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I recently read this Buzzfeed article after witnessing excessive drunk crying. It claims:

Unlike other forms of alcohol, tequila is not a depressant.

As a source, it quotes Esquire:

Tequila is not a depressant.

At least it's not borne out by our research. Seldom is the time that tequila has left any of us nodding off over our plate or head lolling back on the couch, as can happen all too easily from an equivalent number of martinis. Instead, we find our mood to be elevated by the proper application of good tequila. This may have something to do with the previous entry.

Is this true?

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A depressant slows down the Central Nervous System. Example: alcohol.

A stimulant speeds up the Central Nervous System. Example: nicotine.


Tequila contains alcohol, so logically it should be classified as a depressant... but, there goes a famous claim saying that:

Unlike other forms of alcohol, tequila is not a depressant.

In other words, it says that tequila is the only alcoholic drink that's a stimulant, not a depressant.

The problem with this claim is that:

Tequila is most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 proof), but can be produced between 31 and 55% alcohol content (62 and 110 proof).

Tequila's active ingredient is ethanol and ethanol is a known central nervous system depressant. As opposed to stimulating your brain, ethanol instead depresses it, causing lowers inhibitions and of course pleasure.

Furthermore, many people will argue that Tequila, a mix of alcohol and stimulants, has an overall effect which is not a depressant. This is FALSE.

Stimulants & Alcohol: A MASKING EFFECT When you mix alcohol with stimulants, the stimulants mask the effects of how your body is experiencing the alcohol. Depending on how much is consumed, over the course of however many hours, your Blood Alcohol Levels may feel inaccurate due to the fact the stimulants are interrupting the body’s natural ability to process the alcohol and send you the appropriate messages. (ref)

Now they spoke about the masking effect only, but how do we know the alcohol will not have an overall effect of which is not depressant?

In a post by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, has announced that mixing energy drinks (stimulants with a lot of caffeine) with alcohol (depressant) can lead to “wide-awake drunkenness,” where caffeine masks the feeling of drunkenness but does not decrease actual alcohol-related impairment.

Also, apparently there are no clinical studies supporting tequila as a stimulant and/or not depressant.

In addition, one popular myth that persists to this day, tequila does contain mescaline. Tequila is a kind of mezcal, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant. Since mezcal's name is similar to mescaline, people probably thought tequila contained mescaline, and they thought mescaline is a stimulant (there is a controversy about this also). Despite the similar name, mezcal does not contain mescaline.

Conclusion: While tequila is made from a different plant than alcohols, it still has between 31% and 55% of alcohol. And the fact that it has between 31% and 55% of alcohol (and the possible lack of clinical studies supporting Tequila as a stimulant), it is enough to disprove that myth. At very low doses, and for certain people, it can appear as a stimulant since it suppresses certain inhibitions, but it's not, like all alcohols, it depresses the central nervous system..

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    All liquours and alcoholic beverages come from different plants. Maybe you want to point that out. Like this it reads like tequila is special in this manner. Also, maybe we need to verify that tequila contains no stimulants? After all, there's plenty of alcohols which also contain stimulants. I don't see how anything with alcohol is a depressant, this is patently false. – Sklivvz Aug 12 '14 at 8:51
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    "there are no clinical studies existing that support" - how do you know that? – Oddthinking Aug 12 '14 at 10:31
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    "t also seems impossible that Tequila has a mix stimulants". Now this makes no sense :-/ It's very common for alcoholic drinks to mix stimulants and depressants -- or for that matter to mix all sorts of plants and extracts to obtain various effects. – Sklivvz Aug 12 '14 at 11:27
  • The percentage is irrelevant when studying toxicity – Sklivvz Aug 12 '14 at 12:09
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    In any case I think what is missing is "if tequila is 50% ethanol, what is in the other 50%? And what are the effect of those substances?". – nico Aug 12 '14 at 12:49
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Alcoholic beverages have depressant effects, as the claim states. Ordinary, modern tequila is a normal liquor in this respect - I wouldn't expect any strange effect, besides some possible placebo.

Tequila is obtained from the distillation of fermented juice of agave plant, Agave tequilana, to which up to 49% (w/v) of an adjunct sugar, mainly from cane or corn, could be added. Agave plants require from 8 to 12 years to mature and during all this time cleaning, pest control, and slacken of land are required to produce an initial raw material with the appropriate chemical composition for tequila production. Production process comprises four steps: cooking to hydrolyze inulin into fructose, milling to extract the sugars, fermentation with a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to convert the sugars into ethanol and organoleptic compounds, and, finally, a two-step distillation process. Maturation, if needed, is carried out in white oak barrels to obtain rested or aged tequila in 2 or 12 months, respectively.

Tequila production. Cedeño M., Critical reviews in biotechnology 1995;15(1):1-11. Review.

This other source also confirms that this is a myth and that other liquors exist made in different manner and with different similar plants, which is possibly the origin of the myth.

Several misconceptions prevail regarding tequila [...] Last, to some, the name mescal may suggest that these beverages contain mescaline or related psychotropic alkaloids, with the result that their intoxicating properties are significantly different from those of other spirits. In fact, such alkaloids originate from various cactus species (Nobel 1994). The special physiological responses may be due to higher level of alcohols other than ethanol in certain products, or simply the result of immoderate consumption.

Yeast communities in a natural tequila fermentation, Marc-André Lachance, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek August 1995, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 151-160

  • "Mescaline" mentioned in the quote is not "other liquors" implied/mentioned in your lead-in. – ChrisW Aug 14 '14 at 0:22
  • The argument quoted in the Yeast communities article seems to me to be, "If it were psychotropic it would be mescaline; but mescaline comes from a different plant (i.e. a cactus instead of an agave plant); therefore Tequila doesn't contain mescaline, therefore its only psychotropic ingredient is alcohol which is a depressant. I don't see why your answer isn't subject to the same criticism you made in this comment. – ChrisW Aug 14 '14 at 0:23
  • You are confusing mescal (another name for tequila) with mescaline, a psychotropic, and if you read the article you would see that "Yeast" is based the analysis of the contents of tequila, so they clearly say that based on evidence. – Sklivvz Aug 14 '14 at 0:27
  • I don't think I'm confusing them. The article seems to be alleging that the only reason why anyone thinks that tequila is a stimulant is because those people think that mescal == mescaline. I grant that mescal isn't mescaline, but don't see that as proof (ha ha) that tequila contains no other stimulant. – ChrisW Aug 14 '14 at 0:33
  • The first link regards tequila composition. It shows that it's made with fermented agave, sugar and water. The second specifically targets the fermentation of agave and also specifies that fermented agave does not produce mescaline or other psychoactives besides alcohols. It also speculates on the origin on the myth but that's merely interesting and not the core of this answer. – Sklivvz Aug 14 '14 at 0:39

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