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Cannabis vs Marijuana – Why Language Matters

cannabis marijuana
Written by Alexandra Hicks

After decades of confusion and vilification, society is now starting to gain a better understanding and appreciation for the cannabis plant.

We’re finally moving forward from the age of prohibition, a period marked by misinformation and general hysteria over a plant that people really just didn’t know very much about. It was during this time that the word “marijuana” was coined, a term used derogatorily by supporters of prohibition. As a matter of fact, “marijuana” was used with such frequency that even to this day, many people – even those who support the industry – say this instead of “cannabis”. Well, it’s completely incorrect and I’d like to take a few minutes to explain why.

Why “Marijuana” is Considered a Loaded Word

cannabis marijuana

Reefer Madness – an American film and one of the best known pieces of anti-cannabis propaganda

The word “marijuana” (originally spelled “marijhuana”) is not only demeaning towards the plant, but it also has some inherently racist connotations. This Spanish word was initially adopted in the early 1900s by the U.S. to reinforce the connection between “devil’s weed” and Mexican immigrants, who are said to be the first to introduce the plant to American society, although there is no evidence to back this up.

In the 1970s, the Nixon Administration changed the spelling to what we’re familiar with today, “marijuana” and prohibition supporters used it loosely. Journalist H.L. Mencken pointed out that there was no documented use of this word prior to 1894. Since then, “marijuana” became widely utilized and some people still aren’t aware of any other name for the cannabis plant.

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Why “Cannabis” is Correct

“Cannabis” is the botanical word for the plant. There are many casual nicknames such as pot, herb, reefer, ganja, etc., but cannabis is the only correct term. In recent years, perceptions of this plant have shifted tremendously. Cannabis has been legalized in multiple countries and U.S. states for both medical and recreational use, and research from all over the world is proving how beneficial it can be.

With this wave of positive publicity comes a dramatic change in vernacular as well. The word “cannabis” is being used with increased prevalence, putting a much more positive and professional spin on the plant. Just stop for a second and think about how uncommon it is to hear someone say, “marijuana industry”. Seriously, no one says that. The evolving language from marijuana to cannabis is helping to change social norms, business, and even legislation – maybe on a somewhat subconscious level but it’s a great improvement no less.

Cannabis Vs. Marijuana: Moving Forward

According to Dr. William C. Woodward from the legislative counsel for the American Medical Association, “There is nothing in the medicinal use of Cannabis that has any relation to Cannabis addiction. I use the word ‘Cannabis’ in preference to the word ‘marihuana,’ because cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products.”

He continued with, “The term ‘marijuana’ is a mongrel word that crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of Cannabis preparations for smoking . . . In other words, marijuana is not the correct term.”

We agree. And to be frank, legalization is best advanced using terminology that is correct and backed by science. Although it may not seem like a big deal, the words we use can have a direct or even subliminal effect on those who are listening, so it’s better to give them something correct and professional.

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.