When you hear the term marijuana you may not be aware that it is a very wide-reaching term for every product derived from the cannabis plant. The most common usage, however, is using marijuana to refer to the cultivated flowers of the female cannabis plant that have been harvested, dried, and then smoked. Many people may not realize that even though it seems innocuous, marijuana is one of the most widely-abused drugs in the US, and is right up there with alcohol and tobacco.
One of the reasons that attitudes towards marijuana have become so relaxed is that in many parts of the nation, dozens of states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and some have even legalized it for adult recreational use. Even in areas where it may not be fully legalized, marijuana possession has been decriminalized and much of the penalty measures reduced or eliminated. This has created the perfect environment for marijuana addiction and dependence to grow and flourish.
In many states, anyone with an ID can walk into a “dispensary” and buy marijuana and other products as easily as they shop for anything else. Now with the potential for marijuana addiction reaching into every corner of the nation, from small towns to big cities, it has become more important than ever to understand the effects of marijuana and the signs of potential addiction and dependence.
With the recent legislation allowing marijuana to be made into countless types of food, candy, butter, and even soda, it’s easier than ever to lure people into the tragic cycle of addiction. Many of those people may not even know what to expect from the effects of their marijuana, and have no idea how to tell if they may be addicted.
Is Marijuana a Depressant?: How It Impacts Your Mind & Body
Marijuana is not strictly considered a depressant, but it also is not considered a stimulant, or a hallucinogen. Marijuana does, however, exhibit traits from all of these categories of drugs. In this capacity, it acts a lot like alcohol, which depresses the nervous system while making the user more outgoing, boisterous, and less inhibited.
Marijuana is a psychoactive drug, also known as a mind-altering drug, which means it acts on the core functionality of the human brain. Marijuana is well-known for causing significant shifts in the user’s perception, consciousness and awareness, and even cognitive function.
The effects that are felt can vary tremendously from one person to the next, and even on the method of administration such as smoking or eating, and can include:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Sense of relaxation
- Feelings of anxiety
- Increased sensory perception, such as brighter colors, greater appreciation of music, tactile enhancement
- Increased sense of humor, often known as “the giggles”
- Changes in the perception of time, either feeling like time has passed slowly or quickly
- Boosted appetite, also known as “the munchies”
- Lowering blood pressure
- Raising blood pressure
- A slight reduction in heart rate
- A slight elevation in heart rate
- Vasodilation, or relaxing of the blood vessels
- Bronchodilation, or a relaxing and widening of the bronchial tubes in the airway
When marijuana is smoked, the effects may be felt relatively quickly since the THC passes the blood-brain barrier much faster. However, if the marijuana is eaten, it must first be digested before it is absorbed into the bloodstream. When marijuana is eaten though, some of the delta-9-THC is metabolized into 11-hydroxy-THC, which can increase the potency and duration of the effects.
The effects can also be relatively different for different users, since it binds to specific receptors in the brain, but is metabolized according to the user’s specific metabolic process. This means that even though one person might take it and feel very relaxed and at ease, maybe beginning a creative project, another user may try it and become uncomfortably anxious or panicky. Still another person may take it and lose their sense of time and alter their sense of spatial awareness, making them unable to safely drive.
Side-Effects of Depressants & Marijuana
While they are two different categories of drugs, they also have a significant amount of overlap in their side effects. Since marijuana can be administered in several ways and in countless forms, from the dried flowers to edibles, and even cutting-edge concentrates. Since smoking is the most common, it has the potential to have the most reported side effects.
Depressants can have a wide range of effects on many of the body’s systems, not just the brain. There are also different potential side effects based on the dosage and the potency of the depressants. While there are some similarities, there are also some significant and notable differences.
Side effects of marijuana can include:
- Throat irritation from smoking
- Stomach upset from eating marijuana edibles
- Difficulty gauging the passage of time
- Changes in mood and emotional stability
- Feelings of intense anxiety
- Feelings of panic
- Changes in the user’s perception of their senses
- Minor lapses in short term memory
- Hallucinations both visual and aural
- Reduction in coordination
- Reduction in response time
- Slowed body movement
- Challenges in problem-solving
Smaller doses of depressants can cause similar side effects, but also several that are quite different from marijuana. The side effects of taking small amounts of depressants include:
- Reduction in anxiety
- Artificially enhanced mood
- Reduction in inhibitions, possibly resulting in risky behavior that carries its own inherent risks
- Significant impairment of judgment
- Greatly increased risk of accident and injury from slower muscle movements
- Slow or shallow breathing
- Slowed reaction time in emergency situations
Since depressants significantly reduce the activity of the central nervous system, higher dosages or more frequent doses can have a devastating effect on the ability of the body to function normally. High doses of depressants can often cause:
- Stomach upset
- Impaired judgment
- Greatly reduced coordination, sometimes resulting in an inability to stand up or ambulate safely by themselves
- Irregular breathing, which can advance to depressive respiratory distress, and full respiratory failure
- Memory problems, including damaging the ability to create, store, and recall memories
- Blackouts while conscious, where the user is still mobile but has no control or recollection of the blackout
- Loss of consciousness, often accompanied by vomiting
Are You Addicted to Marijuana or Other Depressants?: How To Get Help For An Addiction
If you have recently tried marijuana, or have been using it for some time already, you may be wondering how you can tell if you are addicted to it or to depressants. There are a number of criteria that the DSM-V uses to officially diagnose a substance use disorder, and some of them are more common than you may think.
The criteria include:
- Cravings to use marijuana or depressants that occur when not currently experiencing the effects of the drugs, and not currently using them.
- Wanting to reduce or eliminate usage, but are unable to do so by themselves, often confiding in someone close to them that they have a desire to quit.
- Needing larger amounts or stronger forms of the marijuana or depressants in order to feel the same effects that they are used to, or using the same potency or amounts but taking them more frequently to prevent the effects from wearing off.
- Neglecting parts of your life that are not marijuana or depressant related, such as your job, education, personal relationships, and even familial or domestic responsibilities.
- Continuing to use or depressants even when it is clearly causing damage to relationships, causing problems dating, maintaining family relationships, and can even cause the destruction of those relationships.
- Using the drugs even when it may put you directly in danger, or when it is clearly causing physical harm.
- Neglecting or losing interest in activities that were once very important or greatly enjoyed, in favor of continuing to use. This can include things like cutting off social interactions or suddenly losing interest in beloved hobbies.
If you find yourself or someone close to you meeting several of these criteria, you may have built a dependence or addiction to marijuana or depressants. But the good news is that addiction doesn’t have to ruin your life, and by working with experienced addiction professionals you can take control of your life.
If you reach out today and start creating a confidential treatment plan, you can be in control of your own recovery. By working with experienced healthcare professionals you can complete your detox and withdrawal stage in a clean and safe environment, with adequate medical supervision. Not only does this allow you the ability to go at your own pace, but if any potential complications arise you will have expert medical care.
After the initial withdrawal stage, you can work with counselors and behavioral therapists to work on what triggers you to use, and how to manage those occasions. You can learn healthier ways to cope with the temptation to use, and what you can expect going forward. This will give you the strongest foundation possible for a long and successful recovery.