Marijuana vs Cannabis: Why Language Matters

Mary Mart

Cannabis is the botanical word for a hemp plant derivative that’s been called by many names. Pot, herb, reefer, grass, ganja and Mary Jane are just a few of its numerous nicknames. However, the most popular term throughout recent years has been marijuana.

That word’s origins are linked with a Mexican word used for the plant in the early 1900s that was spelled and pronounced “mariguana.” This term evolved to marihuana and eventually to the modern spelling of marijuana. An exploration of the deeper meaning of the terms will help you better understand the differences of marijuana vs cannabis.

How “Marijuana” Became a Loaded Term

Language matters and the word marijuana has a lot of baggage and negative connotations. This is in part because a concerted effort was made beginning around 1930 in the U.S. to equate marijuana with all manner of social ills, including violence.

A biased, financially motivated and often racist campaign eventually succeeded in having the “Marihuana Tax Act” passed in 1937. Through propaganda and misinformation, public perception of the plant was effectively made quite negative, with little to no focus on its beneficial qualities.

The mid- to late 1960’s saw a surge in marijuana use and interest. Artists and musicians professed their love for the plant and its mind-expanding capacities. Along with this growth in popularity came the proliferation of a wide range of colorful descriptors for the plant. However, due to the laws against its use as well as prevailing judgmental views, all of these terms became tinged with negativity during this time, including the word marijuana.

A Focus on Medicinal Benefits

Now that marijuana is becoming legal for medical and recreational use in some U.S. states, perceptions of the plant are shifting nationwide. The growing list of proven health benefits of CBD (cannabidiol) is contributing to this change in public assessment.

With this sea change, the language around the plant it changing, too. The word “cannabis” is being used more often, and it marks a much more positive view of the plant. As the word cannabis replaces marijuana and other slang terms, it’s even helping to change business, social norms, the law and the government.

While the word cannabis isn’t new, it is promoting a connection to the medicinal aspects and benefits of the plant. It doesn’t have the mixed impressions or negative baggage of the word marijuana. The focus is shifting toward its legitimacy as a natural, herbal remedy that enhances well-being and quality of life for many people.

Changing Perceptions

For all of these reasons, the word cannabis is being favored increasingly in the industry. It is used in states that have legalized it as well as those looking to legalize it. The Liberal government of Canada, which is moving toward legalization, also favors the word cannabis.

Yes, it’s just a word – but words have power and energy. Those looking to shed decades of myths, misunderstandings and misinformation are grateful to have an alternative to the loaded terms of years gone by. Using the word cannabis could make all the difference in changing hearts and minds about this plant and its benefits.

What do you think about the history of the word “marijuana?” Do you use the term “marijuana” or “cannabis” more often?

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