Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on December 29, 2022

With the amount of history marijuana has, we truly know very little about it and its capabilities – starting from its botanical classification to its classification as a drug. Marijuana has been called many things, of which some have been true while others have not. Thankfully we’ve been discovering bits and pieces of its potential so we can someday paint a clear(er) picture.

One thing is for certain – if you’re a weed enthusiast, you know marijuana well. Still, to make things clearer, we’ll talk about what kind of plant marijuana is and how it’s classified botanically, legally, and as a drug.

What Kind of Plant Is the Cannabis Plant?

The Cannabis genus belongs to the Cannabaceae family and it’s thought to have originated in Asia. While its official classification is still a topic of many debates and can be somewhat controversial, so far, three different species have been recognized: Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis

The hot debate usually comes down to whether the three are actually subspecies of Cannabis Sativa or if Cannabis Sativa is, in fact, a single undivided species. The placement of Cannabis Ruderalis is also questioned as to whether it’s an independent species or if it belongs to the Cannabis Sativa category.

The cannabis plant contains hundreds of different compounds, of which the cannabinoids and terpenes are the most important bunch. There are over one hundred cannabinoids and terpenes each, but it’s the cannabinoids that produce the effects marijuana is known for and terpenes are “the helpers.”

THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid that gets you high, while CBD (cannabidiol) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has therapeutic benefits, but there are dozens more cannabinoids as well.

What Are the Effects of Marijuana?

Marijuana produces its effects through the cannabinoids which bind to the receptors of the endocannabinoid system, which is a cellular network responsible for maintaining inner balance in the body. Its receptors are located in various locations throughout the body, but they’re the most abundant in the central nervous system. Once the cannabinoids attach to the receptors, they temporarily modify their function which results in a temporary change of mood and behavior.

Recreational Effects

Marijuana is used recreationally when you want to kick back, relax, and enjoy yourself for a few hours. 

First things first, getting high is a different experience for everyone and it depends on your individual body chemistry as well as the strain you’re using. 

Regardless, most users will agree that the feeling of euphoria is the prototypical effect of a marijuana high and it’s directly caused by THC increasing the production of dopamine in the brain. Your sensory perception may also be enhanced where the sights, sounds, and smells around feel more intense, while the food tastes richer. 

Overall, deep relaxation and feelings of enjoyment and happiness are the common recreational effects that make marijuana so popular.

Health Effects

The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been on the rise this past decade or so. Medical marijuana is being legalized in more states in one form or the other and more people are able to experience its benefits. 

The medical use of marijuana is largely driven by CBD as an effective therapeutic agent, however, many people utilize the entirety of cannabis as the other compounds have their benefits as well.

The health effects of weed are numerous, as it can help with chronic pain, inflammation, nausea, appetite loss, insomnia, depression, and anxiety – and science is looking into more potential uses.

Side Effects

The side effects of marijuana are mostly caused by high doses of THC or of high sensitivity to even smaller amounts of THC. They usually last for a few hours until they start gradually subsiding as the overall effects wear off.

By far, the most common ones that can cause mild discomfort are dry mouth (cottonmouth), red eyes, increased hunger (the munchies), and some temporary short-term memory problems. 

The more intense side effects are almost always a result of overconsumption, and they are coordination and motor skills impairment, and experiencing increased heart rate, anxiety, and/or paranoia. 

Rarely, large doses of THC can induce psychosis, but this is more common in individuals who have genetic predispositions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana use in teenagers, whose brains are still in development, may cause negative long-term effects.

Depressant? Stimulant? Hallucinogen? How Is Marijuana Classified?

In general, drugs are classified on the basis of their effects on the body and their properties. There are four main groups or categories of drugs:

  • Depressants are drugs that calm down the nervous system and slow down brain function in order to reduce tension and relax you. Alcohol, barbiturates, and alprazolam (Xanax) fall in this category;
  • Stimulants increase your brain’s activity and they make you alert and more energetic. Since they target mood-boosting hormones, they can be highly addictive. Examples include cocaine, methamphetamine, and ADHD prescription meds;
  • Hallucinogens increase serotonin and influence the way the neurons in the brain communicate, resulting in hallucinogenic effects. Experiencing an altered perception of reality and heightened senses are common with these drugs. LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin fall in this category;
  • Opiates are powerful because they can quickly produce euphoria. They’re fast-acting painkillers that can be very addictive. Examples include heroin, morphine, and other prescription opioids.

That being said, where does marijuana belong in these categories? Well, since the effects of marijuana are far and wide, it can be classified as all, except opiates. Let us tell you why.

Marijuana Is All That

Marijuana has numerous active compounds in unique combinations spread against different species and strains, so no wonder it’s capable of producing many different effects. Add to that the unique body physiology that each person has, and you’ll understand why it’s hard to classify marijuana in just one category. Here’s the fact sheet:

  • ​Marijuana is a depressant because it can relax you and calm you down. CBD is known for its calming effects on anxiety, while the sedative effects of THC can be good at battling insomnia. Additionally, some terpenes in certain strains can be especially effective for relaxation;
  • Marijuana is a stimulant because some strains can feel like you’ve just had a shot of coffee. It can keep you alert and increase your creativity and focus, but it can also cause anxiety due to the stimulus;
  • Marijuana is a hallucinogen because it can cause a distorted perception of time as well as heightened senses, especially if high-THC strains are consumed in high doses. Actual hallucinations are possible, but not very common. Similarly, sometimes the hallucinogenic effects can border on paranoia, so caution is advised.

Schedule I Drug Since 1971

Marijuana has been illegal on a federal level since the 1970s when President Nixon started his “War on Drugs” campaign whose purpose was to put a stop to drug abuse. The campaign culminated with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act on May 1, 1971, which classified cannabis as a Schedule I drug, making cannabis use and cultivation punishable by law.

By definition, this legal classification refers to “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Other illicit drugs that are in this classification are heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, among others. 

Half a century later, the laws around marijuana have changed – many states have legalized its medicinal use, while in some, recreational marijuana is also legal. Additionally, with the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp with low concentrations of THC (below 0.3%) was also federally legalized. 

Still, marijuana remains illegal on a federal level, which means it’s still classified as a Schedule I drug and therefore still punishable by law. 

However, as more states alter their laws, it remains to be seen how this will affect the status of marijuana – a decision that’s up to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Conclusion – Marijuana Is Many Things

Marijuana can be classified as a lot of things because it can be used for many things. Many people like it for its recreational effects, but many others use it for its medical properties, too. The side effects are usually a result of high doses or sensitivity to THC. 

As a drug, marijuana can be classified as a depressant because it can relieve tension, as a stimulant because it can stimulate creativity and alertness, and as a hallucinogen because of its euphoric effects.

Legally, it’s been classified as a Schedule I drug since the 1970s, meaning that it’s considered illegal on a federal level, despite state laws changing in many states in recent years.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.