The herb that plays a special role in a lot of people’s lives has so many names – cannabis, marijuana, ganja, weed – but where did all the names come from? Maybe people were looking for more ways to express their love to a plant that has been present throughout most of human history.
Actually, the truth is that most of these names (with the exception of cannabis) are modern names for the plant. Although mostly referred to as cannabis, its scientific name, cultures over the years have renamed the plant different things for different reasons.
Marijuana – the word from the West
Throughout the 19th century, Cannabis was the most commonly used word for the plant in America. US Scientific Journals from that time refer to the plant as cannabis, a medicine they used once for treating a wide range of symptoms.
The word itself is actually taken from Mexican Spanish. But it was never a name for the plant that you smoke today. It was the name of another mixture of herbs that the Mexicans used for other reasons. However, when the Mexican revolution occurred and many were traveling to the USA, many were coming with loads of the herb. As a result, the American government began their 100-year relationship with prohibition. They passed their first bill in 1913 for the criminalization of the locoweed.
In their fit of rage, they called the plant “marijuana”, and that became the Western name for the plant. Most Americans came to know the plant as marijuana, and the word became prevalent in other parts of the world like Europe.
This is probably the first name given to the plant. The term is first coined somewhere around 440 BC in Ancient Greek as kánnabis. The word was used in reference to recreational cannabis usage, where Herodotus wrote about cannabis steam baths in “The Histories”.
Since its first sighting almost 450 years before the birth of Christ, the plant has always been referenced to use recreationally or medicinally.
The word “cannabis” is first coined in English somewhere around the mid-1500s in the Oxford dictionary, and thereafter became the scientific name for the common hemp plant.
Despite popular misconception, Ganja is not a Rastafarian word! The word is in fact Sanksrit, and originated as an Indian word for the common strain, cannabis sativa. Not surprisingly, it was also used as an intoxicant.
Some people believe that the Indians named the Ganges after their sacred Ganja, because of all the beautiful herb that grows right on the riverbanks.
However, the word in Sanskrit refers to a very potent preparation of the cannabis sativa strain, and not your regular herbal mix.
Weed and Pot
Pot was a word used more in the 70s and earlier and is also really controversial in terms of its origins. Most people think that the word has something to do with culinary tools. But in fact, the word “pot” was related to the Spanish potiguaya . Potiguaya is a kind of mulled wine in which marijuana buds have been steeped. This is probably the most likely true origin for the word, although most people wouldn’t know it.
“Weed” is the newest word for the plant, and came up probably in the late 80s or early 90s. A weed is, of course, something that grows in the wild and under harsh conditions. Basically, something that grows most anywhere. It seems like an appropriate name to give the plant, given that it grows all over the world, and has been a part of the culture for most of our existence.
The younger generation were probably stepping away from their parents “pot” use, and coined the lexicon “weed” as the new-age word.
There are so many different names for this beautiful plant. The range of different names is probably an expression of all the different ways people were looking for to praise it. Used by so many different cultures and in all parts of the world, it has been appreciated by so many people. And everyone is always looking for a pet name for their one true love!
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