and muscle tension, and achieve a sense of calm. Depressants slow brain function and affect the nervous system, and they also work to calm nerves and relax the body.
One could claim that cannabis is also a depressant, but the answer here isn’t quite so simple. Some of the chemicals in cannabis can act in the same ways as depressants, while others tend to be more stimulating or offer other effects in the body. Additionally, some strains may generally offer more depressant-like effects instead of resembling a stimulant.
While THC can offer effects similar to a depressant, CBD, CBN and other more sedating cannabinoids may be more in line with the depressant category overall. At high doses, these cannabinoids surely act as depressants, while they may act more like stimulants at low doses, especially depending on how much THC they are working with and specific strain qualities.
So, is cannabis as a whole a depressant? It can be. Is THC a depressant? It depends, largely on what other cannabinoids are at play along with the other compounds in the plant. But yes, cannabis and THC can have similar effects as depressants on the body.
Is THC a Hallucinogen?
Cannabis and THC can surely lead to hallucinogenic effects, though they typically manifest a bit differently and more mildly than other powerful hallucinogens, like a standard dose of MDMA or LSD.
The altered perception of reality that comes with cannabis and THC use is typically most in line with the hallucinogen classification. Think about being high and feeling a distorted sense of time, or going on a walk and feeling that all of the sights and sounds are hitting just a bit harder and differently than they would otherwise. Many like to get high on THC and listen to music, in that they may notice details they may normally not notice.
While all of these effects are more subtle, they are in line with hallucinogenic drugs. Typically, cannabis and THC users don’t experience visual hallucinations unless they are utilizing atypically high doses of THC. In fact, researchers are taking a closer look at the more psychedelic and hallucinogenic aspects of cannabis and THC as a more accessible potential option for psychedelic-assisted therapy, given some of this overlap.
So, THC and cannabis may have more subdued effects compared to other hallucinogenic drugs, though it’s safe to say they surely hold hallucinogen properties and can be classified as such.
So, How Do We Classify THC?
Ultimately, classifying THC and cannabis is a complex topic. Many experts and cannabis professionals simply deem that cannabis can fall into the stimulant, depressant, AND hallucinogen categories to varying degrees.
The effects of cannabis and THC also depend on the person, their body and physiology, along with the strain itself, other specific compounds (like terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids) it contains, and the dosage.
Part of what makes cannabis and its many compounds, like THC and CBD, so interesting and sought-after is its versatility. In the conversation of classifying cannabis, this sentiment rings true.
THC often acts as a stimulant, though a number of other factors may increase other effects, making it act as more of a depressant or even displaying some hallucinogenic attributes. Fortunately, we’re living in an age where access to information on cannabis and THC is only growing. If you’re looking to get specific effects out of cannabis, be sure to look into the variety of strains available, along with the cannabinoids and terpenes that may enhance those effects. Take it slow, and with some trial and error, you’ll likely find a number of great options to get you where you need to be!