Main Drug Types: How Is Marijuana Categorized?


Over the last several decades, public perception of cannabis has drastically changed. At this point, there are 15 states that have legalized recreational marijuana and 33 that allow for the medicinal use of the drug.

Cannabis carries less stigma than it used to and legal in many places. For this reason, many Americans are considering trying cannabis for the first time.

Unfortunately, there can be a lot of misinformation about marijuana and the type of drug it is. In order to become more informed about cannabis, it’s a good idea to learn about the different drug types in general.

As you learn, marijuana categorization is a bit of a tricky business. Let’s dive in to the details help you understand this complex and fascinating plant.

What Are the Main Drug Types?

The properties and effects of drugs are used in order to categorize them. Typically, substances fall into one of four categories: depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, or opiates. Let’s take a look into the definition of each of these categories.


Depressants are drugs that slow down the function of your brain. Examples of depressants include alcohol, barbiturates, and alprazolam (Xanax).

The way depressants work is by affecting neurons in the central nervous system. This leads to symptoms such as:

  • Relaxation
  • Drowsiness
  • Anesthesia
  • Decreased inhibition
  • Sleep
  • Coma
  • Potentially even death

Some depressants are safer than others, and some have the potential to be addictive.

Even though central nervous system depressants are all able to reduce the amount of activity in the central nervous system and lower your brain’s awareness levels, the substances within this classification can vary greatly.

The symptoms that depressants are often used to help relieve are associated with a number of different conditions. These include depression, anxiety, seizures, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and insomnia.


Militants are substances that increase your energy and alertness as well as elevate your mood. These types of substances are typically very highly addictive and can also lead to paranoia over time. Examples of stimulants include methamphetamine, cocaine, and ADHD prescription medications.

Stimulants are technically psychoactive and are able to increase the amount of activity in your brain. Temporarily elevating awareness, mood, and alertness, some stimulants are perfectly legal and used around the world.

On the other hand, many stimulant drugs can be quite addicting. While there are many commonalities between different stimulants, they each have unique mechanisms of action and properties. The drugs that are considered stimulants include caffeine, methamphetamine, nicotine, cocaine, and prescription stimulants.

It might seem crazy that caffeine and methamphetamine are categorized as the same type of substance, but they are both technically stimulants. The most widely used psychoactive drugs in the entire world is caffeine, which can be found in coffee, cocoa, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate candy.

Nicotine is also widely used, considered to be one of the three most commonly used psychoactive drugs in the world.

Cocaine as a drug that is made from the leaves of the coca tree. It is a psychoactive drug that is illegal mostly everywhere.

During the late 1800s, cocaine was used as a therapeutic treatment but has since become a restricted substance because of its addictive properties. In modern times, cocaine is one of the most prevalent illegal drug studies used in the US.

Methamphetamine is often referred to as meth. This truck destroys tissue in the brain, can lead to brain damage, and is extremely addictive.

This drug was used in the 1950s and 1960s to help treat a number of medical conditions. In the 60s, it became popular to use the drug recreationally. These days, crystal meth is the most popular form of methamphetamine, which is a smokable form of crystallized methamphetamine.

The consequences of using methamphetamine are quite dire. People can become addicted and experience psychosis, memory loss, changes in brain structure and function, deficits in thinking and motor skills, aggressive or violent behavior, severe dental problems, and more.

Lastly, prescription stimulants are psychoactive drugs that affect both the autonomic nervous system and the central nervous system. Some of the negative effects of using prescription stimulants include insomnia, tremors, restlessness, vasoconstriction, tachycardia, loss of appetite, and agitation.

Prescription stimulants are also quite addictive. They were once used as obesity and weight loss treatment, but they are rarely used for that purpose today because of their addictive properties.

These days, physical and psychological disorders are treated with prescription stimulants, including narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Some of the common brand names of prescription stimulants include Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine.


Hallucinogens are drugs that change the way that your brain’s nerve cells communicate with each other. They, therefore, alter your perception of reality. Examples of hallucinogens include psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA.

These drugs can either be man-made or they might occur naturally in plants or mushrooms. Hallucinogens are generally divided into two different types, classic hallucinogens such as LSD or dissociative drugs like PCP.

At this point, it is not entirely clear to scientists and researchers how the effects of hallucinogens and dissociative drugs are produced. It is believed that classic hallucinogens affect the brain’s neural circuits involving serotonin. For dissociative drugs, it is thought that their physiological and psychological effects are caused by disrupting the glutamate system of the brain.


Opiates produce feelings of euphoria and are powerful painkillers. Taking opiates can have lasting effects on your brain and are highly addictive. Examples of updates include morphine, heroin, and prescription painkillers.

Unfortunately, the use of opiates and opioids is on the rise around the world. Therefore, and recent years, abuse and addiction to such substances have also been increasing.

The numbers regarding opioid prescriptions are quite disturbing. Even though the dispensing rate declined between 2012 and 2019 for the US, in 2019, there were enough opioid prescriptions given out in 5% of US counties for every single person in the county to have one.

Given these definitions, which marijuana categorization do you think is appropriate? There actually is not a very tidy answer to which category cannabis falls into. Because weed effects can vary so much between different people, and different strains can have very different effects, it does not simply fall cleanly into one of these categories.

According to the University of Maryland, marijuana can be classified as a stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogen. However, cannabis never falls into the classification of opiates.

Weed As a Depressant

Substances that slow brain function and affect your nervous system are depressants. This means that these drugs can relax tense muscles and calm nerves. There are a number of conditions that depressants are used to help treat, including anxiety, muscle spasms, or insomnia.

Depressants can also have a number of negative short-term effects. These include:

  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Produce motor control
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow breathing
  • Blurred vision
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Short-term memory loss

Marijuana can produce some similar effects to depressants both negatively and positively. Some of the effects that are produced by weed that are associated with depressants include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Relaxation
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Dizziness
  • Short-term memory loss

In general, depressants tend to be less addictive than the other categories of drugs. However, some depressants are actually very addictive, such as barbiturates. People can develop a tolerance to depressants over time, including cannabis, which means that it takes more of the substance to feel the same effects that you used to feel with less.

People also can become dependent on cannabis in certain situations. For example, some people might grow dependent on using marijuana to help them fall asleep. If they do this regularly enough, they might find that they have a very difficult time falling asleep without cannabis.

Weed As a Stimulant

Stimulants are basically the opposite of depressants. They typically increase your blood pressure and your heart rate and can sometimes cause rapid breathing. They also commonly help to improve your mood, particularly immediately after you use them.

Stimulants make people feel energetic and alert as opposed to depressants, which makes people feel relaxed or sleepy. Stimulants can also help to improve your attention span.

There are also a number of negative effects of stimulants that can sometimes be dangerous. These include:

  • Paranoia
  • Increased body temperature
  • Anxiety
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart failure
  • Seizures

The reason that cannabis is sometimes treated as a stimulant is that it can produce similar effects to stimulants, both positive and negative. These include:

  • Elevated mood
  • Anxiety
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Paranoia

In general, cannabis does not come along with as many risks as other stimulants do. For example, using drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine can lead a person to become highly addicted and can result in lasting health effects on both the body and the brain.

It is important to understand that everybody responds differently to cannabis. For some people, it might make them anxious and highly alert, while for others it might make them feel at ease and relax.

On top of that, there are countless different strains of marijuana, some of which might be known to be more relaxing and some of which may be known to be more stimulating.

Recently, delta-8-THC has been gaining popularity as a legal alternative in places where cannabis is illegal. You can learn more about the duration of a delta-8 high here.

Weed As a Hallucinogen

When people think about cannabis, perhaps I most often think about the potential for its hallucinogenic effects. However, hallucinations do not occur and all users and if they do, happen rarely. Some of the symptoms of using cannabis, though, are also part of hallucination, such as time distortion.

Your perception of reality is altered when you use hallucinogens. This occurs either through auditory or visual hallucinations or through changes in your sensory perception.

It’s important to understand that paranoia and hallucinations are not the same thing. Paranoia is when a person has a false idea that is typically accompanied by suspicion. On the other hand, hallucinations are when a person falsely proceeds events, objects, or senses.

Help you understand this distinction, here is an example. In cases of paranoia, you might become convinced that the person walking next to you is near you with the intention of harming you. In cases of hallucination, you might see the person walking next you in the form of an animal.

Hallucinogens do not only create hallucinations, though. They can also cause:

  • Loss of control over motor skills
  • Altered sense of time and space
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Detachment from the self or one’s environment
  • Dry mouth

Cannabis can similarly have all of these additional effects of hallucinogens. It is for this reason that many organizations and people will classify marijuana as a hallucinogen.

If people use hallucinogens frequently and over a long period of time, it can eventually lead to anxiety, memory loss, speech problems, and depression. Rarely, people might even experience flashbacks, psychosis, or hallucinogen persisting perception disorder.

These same long-term concerns are not necessarily applicable to cannabis. However, it is possible for chronic marijuana use to lead to depression and anxiety. Interestingly, though, it can also provide relief from depression and anxiety for some people.

The Different Drug Types: Cannabis Doesn’t Fit Neatly Into Any One Category

As you can see, marijuana categorization is not the easiest thing to do. Cannabis can produce a wide-ranging list of the effects and can impact different people differently. For some people, they might see weed as a stimulant while others might think of it as more of a depressant. Technically, cannabis can be classified as a hallucinogen, a stimulant, and a depressant.

Did you find this article on drug types interesting? If so, be sure to check out the rest of our blog for more fascinating and informative content!

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