Is Marijuana a Stimulant? How Marijuana Impacts the Body

Is Marijuana a Stimulant? How Marijuana Impacts the Body

Marijuana most often refers to the dried and cured leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. These dried flowers are generally shredded or ground up and smoked in a hand-rolled cigarette or in a pipe. Marijuana is the most widely abused drug in our country, aside from tobacco and alcohol. 

With the recent changes in legislation in many states, the potential for marijuana addiction is at an all-time high. Shops called “dispensaries” seem to be opening everywhere. Inside, they offer a variety of dried marijuana flowers, and even food products made with marijuana. These are called “edibles” and can be dangerously potent for many users unfamiliar with their powerful effects. 

Is Marijuana a Stimulant?

A stimulant is a drug that noticeably speeds up the user’s bodily systems, in particular the central nervous system, made up of the brain and the spinal cord. The central nervous system is the network that allows your brain to communicate all of the other systems and parts of the body. They typically act on several neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, and those are major components in the parts of the brain that manage focus, attention, mood, and emotion.

While in the strictest sense of the word, marijuana is not generally considered a stimulant, it does have several effects that are noted as being similar to stimulants. It can speed up the user’s heart rate to sometimes uncomfortable and even dangerous levels, even to the point of causing heart failure. It can cause severe paranoia and panic attacks, as well as create intense feelings of anxiety. Another side-effect it has in common with other stimulants is the feeling of euphoria.

This euphoric high is often what is referenced when marijuana is placed into the stimulant category since it does so by acting on the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is incredibly similar to other popular and common stimulants caffeine and nicotine, as well as illicit stimulants cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine. 

In a rather stark contrast from other stimulants, however, marijuana is associated with fewer overall risks, such as the incredibly addictive nature and severe, painful, and sometimes even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms of harsher stimulants like cocaine and meth.

How Is Marijuana Able to Impact the Body as a Stimulant?

The significant negative effects that the body suffers after using marijuana can affect long-time users as well as those who only started using recently. When a user takes marijuana, it first causes a very large dopamine release, which is felt quickly as the “high” that users report. This dopamine also provides an extremely powerful motivation and reward cycle for the user.

Many users report a relaxing feeling, but there is a large portion of users who experience severe anxiety, paranoia, racing heart, and panic attacks. This can mean serious potential health effects if in an emergency situation. The impact on marijuana users’ critical thinking and problem-solving are noted and measurable, so any scenario where quick thinking is needed may be one where the user is at a disadvantage.

Some of the effects suffered by chronic or long-term users can be quite serious. There has been some initial research that shows that heavy users or long-term users demonstrated a lower immune response in tests. This could indicate that heavier users may statistically be at an increased risk due to immune system depression since that would allow bacteria, viruses, and other infectious pathogens to take hold more easily.

Another side-effect of the chronic and heavy use scenarios is the lingering cough, particularly a phlegmy cough. This is frequently accompanied by airway and lung irritation, as well as chronic or persistent bronchitis, usually attributed to the smoking of marijuana. These same users often show difficulty in creating short-term memories at times. This is believed to happen in part due to the effect that the primary psychoactive compound, THC, has on the hippocampus which is the area of the brain that aids in memory creation.

One of the many dangerous effects of marijuana addiction, whether by short-term or new users or by long-term chronic or high volume users, is the negative effect on the user’s judgment and decision-making capabilities. The decline in responsible judgment often leads to extremely hazardous or dangerous situations. The users often do not feel any impairment serious enough to prevent them from driving a car or operating dangerous machinery, so they may become a liability in that respect. The probability for negligence is quite high when this lack of effective judgment is combined with a powerful release of dopamine. 

What To Do if Addicted to Marijuana Because It is a Stimulant

With so many states and jurisdictions now legalizing marijuana for medical and even recreational use, it is not uncommon to recognize the signs of addiction in yourself or someone close to you. One of the most important things for the user to know is that there is support and help for them and that they are not alone. There is a wealth of resources that can be used to aid in a successful recovery. These can include:

  • Let someone know, who you can trust – When you place your trust in a loved one or a close friend to help with the addiction you are dealing with, you gain one of the most powerful allies possible in your quest for sobriety. They can help build the support network for the user, which is an absolutely vital part of recovery. Many times, when relapse happens, it is because the user tries to shoulder the burden themselves, choosing to go it alone.
  • Get professional medical help – When dealing with withdrawals from using marijuana as a stimulant, there is an incredibly wide variety of treatment options. These can include working with a local facility that can offer inpatient as well as flexible outpatient treatment plans that are tailored to each individual’s needs. There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help from those who are more experienced than yourself.

Inpatient rehab is the most effective way to ensure long-term sobriety as it sets the individual on a path of emotional and physical healing from drug-use. If you are suffering from an addiction, understand that reaching out for help is the greatest sign of strength, not weakness. Please reach out today so that you can be on the path to a better, more fulfilling future free from addiction right now.