Is Marijuana a Depressant? Is Weed a Depressant?

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Is Marijuana a depressant?

Many people ask the question, “Is marijuana a depressant?” without actually knowing exactly what a “depressant” is.  So, what is a depressant?  A “depressant” is a fairly technical medical term that means a drug that slows down the rate that your nerves send signals to each other.  Depressants decrease brain activity in certain parts of the brain and, spoiler alert: marijuana is a depressant.  Follow-up question: Is it bad that weed is a depressant? (continued…)

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Is Weed a depressant?  Is that really what you want to know?

Most people who ask the question “is weed a depressant?” actually want to know whether marijuana causes depression.  If that is you, please click here: Does marijuana cause depression?


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Is Marijuana a depressant and what is a depressant anyhow?

The short answer is that, yes, marijuana is a depressant.  However, this does not mean that weed “causes” depression.  Not at all.  Let’s take a look at what a “depressant” actually is.

Marijuana is a depressant, but what is a depressant?

“Depressant” is short for “CNS depressant”.  The CNS is the central nervous system — so, basically, your brain and all the nerves in your body.  Depressants have a sedative or calming effect on the body.  They make us feel more tranquil.  Because of this, certain depressants are actually prescribed for sleep and anxiety disorders.  These include benzodiazapenes such as Valium, Xanax, Halcion, ProSom, and Clonazepam.  The “benzos” can be addictive over time.  I have heard mixed information on this.  Some doctors are extremely concerned about the potential addictive properties of them, while others believe that a regular low daily dose is unlikely to cause longterm ill effects. Alternatively, there are now many CBD oils that can be used, which don’t give you the high from marijuana, yet give you the benefits. CBD can be used as an alternative to traditional medicines and to marijuana itself.

is marijuana a depressant

Other prescription depressants are Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata.  These are said to have fewer potential addictive properties.  Also, barbiturates are prescription depressants.  These include Mebaral, Luminal Sodium, and Nembutal.  The latter are very serious medications — the possibility of accidental overdose is high, so they are usually just used in hospital settings.

Besides these tranquilizing depressants,  opioids are depressants.  And these are highly addictive as you may know.

Non-prescription depressants include alcohol.

In addition to all of these medications marijuana is a depressant too.  Many people who suffer from depression, but have anxiety also are prescribed some of the above medications along with anti-depressants, so the idea that a depressant causes major depressive disorder comes down to confusion over the meaning of the word “depressant”.

In the article “Does marijuana cause depression?” I discuss whether marijuana actually does cause depression.  The short answer is that it is not yet clear.

Some studies have shown that a higher percentage of marijuana users are depressed than people who do not use marijuana, but this still leaves a “chicken vs. egg” type of question.  Specifically, is it that taking marijuana causes depression?  Or is it that depressed people have a greater tendency than average to take marijuana to self-medicate?

Conclusion: So, is Marijuana a depressant?

Is weed a depressant?  Yes.  However, so are many other commonly used drugs and medications.  For example, alcohol is a depressant and opioids are depressants.  This does not mean it is to be used lightly, but it means that being a depressant is not necessarily bad in and of itself.

When people ask whether marijuana is a depressant, what people are often really wondering is: Does marijuana cause depression?

If what you really want to know is, “Is marijuana bad?” there is no easy answer.  Some people believe marijuana is very helpful for chronic pain and many other conditions. If someone is genetically prone to schizophrenia, some studies have shown that marijuana can trigger schizophrenia that might not otherwise have shown up.  That is extremely bad.  It seems to affect different people differently, and the frequency of use seems to have an impact.

There simply have not been enough studies for us to determine with certainty who marijuana is safe for and what dosage is appropriate.  However, marijuana is similar to alcohol in that, for some people, it is extremely bad — for example, some people cannot drink alcohol because it triggers alcholism — some are allergic to alcohol — etc.  But for most people, the occasional drink is one of life’s little pleasures.  One glass of red wine per day has even been shown to be healthy for those with heart conditions.  Similarly, we might in the future have studies to show that marijuana helps with depression and/or anxiety.  Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, although marijuana is a depressant, it does not necessarily cause depression.  In fact sometimes, for some people, it has been known to help, but there is simply not enough research yet to say one way or another.

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  1. Hey Rachelle! This is a very informative article! Good to now that although Marijuana is a depressant it does not cause depression.; but may be if someone is already addicted to Marijuana and suddenly has no access to it or may be deprived from it then may be that could cause him/her depression. 😉

  2. Interesting information.

    I’ve often heard of the benefits associated with marijuana, so this is a unique perspective and one that does intrigue me.

    I think future studies are going to uncover a lot about “weed” and that should be a telling factor one way or the other.

    As they say, anything in excess can be bad, and that certainly applies here!

  3. Genes are so important! I’ve had patients and known others who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder (with psychotic features) after smoking cannabis. Not only does the research point to increased risk of schizophrenia in genetically-susceptible individuals (as you pointed out), but it also points to the development of bipolar spectrum disorders if there is a family history of mood dysregulation. This research is extremely fascinating to me!

  4. I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression and psychotic features in 2010, I remember at the age of 15 up until i was 18 smoking weed and i used to hate it, I would get extremely Paranoid with lots of delusion i dont know if perhaps i had those mental issues growing on me but i believe it made it worst for me later in life. Just the other day i took a small hit, i knew i should not do it but when ahead anyway and the exact feeling of when i was in my teens came back. Mariguana is awfull at least to me. The only good thing i can find good its how hungry you get and how tasty the food is, aside from that is HELL to me.

    • Thank you for writing in. I am sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I really appreciate your point of view. This truly highlights the fact that marijuana does NOT have the same effects on everyone just as alcohol does not affect everyone the same way. And, similarly, a drug that is prescribed for one person and might save that person’s life might actually endanger or even kill another person. I know a few people for whom marijuana has provided profound relief when no other medication did. However, like most medications, there is a price to pay — their memory suffers, they are less sharp mathematically, etc. And, as you point out, even though marijuana might help SOME people who suffer from depression, it might trigger or exacerbate depression in other people.

      I think that, particularly teenagers, should be cautious when using marijuana (or, better yet, AVOID it altogether). Why? Because, although it does not seem like it, your teen brain is still developing. Your prefrontal cortex is not yet fully complete. It is not a wise time for experimentation with drugs although it is a time when many people choose to do so. (Sadly, this can sometimes be the “stress” in the diathesis stress that triggers a mental illness.)

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