The world’s favorite drugs come in all kinds of varieties. Some are uppers, some are downers, some simply send you sideways. Then there are club drugs. Opiates. Even glue can be a type of drug.

But what about marijuana? How exactly do we classify the second-most popular recreational substance? And what does that classification mean for users?

glass metal pipeWe’ll start by noting that illegal or otherwise “illicit” drugs generally come in four categories: depressants, stimulants, opiates, and psychedelics. There are others, including dissociative anesthetics such as PCP and ketamine, but the vast majority of recreational drugs fall into these categories. Marijuana is a psychedelic, but before we get to that, let’s explore the other groups.


Depressants:This class of drugs includes those that slow normal brain function and depress the central nervous system. They include alcohol, benzodiazepines (including Xanax and Valium), and highly potent barbiturates. Booze is the most commonly used of these substances, naturally, but benzodiazepine tranquilizers are also used very widely. Barbiturates are nearly impossible to find now, either on the legal or criminal markets.


heroin spoonOpiates: Though opiates also have depressant effects, they are classified separately. Among the most dangerous drugs in the world, opiates and their synthetic cousins, opioids, can be incredibly powerful, and they are extremely addictive. Heroin abuse has recently led to a soaring rate of overdose deaths in the United States.

These drugs work by inducing a strong blast of euphoria followed by a long feeling of calmness and well-being. Illegal heroin is the No. 1 choice for addicts, but legal opiates are prescribed more widely than almost any other drug, a fact that has contributed hugely to the addiction crisis. Common opiates include morphine, dilaudid, oxycodone (Percocet), and hydrocodone (Vicodin).


Stimulants: Cocaine, speed, and methamphetamine are all considered serious stimulants, or uppers. Each works somewhat differently, but the effects are similar: A blast of euphoric energy, reduced need for food or sleep, ability to focus intently, and physical symptoms such as sweating and racing heartbeat.

All powerful stimulants hold the power to kill, unlike marijuana, and they are all highly addictive. Speed was widely used in the mid-20th century before it was criminalized, but its relatively harmless reputation is misleading.


Psychedelic DrugsPsychedelics: These drugs are less about euphoria than alternate experiences. Most are hallucinogens, such as shrooms and LSD, but others are not. Marijuana, for its part, is classified simply as a psychedelic, not as a hallucinogen. Though hallucinations are not unheard of on pot, they’re decidedly rare. And this class of drugs is surprisingly safe. Though a “bad trip” – essentially a psychedelic panic attack – is always possible, almost no one overdoses on the most common hallucinogens.

That number is literally zero when it comes to marijuana. Mild as psychedelics go, it delivers a bit of euphoria, changes in perceptions of time and space, intense hunger, and often sleepiness. Short of a house fire or a car accident, the drug simply doesn’t kill. And as recreational chemicals go, that puts weed in a class all by itself.


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