It is totally unsurprising that some people find it difficult to navigate through the library of terms used for the cannabis plant. Different people, companies, businesses, and cultures use their own definitive language, making it almost impossible to know what they mean when they use one term instead of others.
Of course, these definitions may not be relevant for some people, but the aim is to pinpoint the most general understanding of them by the largest majority. There are a huge number of reasons for why one word has gained popularity over another and usually the use of a term comes down to politics, science, geography, and even popular culture.
In this article, not only will terms be defined, but also fleshed out, so that you can comfortably use them with more certainty. The point is to create a better understanding of the different terms used for the cannabis plant in both the virtual and real world, in no uncertain terms; if that’s even possible.
Cannabis is a genus of flower from the Cannabaceae plant family that includes Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Ruderalis. The word cannabis denotes the whole plant; leaves, stems, roots, flowers, etc.
Cannabis is the umbrella term used for cannabis plants coming from the Cannabaceae family, with no differentiation between plants used for their psychotropic effects, for their material or for medicinal uses. Other terms referring to cannabis include both hemp and marijuana.
The modern term cannabis is thought to have been derived directly from the latin word cannabis, which is postulated to have been taken from the greek kannabis. The Cannabaceae family originated in Central Asia and slowly spread through Africa and Southern Asia and then to Europe, due to its incredible plethora of uses and economic value. Many different cultures used the definition, maintaining the same term but with slight variations. Just some include:
A selection of our products
Previously, hemp was a broad term used for any plant in the Cannabaceae family, but is now primarily used for cannabis plants grown for their fibres, oils and seeds, and for its low amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is also being called industrial hemp in order to bypass laws pertaining to cannabis plants with more than 0.2% THC, which is illegal to cultivate in most countries, due to this psychotropic content.
Throughout history, hemp has been grown for a number of different applications, but primarily for its fibrous material. It was first utilised as paper in Central Asia circa 2800 BCE, but was also used for medicine, food, religious rituals, and coarse and strong textiles such as rope and fabric. During the 17th and 18th centuries in the United States, the growing of hemp was legally enforced in Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut for those with farming land, as it was considered a crucial crop.
Now, the definition of hemp pertains to its genetic makeup. In order for the cultivation of hemp to be legal, it must have low amounts of the psychoactive compound THC (in some countries, this must be less than 0.1%), and thus hemp usually contains much higher amounts of cannabidiol (CBD), compound that has been found to have incredibly potent therapeutic qualities. This distinction allows farmers to grow hemp for many different applications, but recently, the rise in popularity of CBD therapies has meant farmers are now, more than ever, cultivating high-CBD strains of hemp for medicinal purposes. These days, hemp is deemed a “safe word,” as it is primarily known for its non-psychotropic nature and thus has far less stigma attached to it.
Modern ‘hemp’ is thought to have been derived from the proto-germanic hanapiz, with its roots in the greek kannabis; which corresponds with the Grimm’s law (also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift). Grimm’s Law pertains to the voiced consonant shift where k shifted to the voiceless h (also denoted as x, which in modern german is pronounced like ch, as in Bach), where hanapiz would have first been pronounced kanapiz.
Other variations include:
Scandinavian: Hamp or Hampa
Marijuana is a relatively new term used for the cannabis plant, which has seen its fair share of stigma and taboo. It is generally used to differentiate between plants with higher amounts of the psychotropic compound THC and hemp that has less than 0.2% THC. In more recent years, some varieties of the cannabis plant have been cultivated specifically for higher amounts of THC for those looking to sell it for recreational purposes. When the term marijuana is used, it is to signify the plants specific, psychotropic nature, but in order to reedify this term, it is important to acknowledge that this particular term was used to negate the positive aspects of the plant and demonise it for political gain.
The term marijuana was brought to the fore by Harry J Aslinger’s, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to amplify his campaign for the war on drugs. During the 1930’s up until and during the 1960’s, Alsinger understood that targeting narcotics like heroin and cocaine alone wasn’t enough to cement him in his new position. So he made it his mission to eliminate all use of drugs in the U.S - including cannabis. In order to change the previously positive light that cannabis had as an agricultural crop, Aslinger reiterated hemp and cannabis to marijuana; the Latin American Spanish word for the plant. This, and Aslinger’s staunch propaganda against marijuana as a dangerous drug, further enabled stigma to infiltrate the minds of the American populace, allowing him to fabricate a need for the complete suppression of the cultivation and utilisation of the plant in any form.
It is widely understood that cannabis came to Latin America when Spanish settlers brought the plant over, in order to cultivate it for its strong fibres. The word marijuana itself may be derived from the Chinese word for hemp, Má, brought by Chinese coolie labourers to Western Mexico. One etymological study of marijuana suggests that,
This speculation was no doubt invited by the otherwise apparently coincidental presence of phonetic elements of Chinese expressions which refer to cannabis, such as ma hua, in the Mexican Spanish ma-ri-hua-na - Allan Piper, The mysterious origins of the word ‘Marihuana’
Early forms of the word in the US include Mariguan (1894), Marihuma (1905), Marihuano (1912), and Marihuana (1914).
Many other terms used for the cannabis plant exist today, due to its proliferation throughout the world as both agricultural and medicinal crops. Many slang terms used today denote not only the strain of cannabis but also the quality, the appearance and even the kind of high associated with the strain. Time.com has compiled a list of different terms for the cannabis plant, but suggests that the list will continue to evolve and adapt with time.