Is Tequila a Stimulant or Depressant?

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A quick search online will show you that there is a common myth that the popular liquor tequila is a stimulant rather than a depressant. However, it is simply that – a myth. Though you may have anecdotal evidence that says otherwise (like a friend’s or your behavior after a few shots), tequila is alcohol and alcohol is a depressant. While it may seem to boost mood and energy at first, it’s likely that the way tequila is typically consumed, in shots, has more to do with the perpetuation of the myth than anything else. 

What is Tequila? 

Tequila is a distilled liquor that is made from the fermented juices of the Weber blue agave plant. It’s one of the most popular spirits worldwide but is most commonly consumed in the United States and Mexico. There are various ways that tequila is consumed, including in cocktails like the margarita, but drinking it in shots is what it’s most known for. Tequila is a unique type of liquor in that it can only be produced in specific parts of Mexico to be considered a true tequila. 

The Weber blue agave plant (Agave tequilana) is a member of the lily family. It looks similar to an aloe vera plant but is much larger and it has sharp barbs on the tips. The agave plant can be harvested after seven to ten years of growth. As the plant grows, it produces a bulb underground that looks like a white pineapple, called a piña (the Spanish word for pineapple). At harvest, the plant’s leaves are removed, and the piña is quartered. The pieces are slowly baked until the starches within are converted to sugar. The baked agave pieces are then crushed, and the juices extracted, to which yeast is added for fermentation. This converts the sugar into alcohol. 

There are five different types of tequila that vary based on where the agave is grown and how they are finished. Clear tequilas, called blanco tequila, are unaged and the purest. Gold tequilas are also unaged but are mixed with caramel or other additives. Reposado (rested, in Spanish) tequilas are aged for at least two months, often three to nine months, in wood casks. Añejo (old) tequilas are aged for 18 months to three years in oak barrels or used bourbon barrels. The fifth, and most recent, type of tequila to hit the shelves is designated extra-añejo. This tequila is aged for over three years in oak barrels, making it extra old. 

You may have also heard about mezcal being related to tequila. It’s a distilled spirit that is also made from the agave plant. Technically speaking, tequila is a type of mezcal, but the reverse isn’t always true – not all mezcals are tequila. This is much like how scotch and bourbon are both types of whiskey. The main difference between tequila and mezcal is how the agave is processed. With mezcal, it’s traditional to bake the piñas in earthen pits. 

Why is Tequila a Depressant? 

Despite the fact that you may have seen people drinking tequila get raucous and overly-energetic, it is a depressant. This is because it is a form of alcohol, or ethanol, which is the same intoxicating ingredient in wine, beer, and other liquors. The alcohol molecule is the same in all types of alcoholic drinks. 

You may see it implied that there is something about tequila that makes people act differently that when they have a few beers or drink wine. This just isn’t true, the alcohol in beer, wine, and tequila all affect the brain in the same way. However, how you drink these beverages can play a huge part in how you behave. For example, when someone drinks tequila it’s often in the form of shots, taken in a fairly short succession, but when someone has wine, it’s often sipped over time as means to relax. 

Tequila Effects – How Strong is Tequila? 

Ethanol depresses the central nervous system, which means that it has a calming or sleep-inducing effect. However, the effects that you feel depend on the amount you consume as well as the situation you are in. When you drink in smaller amounts, alcohol can have a euphoric effect. 

Tequila, which is often associated with heavy binge drinking, has developed a reputation for making any occasion more rowdy and wild. If you are having tequila in cocktails, it may also be the amount of sugar in the mixer that spikes your blood sugar levels which also alter your mood. 

Tequilas usually have 38 to 40 percent alcohol content, which is 76 to 80 proof. This is similar to other types of liquor, such as vodka and whiskey. 

Is Tequila Good for You? 

Whether tequila is good for you or not depends on who you ask. There have been studies done to try to determine this, both scientific and pseudoscientific. Some say that tequila is effective for everything from weight loss to increased bone strength. However, there isn’t any definitive proof that tequila is good for you, and there are health risks that, in fact, prove the opposite. The biggest health risk being alcohol addiction which can cause all kinds of problems – physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally. 

Doctors tend to agree that no one should drink tequila for the health benefits they think they will get from it. Instead, they should eat a healthy diet, exercise, and drink in moderation. Moderation is considered to be one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. In this recommendation, a drink is defined as a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor, or a cocktail that contains a total of 1.5 ounces of liquor. 

Tequila vs. Vodka

Vodka is a clear, distilled liquor that originated in Russia and Poland, but has become the top-selling liquor in the U.S. for many years. Vodka is made traditionally with potatoes, though it’s now common for it to be made from grains like wheat or rye. You may also find some vodkas that are made with rice, corn, fruit, or just straight sugar. 

Vodka is made by mixing the starch or grain with yeast for fermentation. The resulting liquid that’s produced is about 16 percent alcohol content, or 32 proof. That isn’t high enough to be considered a spirit, so the liquid then goes through a distillation process to bring it up to 40 percent alcohol content, or 80 proof. 

There are some major differences between tequila and vodka, though they are both distilled spirits: 

  • Tequila is made from the blue agave plant and vodka is made from a starch or sugar rich plant. 
  • Tequila is distilled into five different types, while vodka only has one form.
  • Tequila has varied taste and vodka doesn’t.
  • Vodka is consumed more in the U.S. than tequila. 
  • Tequila is more expensive than vodka. 

Final Thoughts

Drinking any alcohol excessively, including tequila, can lead to serious health problems. Even overindulging occasionally can have negative effects. Alcohol is inflammatory, which means it can cause digestive problems and nervous system issues. It can also impact your blood sugar and increase the risks of mouth, colon, and breast cancer. Drinking too much may also lead to alcoholism, which can be devastating for you, your friends, and family. 

If you choose to drink tequila, do so responsibly and in moderation.

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