Cannabis can be a hallucinogen, stimulant, or a depressant

Published Sep 17, 2022 09:00 a.m. ET
iStock / OlegMalyshev

It’s not uncommon for a group of friends to all consume the very same amounts and types of cannabis products only to find that each one reports an entirely unique experience. This phenomenon may leave one participant chilled and relaxed, another full of energy, while the rest land somewhere in the middle, and it’s a massive part of the appeal of cannabis, as each person is after a range of experiences that differ greatly from one to the next.

The sensations you achieve from using cannabis, depend on many factors including its chemical profile, cannabinoid composition, and the terpenes present in each cultivar. How your body processes and interacts with each element may also be the reason why you’re feeling so much different than everyone else who partakes. For some, high THC strains are invigorating and uplifting, while others experience a more sedated state of mind and body.

The 4 categories of substances

Mind-altering substances are typically divided into 4 primary categories, including hallucinogens, stimulants, depressants and opioids. Hallucinogens are known to alter one's sense of reality, stimulants generally leave you feeling energized while depressants leave consumers tired and ready to sleep. Each one triggers different effects due to the unique way they interact with the body and brain. Hallucinogen effects rely on the activation of 5-HT2A receptors to take hold, while stimulants speed up the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Depressants on the other hand interact with the GABA neurotransmitter, slowing down the central nervous system.

1. Cannabis as a hallucinogen

Hallucinogens are unique, and whether or not cannabis can be considered hallucinogenic is a hotly debated topic. Still, most recognize some of the plants' compounds like THC as a hallucinogen, AKA psychedelics, whose substances can influence the way you perceive the world, and how you’re feeling emotionally, and they can either inhibit or encourage thought processes, which is why so many creatives are well known for using these drugs for inspiration.

Other common hallucinogens include psilocybin, the primary active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and LSD.

Psychedelics don’t always make you hallucinate, but they can impact the body, increasing breathing rate and blood pressure instantly. They may also trigger paranoia or anxiety, particularly when taken in high doses. The hallucinogenic effects of cannabis are far less pronounced than others in this category. Still, some consumers report psychedelic experiences, especially while taking highly concentrated THC products.

Cultivars with hallucinogenic qualities

  • LSD
  • Super Lemon Haze
  • Trippy Gorilla

2. Cannabis as a stimulant

Stimulants speed up the functions of the central nervous system, which is how they make you feel more alert, awake, energetic and in some cases, even more confident. These substances are also known to cause physical changes such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, which may trigger nausea, discomfort, anxiety, or paranoia.

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One of the most popular stimulants in the world is caffeine, likely because it’s available just about everywhere, and legally. Other stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine are illegal controlled substances that may only be obtained on the black market.

Though it might be the opposite of what most assume when they think of cannabis, some of its compounds may also act as stimulants, leaving you more focused, with high levels of energy and increased focus. For those who experience these effects, it becomes natural to use cannabis prior to social engagements, tackling big work projects, or surviving an intense workout. THC is believed to be the primary cause of this result, though high THC strains often produce the opposite effect.

Cultivars with stimulant qualities

  • Green Crack
  • Sour Diesel
  • Durban Poison

3. Cannabis as a depressant

Most consumers use cannabis in hopes of feeling better, but it also holds the title of a depressant, thanks to the way that cannabinoids influence GABA activity. When GABA picks up the pace, the central nervous system slows right down, slowing the rate at which messages travel from the body to the brain and vice versa. Generally, depressants provide the opposite effects of stimulants, leaving some consumers feeling tired, while impacting basic functions such as coordination and concentration.

Other common depressants include benzodiazepines, and alcohol, along with many other illicit substances.

Cultivars with high concentrations of CBD compared to THC often provide a relaxing state of mind, as well as a sedated sensation, while those with uplifting terpenes, take the edge off of those effects.

Cultivars with depressant qualities

  • Cannatonic
  • Grandaddy Purple
  • OG Kush
Depression influences rates of cannabis consumption
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