Marijuana tends to affect users differently, which leads people to wonder what exactly is the drug classification for marijuana? 

What Are the Effects of Marijuana?

Many people report pleasant euphoria and a sense of relaxation when they smoke marijuana. Other common effects include:

  • an increased sensory perception—brighter colors, for example
  • laughter,
  • altered sense of the passage of time, 
  • increased appetite.

Unpleasant Effects

Not everybody has pleasant experiences when using marijuana. Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some people feel:

  • anxiety, 
  • fear, 
  • distrust, 
  • panic. 

These effects are more likely when a person takes too much, the marijuana has a higher potency than expected, or the person is not experienced with it. People who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience sudden psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity.

These are temporary, unpleasant reactions and are different from longer-lasting psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. However, there may be a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders in vulnerable people.

Drug Classifications

Drugs are classified according to their effects and properties. Generally, each one falls into one of these four categories:

  • Depressants: Depressants are drugs that slow down your brain function. Some examples are alcohol, Xanax, and barbiturates.
  • Stimulants: These elevate your mood and increase your energy and alertness. They tend to be highly addictive. Examples are cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs for ADHD.
  • Hallucinogens: Hallucinogens alter your perception of reality by changing the way the nerve cells in your brain communicate. LSD and MDMA are examples.
  • Opiates: These are painkillers that rapidly produce feelings of euphoria. They are also very addictive and can have long-term effects on your brain. Examples are heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers.

Where Does Weed Fit In?

The answer to where marijuana fits in these categories is not as clear as you would think. The effects can vary greatly from person to person. And in addition to that, different strains and types of marijuana can produce different effects. 

As a result of this, and according to the University of Maryland, weed can be classified as:

Marijuana as a Depressant

Marijuana affects your nervous system and slows brain function, calming nerves and relaxing muscles. Over time, you can develop a tolerance, which means you keep needing to use more to get the initial effects. You can also become dependent.

Marijuana as a Stimulant

Stimulants have the opposite effect of depressants. They increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Weed is sometimes considered a stimulant because it can cause elevated moods and make you feel alert and energetic, especially right after using them. You can also become dependent on marijuana for the mood-elevating effects.

Marijuana as a Hallucinogen

Hallucinations are false perceptions of objects, events, or senses. Weed is often stereotyped for hallucinogenic effects. But while hallucinations are possible, they rarely occur and don’t happen in all users. However, the symptom of time distortion with marijuana is also part of a hallucination. 

So clearly, marijuana can have various psychological and physical effects that vary from person to person. It makes some people relaxed and sleepy, but it can also give other people an energy boost and increase alertness. It has also been used to treat mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. For other people, it can cause anxiety over time.

What are THC and CBD?

THC

THC is tetrahydrocannabinol, and it is the chemical responsible for most of the psychological effects of marijuana. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), it acts a lot like the cannabinoid chemicals naturally made by the body. The receptors for cannabinoid are located in certain areas of the brain. 

THC attaches to these receptors and activates them, which affects these areas of your brain:

  • Memory
  • Pleasure
  • Thinking
  • Concentration
  • Coordination
  • Sensory and time perception

CBD

CBD stands for cannabidiol, and it’s the second most active ingredient in marijuana. Although it is an essential part of medical marijuana, it is obtained directly from the hemp plant, a marijuana plant cousin. 

While CBD is one of the hundreds of marijuana parts, it does not cause a “high.” According to the World Health Organization, “…there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.” CBD is easy to get in most parts of the U.S. but its exact legal status is constantly changing.

How Does Marijuana Produce Its Effects?

When marijuana is smoked, THC, and other chemicals from the plant pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. They are then rapidly carried throughout the body to the brain. THC stimulates the cells in the brain to release dopamine which creates a euphoric feeling. These effects are felt more quickly when it is smoked. It also interferes with how information is processed in the hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for forming new memories. 

When cannabis is ingested in foods or beverages, the effects are delayed to some extent. Because the drug must pass through the digestive system, the effects usually appear after 30 minutes to an hour. Eating or drinking marijuana carries considerably less THC into the bloodstream than smoking an equal amount of the plant. Because of this delay, people may accidentally consume more THC than they intended.

Risks of Marijuana Use

The pleasant effects of marijuana make it a popular drug. Actually, it is considered one of the most commonly used illicit drugs in the world. However, the effects also worry mental health advocates. Some of the risks are:

  • Schizophrenia relapse–NIDA has reported that THC can cause a relapse in schizophrenic symptoms.
  • Defective motor skills–Using marijuana can impair driving or similar tasks for about three hours after consumption. In fact, it is the second-most common psychoactive substance found in drivers, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The most common is alcohol. People using medical marijuana are told not to drive until it has been shown that they can use it and conduct motor tasks successfully.
  • Hallucinations—THC can cause hallucinations, change your thinking, and cause delusions. The effects begin about 10 to 30 minutes after consumption and last about 2 hours. 
  • Anxiety—excessive uneasiness
  • Memory– recall issues

Risks for Younger Users

Using marijuana can cause long-term problems for younger people. Some of the side effects for younger people include:

  • Decrease in IQ
  • Memory loss
  • A decrease in cognition (ability to understand)

The University of Montreal published a study on almost 300 students who found that marijuana’s early use of marijuana can affect teens. People who start smoking marijuana at around age 14 do worse on some cognitive tests than non-smokers. They also have a higher school dropout rate. The ones that waited until around age 17 to start using the drug didn’t seem to have the same impairment.

Medicinal Uses for Marijuana

Marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 3,000 years. In early 2017, more than half of the United States had legalized the use of medical marijuana. Several states have legalized the drug for recreational use as well. 

THC can be removed from marijuana or synthesized, as in the case of the FDA-approved drug dronabinol. Dronabinol is used to treat or prevent nausea and vomiting typical with cancer medicines. Likewise, it is used to increase the appetites of people with AIDS, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

All Natural

Some people are claiming marijuana as a better drug than prescription pills because it is “all-natural.” However, that may not be completely true. Just because something is considered “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Poison ivy grows in the ground and is natural, but that 

Marijuana Edibles and Overdose

Foods containing THC, known as edibles, have become a problem in states that have legalized marijuana because of overdosing. Edibles can sometimes cause overdose because people often ingest a full serving of a cookie (or other edible) instead of a smaller amount. It is easier to swallow a whole cookie, and it’s more attractive to younger people or people who don’t want to inhale it in the form of smoke.

Edibles have extremely high potency. Because of this, when ingested in the gastrointestinal system, the drug can last longer and with more intensity. The effect from inhaling THC will last 45 minutes to a few hours, but edibles can last for 6 to 8 hours. Therefore, edibles are more likely to lead to a trip to the ER with an overdose.

How Does Cannabis Interact With Other Drugs?

For all practical purposes, all chemical compounds interact with other chemical compounds. Whether it’s over-the-counter drugs, prescription medication, or illicit substances, they interact, and it can be from mild to severe. For cannabis, most potential interactions that are known have been identified as relatively mild. The fact is, some drugs work together with cannabis favorably. Some of the interactions that have been studied are:

Marijuana with Blood Pressure Reducing Drugs

THC activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain at the same time. This causes a stress response in the cardiovascular system that can reduce blood flow in the arteries of the heart. This can multiply the effects of the medication.

Marijuana with Blood Thinners

THC and CBD may increase the effect of drugs used for blood thinning (warfarin or heparin), or drugs known to cause blood thinning (ibuprofen or naproxen, etc.). This happens possibly by slowing down the metabolism of these drugs.

Marijuana with Opioids

A study conducted by Dr. Donald Abrams of UC, San Francisco, concluded that cannabis could safely boost the pain-relieving effects of opioids. His team also found that treating patients with opioids and cannabis may allow for using lower doses of opioids. This will reduce the risk of dependence and cause fewer side effects.

Marijuana with Alcohol

Mixing any drug with alcohol is generally not a good idea. But there is no doubt that alcohol and cannabis are a popular combination. However, current studies can be interpreted negatively or positively.

In some research, there is evidence that alcohol increases blood THC levels (but there is no evidence that the reverse is true). And on the other hand, some studies suggest that people drink less alcohol when they use cannabis. These findings make sense when you consider that THC increases its effects through the use of alcohol, which means that you would need less alcohol.

However, you still need to be careful when using alcohol and cannabis for two reasons:

  1. The combination creates greater dangers when driving than either one alone.
  2. If a person has had too much to drink, to the point where they need to vomit to get rid of the toxins. Cannabis inhibits nausea and vomiting which puts the person at a greater risk of alcohol poisoning.

Marijuana with Sedatives

Cannabis with sedatives doesn’t seem to raise blood levels or increase the sedative action. Therefore, it’s not as risky as combining alcohol with sedatives, which can be fatal, but it is still risky. Better to avoid the combination.

Can You Get Addicted to Marijuana?

Yes, marijuana can lead to a stage of problem use known as marijuana use disorder. In severe cases, this takes the form of addiction. Recent studies imply that 30% of people who use marijuana may have some level of marijuana use disorder. Users who start before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a use disorder than adults. 

Marijuana use disorders are frequently connected to dependence—when a person feels withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug. Symptoms of withdrawal are at their worst in the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks. Symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cravings
  • Restlessness
  • Physical discomfort

Marijuana Addiction

Addiction occurs when the person can’t stop using the drug even though it interferes with many parts of the person’s life. Studies suggest that 9% of people who use marijuana will become addicted. This figure rises to about 17% for those who start using it during their teen years.

Is Treatment for Marijuana Addiction Available?

Although marijuana use disorders seem to be similar to other substance use disorders, the long-term outcomes may be less severe. Generally, adults seeking treatment for marijuana use have used marijuana nearly every day for more than ten years and have tried to quit more than six times. 

Additionally, adolescents with marijuana use disorders also often have other psychiatric disorders (dual diagnosis). They may also be addicted to other substances such as cocaine or alcohol. Treatments that have been successful include;

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management therapy
  • Motivational enhancement therapy

Medications for Treatment

The FDA has not approved any medications for the treatment of marijuana use disorder. Since sleep problems are common in marijuana withdrawal, some studies are looking at medications that help with sleep. Other chemicals that are being studied include nutritional supplements and chemicals called FAAH inhibitors that reduce withdrawal symptoms by slowing the body’s own cannabinoids’ breakdown.

A Place to Recover

If your relaxation method, pain relief, or recreation has turned into an addiction, you have no time to wait. Your life could be so much more than that. At Discovery Institute, we are well acquainted with these issues and have over 50 years of success at helping someone like you or someone close to you.

Make the first step and contact us now. Our evidence-based treatment has helped many people reclaim their lives and their futures. We have licensed professionals who are experienced in the treatment of substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions. Do it for yourself or someone you love.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.