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‘A tipping point’: Psychedelics, cannabis win big across the country on election night

As the nation awaits a final result from the presidential election, a clear winner emerged Tuesday: drugs.

Measures to legalize cannabis and decriminalize other drugs won major victories this week as five states — Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi — legalized some form of marijuana use and Oregon became the first state to make possession of small amounts of harder drugs, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, violations not punishable by jail time.

Voters in Oregon and Washington, D.C., also approved measures to allow for the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms, which are already being prescribed to help some terminally ill patients in Canada cope with pain and end-of-life anxiety.

“People are realizing it’s not just about getting high,” said Avis Bulbulyan, CEO of SIVA Enterprises, a cannabis business development and solutions firm based in Glendale, California, near Los Angeles. “This is a tipping point for drug policy absent any federal reform.”

On Tuesday, South Dakota became the first state whose voters approved both recreational and medical cannabis in the same election. Medicinal marijuana also was made legal in Mississippi. Meanwhile, New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational cannabis.

“Despite this public consensus, elected officials have far too often remained unresponsive to the legalization issue,” Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, said in a statement.

NORML has lobbied for the end of marijuana prohibitions since it was founded in 1970.

“These results once again illustrate that support for legalization extends across geographic and demographic lines,” Altieri said. “The success of these initiatives proves definitively that marijuana legalization is not exclusively a ‘blue’ state issue, but an issue that is supported by a majority of all Americans — regardless of party politics.”

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Just 10 years ago, recreational cannabis was illegal in all 50 states, but that started to change in 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. At the time, California, which has one of the biggest and oldest marijuana markets in the country, allowed only medicinal use of cannabis.

A domino effect followed, with several more states venturing into the medicinal markets, including Pennsylvania in 2016 and New York in 2014. Now, 15 states, two territories and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use, while 34 states and two territories allow medical marijuana.

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News MAP: See the states where marijuana is legal

“It’s fantastic to see this cannabis sweep,” said Stuart Titus, CEO of Medical Marijuana Inc., a hemp products company based in San Diego. “There is a tremendous momentum building. I think we’re right on the precipice of changing federal policy with so many states coming online.”

Despite the ballot initiatives, marijuana and other drugs remain illegal at the federal level. The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug akin to LSD, heroin and ecstasy.

In New Jersey, some advocates for cannabis legalization worry that the state ballot measure remains too murky and would not tackle social justice concerns surrounding the so-called war on drugs.

The question posed to voters appears simple at first glance: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?”

While the majority of voters said yes, the language would not necessarily decriminalize all adult-use cannabis. Instead, it would make only “a controlled form” of the plant legal, said Chris Goldstein, a regional organizer for NORML.

“New Jersey voters sent a message to the Legislature — they want prohibition to end,” he said. “They want people to stop getting arrested.”

The Legislature will now have to pass another measure to set up the new cannabis marketplace. Whether that will reduce marijuana arrests and convictions remains to be seen, Goldstein said.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s measure allows people convicted of certain cannabis crimes to seek expungement of their records. Arizona voters narrowly defeated a legal pot proposal in 2016.

Cannabis was not the only drug on the ballot.

In Oregon, voters approved Measure 110 to allow a person found in possession of small amounts of hard drugs to avoid jail time by paying a $100 fine or attending an addiction recovery center. The centers would be funded through tax revenue collected from the state’s legal cannabis program.

Separately, Oregon voters passed measures to decriminalize psychedelic drugs, as did voters in Washington, D.C.

In Washington, D.C., Initiative 81 will lower the enforcement priority for “entheogenic plants and fungi,” or psychedelic mushrooms and mescaline-containing cacti. The ballot measure would not legalize psychedelics in the nation’s capital.

Oregon, however, became the first state to legalize psilocybin, also called magic mushrooms.

Measure 109 calls for the manufacture and therapeutic use of psilocybin to treat patients with mental health disorders. Some research suggests that psilocybin, when ingested in small doses under supervised settings, can ease stress and induce feelings of happiness.

In one recent study, patients who were given a single dose of the psychedelic drug to ease depression and anxiety still felt its positive effects years later. The patients were given small amounts of psilocybin in 2016 to look at whether it could ease cancer-related anxiety and depression. Eighty percent of the patients said their symptoms faded.

“What is permanent is that I don’t have anxiety about cancer. Not only about my cancer returning, but how I viewed my reoccurrence when it did happen,” Dinah Bazer, who was diagnosed in March with a type of rare gastrointestinal cancer, said at the time.

Alicia Victoria Lozano is a Los Angeles-based digital reporter for NBC News.

'A tipping point': Psychedelics, cannabis and even harder drugs win big across the country on election night with voter-approved ballot measures in five states and D.C.

Is Weed a Depressant, Stimulant, or Hallucinogen?

What are the main drug types?

Drugs are categorized based on their effects and properties. Each one generally falls into one of four categories:

  • Depressants: These are drugs that slow down your brain function. Examples include alcohol, alprazolam (Xanax), and barbiturates.
  • Stimulants: These drugs elevate your mood and increase your alertness and energy. They’re usually highly addictive and can cause paranoia over time. Examples include cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription medications for ADHD.
  • Hallucinogens: This type of drug alters your perception of reality by changing the way the nerve cells in your brain communicate with each other. Examples include LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA.
  • Opiates: These are powerful painkillers that quickly produce feelings of euphoria. They’re highly addictive and can have lasting effects on your brain. Examples include heroin, morphine, and other prescription painkillers.

So, where does weed, otherwise known as marijuana, fall among these categories? The answer isn’t as tidy as you might think. Its effects can vary widely from person to person. In addition, distinct strains and types of weed can produce different effects.

As a result, weed can be classified as a depressant, stimulant, or hallucinogen, according to the University of Maryland. However, it’s never classified as an opiate.

Keep reading to learn more about what makes weed a depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogen.

Depressants affect your nervous system and slow brain function. Together, these actions can help to calm nerves and relax tense muscles. Depressants can help to treat several conditions, including insomnia, anxiety, or muscle spasms.

However, depressants can also have negative short-term effects, such as:

  • nausea
  • confusion
  • reduced motor coordination
  • low blood pressure
  • slowed breathing
  • slurred speech
  • lightheadedness
  • blurred vision
  • short-term memory loss
  • dizziness

Weed produces similar positive and negative effects, including:

  • relaxation
  • sleepiness
  • muscle relaxation
  • short-term memory loss
  • dizziness

While depressants are generally less addictive than other types of drugs, some of them, like barbiturates, carry a much higher risk. Over time, you can also develop a tolerance to depressants, including weed, meaning you need to use more of it to feel the effects that you used to feel.

You can also become dependent on weed for certain things. For example, if you use weed to help you sleep, you may eventually have trouble falling asleep without it.

In addition, smoking anything, whether it’s tobacco or weed, irritates your airways and can increase your risk of respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis or a chronic cough. Learn more about the effects of weed on your body.

Stimulants have the opposite effects that depressants do. They often increase your heart rate and blood pressure, causing rapid breathing in some people. Stimulants can also improve your mood, especially right after you take them.

While depressants often make you feel sleepy or relaxed, stimulants make you feel alert and energetic. They can also help to increase your attention span.

Stimulants can also have negative, and sometimes dangerous, effects, including:

  • increased body temperature
  • paranoia
  • irregular heart beat
  • anxiety
  • seizures
  • heart failure

Weed is sometimes treated as a stimulant because it can cause:

  • elevated moods
  • racing heartbeat
  • anxiety
  • paranoia

Remember, weed affects everyone differently. Some people might feel relaxed and at ease after using it, while others might feel highly alert or anxious.

Weed carries fewer risks than many other stimulants. For example, methamphetamine and cocaine are highly addictive drugs that can have lasting effects on both your brain and body.

As a stimulant, weed carries the same risks it does as a depressant. You can eventually become dependent on it for its mood-elevating effects, and smoking it can lead to respiratory issues.

Weed is perhaps most often stereotyped for its hallucinogenic effects. While hallucinations are possible, they happen rarely and don’t occur in all users. But the symptoms of weed, such as time distortion, are also part of a hallucination.

Hallucinogens are substances that alter your perception of reality, either through changes in your sensory perception or visual or auditory hallucinations.

Keep in mind that hallucinations and paranoia, which is associated with stimulants, are different things. While hallucinations are false perceptions of objects, events, or senses, paranoia involves a false idea that’s usually accompanied by suspicion.

For example, a hallucination might make you see the person walking in front of you as an animal. Paranoia, on the other hand, might make you think the person has been following you in order to harm you.

In addition to hallucinations, hallucinogens can also cause:

  • altered sense of time or space
  • loss of control over motor skills
  • increased heart rate
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • detachment from self or environment

Weed can have all of these additional effects, which is why many people and organizations classify it as a hallucinogen.

Over time, using hallucinogens can lead to speech problems, memory loss, anxiety, and depression. In rare cases, people may be left with psychosis, flashbacks, or a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder.

As a hallucinogen, weed doesn’t do this, but it may cause both anxiety and depression, though it can also relieve these symptoms in some people. Remember, you can also develop a tolerance to or dependence on weed, and smoking it can harm your respiratory system.

Is weed a depressant, a stimulant, or a hallucinogen? We’ll walk you through the different types of drugs as well as their effects and risks. You’ll learn why it’s difficult to place marijuana in a single category and how it behaves like each of these drug categories.