Why Is It Called Cannabis?

The term “cannabis” refers to a plant genus that includes several species, including sativa, indica and ruderalis. The term is believed to have originated from the ancient Greek word “kannabis,” which referred to hemp plants, a variety of cannabis sativa that is grown for its fiber and seeds.

With its basis in science, cannabis also increasingly is the term used to describe products from the cannabis plant, from rolled joints to cannabis tinctures.

Another factor in the shift away from using the term “marijuana” is the troubling use of the word as a way to attach cannabis use to immigrants. Anti-cannabis activists in the 1930s associated marijuana (often spelled “mahijuana”) to Mexican immigrants in an attempt to demonize cannabis use.

The Word ‘Cannabis’ Based in Science

Scientists now believe that people likely first used cannabis in Asia. One study found that 2,500 years ago,  people in central Asia burned the cannabis plant as part of a ritualistic funeral ceremony. The researchers found evidence of cannabis in char on wooden braziers uncovered in an ancient cemetery.

However, the term “cannabis” comes from the ancient Greek word “kannabis.” The Greeks did not associate “kannabis” with getting high but rather for its practical values. That same approach applies for many cannabis users today. Many use cannabis because of its potential therapeutic value, such as managing chronic pain or nausea.

Most scientific research and medical literature uses the term cannabis rather than marijuana or any slang names when referring to the plant genus and its various components, such as cannabinoids like THC and CBD.

The Use of Slam Terms for Cannabis

While cannabis has gained acceptance as the go-to term, people have called the plant by many different names throughout history. In addition to marijuana, people also often use the term “pot” or “weed.”

The wide variety of slang terms most likely happened because people were concerned about mentioning cannabis in front of others because it was illegal in the United States (and still is at the federal level).

The Drug Enforcement Agency famously produced a list years ago that claimed to contain names for cannabis that DEA agents heard while performing their jobs. It’s filled with amusing and strange names that the average person will never in a million years hear.

  • The Devil’s Lettuce
  • My Brother
  • Shoes
  • Alice B. Toklas
  • Bambalachacha
  • Burritos Verdes
  • Green Goblin
  • Queen Ann’s Lace
  • Smoochy Moochy Poochy

Those are just a few examples from a much longer and even more ridiculous list. As usual, the most-used slang comes from people who actually use cannabis. They include such well-known terms as Ganja, Herb, Mary Jane, Reefer, Grass, Bud, Chronic and 420. People also have many terms for a rolled cannabis joint. They include blunt, spliff, roach and doobie.

It is worth noting that the use of slang terms for cannabis can vary depending on the cultural and social context, and some people may consider some of these terms offensive or derogatory.

That’s yet another reason to make the switch to simply using the term cannabis.

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