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Cannabis, Ganja, Weed, Marijuana – Where Did It Get All of Its Names?

It doesn’t matter where in the world you’re from, you’ve got a name for it. This plant – cannabis, ganja, weed, marijuana – is the medicine with a variety of names. You might even be surprised by the history of some of the words you use to address marijuana. This article explores the different names for this plant and where they come from.

  • Cannabis
  • Marijuana—the name from the West
  • Ganja—Is not Rastafarian!
  • Pot—why is marijuana named after something we cook in?
  • A plethora of ways to love marijuana

Cannabis, Ganja, weed, marijuana—this mysterious plant has so many names that have become universal over the history of its use by human beings. But where did all of these names come from? Humans have been connected to marijuana for thousands of years and, as our love grew for this plant, we found a plethora of new names for it, an abundance of ways to express how much we love it.

The exploration into the history of its names gives us an insight into the culture of marijuana throughout the world and over time. In some parts of the world it has been most often referred to as cannabis, which is its scientific name, whereas in other parts of the world it has been given names of worship for its spiritual purposes.

Cannabis

Cannabis has become the most commonly used scientific name for marijuana. It is arguably the first name that was given to it also, appearing in ancient Greek texts as κάνναβις or kannabis. It is probably derived from the Latin word, cannabis, but first appeared in the ancient Greek texts of Herodotus. Despite the fact that the word cannabis has come to be the scientific name for it, the original mention of the word cannabis was in reference to recreational use.

In the texts, The Histories written by Herodotus in 440 BC, cannabis is mentioned as being used in steam baths to encourage relaxation and euphoria. It was mostly for a recreational purpose, rather than for medical purposes. However, there were mentions of its use medicinally in these texts in steam baths also.

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The word cannabis did not find its way into the Western culture until the mid-1500s, when it was first added to the Oxford dictionary. In the dictionary, cannabis meant the parts of the plant that could be “smoked, chewed, or drunk for their intoxicating or hallucinogenic properties.” It thereafter became the most commonly used scientific name, even in Western culture.

Marijuana—the name from the West

The most adored plant by human beings was mostly referred to as cannabis throughout the 19th century in America. The word cannabis was used in journals as a name for the medicine that they were using to treat a wide range of symptoms. The name marijuana did not become prevalent until after the Mexican revolution in the early 1900s, and in fact, was a Spanish word for another mixture of herbs.

Marijuana was never actually a name for the plant that we know it for today. It was a name for another mixture of herbs that was used in Mexico for other reasons. The mixture of herbs that was once referred to as marijuana was chewed, and it did not contain the cannabis plant at all. However, during the Mexican revolution, many were crossing the border into the United States with a lot of weed. Wanting to control the influx of weed coming into the country, the USA began their 100-year-long endeavour of prohibition. In their confusion, they called the plant marijuana, not realising that this was incorrect.

Since then, the word marijuana has become the most commonly used name for it in the West, and it has spread to Europe. Marijuana is basically a universal name for it now, with most people knowing what the word means.

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Ganja—Is not Rastafarian!

There is a common misconception that the word Ganja comes from Rastafari origins. The word Ganja comes from India, in fact, and the word resembles the name of their holy river, the Ganges. The word Ganja is a Sanskrit word for the Cannabis Sativa plant, a sacred plant that grows along the banks of the Ganges River. It is said that, because of the luscious cannabis sativa plants that grow along the holy riverbank, that it received the name Ganja.

The name Ganja actually refers to a preparation of the plant that is specific to India and is very potent. It was used for medicinal and spiritual purposes in India. It was often prepared as Bhang, a drinkable version of Ganja, which is prepared with a mixture of other herbs and consumed as a tea.

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Pot—why is marijuana named after something we cook in?

The word “pot” is a little bit of a mystery in the history of the names of this plant, because it is named after something culinary. It actually has nothing to do with anything culinary, and it wasn’t being used in the USA until after the 1930s. Again, this word is derived from the Spanish word potiguaya. Potiguaya is a word that is taken from the phrase, potación de guaya. This preparation of marijuana involved steeping marijuana buds in wine or brandy. The phrase potacion de guaya actually translations to the “drink of grief” and was used to relieve the people from grief.

Pot made its way to the USA around the 1930s, and since became a common slang word for marijuana. It is argued that the word weed came about almost in defiance of the word pot, making its way in around the ’70s or ’80s, possibly as a way for children to connect with a plant, without wanting to refer to it the same way their parents did. It makes sense, too, to call the plant weed, because it does in fact grow almost everywhere, and in a wide range of environmental conditions. It has also been a part of the culture of the human existence for an extremely long time.

A plethora of ways to love marijuana

All the different names have circulated around the world, to the point where it does not really matter which word you use. You will be understood. It seems that this is because people are happy to give the plant that they have loved for so long a plethora of names, many ways to adore it, and many pet names to show their love. It is fun to have so many ways to address marijuana, and different contexts in which to use the different words.

A plant that has so many uses, from economical and agricultural to a spiritual medicine, deserves a name for each of the occasions. All the different names for cannabis give an opportunity for people to connect with the plant in all the different ways that have become part of human culture.

Cannabis is known by many different names all over the world, but why are there so many names for just one plant? Read here to find out.

Cannabis Etymology: Names for Cannabis and Their Origins

As a plant of undeniable value to every culture that has encountered it, it is not surprising that local names for cannabis have arisen in many of the areas that its use has become established. With some of these names, it is possible to chart the spread of cannabis throughout the world.

We’ll explain the etymology of all the most commonly used words for cannabis, so let’s start with the one that we’re all familiar with:

Etymology of ‘Cannabis’

A Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word root for cannabis gave us many of our modern cognates, including cannabis itself. The word root is thought to be *kan(n)aB-. *B represents a *p or *b bilabial stop consonant (made by pressing the lips together to block the passage of air; p and b being the most common sounds)., As languages have evolved over the centuries, this root has given us a range of cognates for cannabis and hemp including the Czech “konopí”, the Hebrew “qannabbôs”, and the English “cannabis”.

There is still some debate regarding the etymological lineages of some modern names for cannabis and hemp. For example, it is not clear whether the Hebrew “qannabbôs” (and its possible precursor kanbos) are derived from the ancient Greek “kannabis” or vice versa. Undoubtedly, we derive the modern word cannabis directly from the Latin cannabis, which is in turn derived directly from Greek.

It is thought that the Greek “kannabis” (the earliest recorded term for the plant) was a direct transliteration of an identical Scythian or Thracian cognate, which may in turn have evolved from the Proto-Germanic *hanapiz, a compound of Finno-Ugric *kéne (hemp) and *piš (to burn; nettle). However, this is merely a hypothesis. Another holds that the etymology runs thus: Greek kannabis

Etymology Of ‘Hemp’

Much controversy surrounds the precise etymology of many modern words, due to the complex interactions between disparate populations over the last few thousand years, which in some cases have led to words being loaned back and forth until their exact origins have become obscured.

It is certainly difficult to trace the etymology of hemp and cannabis. Their uses are so varied and abundant that many related words have found their way into many different languages, describing different uses or forms of the plant. However, it is believed that the two words ultimately derive from the same PIE root.

The modern word hemp, as well as the Dutch word “hennep”, the German “Hanf” and the Scandinavian “hamp” or “hampa”, are believed to derive from the *hanap- root, which in turn derives from *hanapiz. The consonant shift from k- to h- corresponds with Grimm’s Law, otherwise known as the First Germanic Sound Shift, in which many voiced consonants including k- began to shift to voiceless ones such as h- (also denoted as x-, which in modern German is pronounced like the -ch in “Bach”).

Etymology of ‘Marijuana’

Marijuana, an obscure term prior to its popularisation by the U.S. campaign to prohibit cannabis in the 1920s and ’30s, may derive from the Nahuatl word “mallihuan”, meaning “prisoner”, although this may also be a case of coincidental homophony. It may also partly derive from the Spanish name “Maria Juana”, or “Mary Jane”.

This partly explains the emergence of various ritualistic practices linked to the Virgin Mary (Maria), such as the Doctrine of Santa Maria. This is a Brazilian religious group that ritualises the use of cannabis. Its development may also correspond to some degree to the introduction of the Chinese word “ma hua” (meaning “cannabis/hemp flowers”) to local vernacular as migrant workers were brought to the region.

However, the association between the two words may be much more ancient. Both marijuana and ma may derive from the Semitic consonant group mrr (most Semitic languages, including modern Hebrew, do not make use of vowels). The Chinese ma is thought to originate from the root mrj, pronounced *maraj or *mraj; the shared Semitic root is thought to have developed into the modern term marijuana via an Arabic loan word brought to Spain by the Moors.

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Etymology of ‘Weed’, ‘Pot’ and ‘Kush’

While it might be difficult to trace the etymology for some of cannabis’ more scientific names, the passage of slang terms is much easier to follow.

  1. The word “pot” has nothing to do with a cooking vessel. This nickname for cannabis comes from the Spanish “potación de guaya”, shortened to “potiguaya”, literally translating to the “drink of grief”. This beverage was brewed by steeping cannabis flowers in wine.
  2. The word “weed”, on the other hand, is likely to have emerged as a slang name in the 70s for young people to remain inconspicuous when talking about it. Naturally, the name probably comes from the fact that cannabis grows much like a weed in many parts of the world.
  3. Finally, “kush” is now a term that many people use when they are simply talking about good quality cannabis. Kush is actually the name of a mountain range in Pakistan, the place where the Hindu Kush strain originates. This is where the strain got its name, as well as from where the slang word “kush” entered modern-day, Western language.

Etymology of ‘Bhang’

The word “bhang”, as well as its various related cognates (Egyptian “banga”, Tamil “bangi”) is derived from the Sanskrit “bhanga”, which in turn is believed to be derived from the Hebrew “pannag” or “bannag” (p and b being largely interchangeable in Hebrew). The Sanskrit language is most closely related to the ancient Iranian languages Old Persian and Avestan, and it is believed that migrants from the north-west brought the term to India and Pakistan during the second millennium BCE.

In modern times, bhang and related terms for cannabis can be found throughout South Asia and much of Eastern and Southern Africa, as well as some areas in northern Africa. During the 10th to the 15th centuries, Arab, Asian and later Portuguese traders brought cannabis from Asia to East Africa, where it then spread throughout the continent by local traders and tribespeople.

In 1609, the Dominican priest Joao dos Santos described the practice of chewing cannabis leaves which South African locals referred to as ”bangue”, and from which an intoxicating drink of the same name was made.

Etymology of ‘Ganja’

Cannabis is known as “ganja” throughout much of the world, although the term originated in India. Ganja is a good example of a name that originated from one particular region and then spread elsewhere, as the cultural aspects of cannabis were exported along with the plant itself. Ganja may also ultimately derive from the same PIE root *kan(n)aB-, although if so, its passage into modern language occurred via different routes.

Ganja and related cognates (ganjari, gunja, kanchavu) are thought to derive from another Sanskrit term for cannabis, gañjya-, which may in turn have derived from a Sumerian word found on tablets dating back to at least 700 BCE, ganzigunnu, where ganzi- is cognate with ganja and -gunnu with qaneh or kunneh. The term ganzigunnu therefore neatly marries the Near Eastern word grouping with that of the Far East.

There is also some speculation that the word “ganja” is derived from the word “Ganga”, the Sanskrit name for the sacred Ganges river that runs through North India. In and around the Ganges, cannabis grows wild.

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Other words for cannabis

There are several other terms for cannabis which do not originate from the PIE root *kan(n)aB-, but which may have some shared ancestry or more recent affiliation—such as the Mexican Spanish marijuana and the Chinese ma.

There are few substances on the planet that have acquired as many nicknames as the cannabis plant. Its use is so deeply embedded in so many cultures that naturally, many different names emerged. Some of these names are names of worship while some are simply the product of etymological evolution.

Comments

5 thoughts on “Cannabis Etymology: Names for Cannabis and Their Origins”

Spain and France cut off Britain’s cannabis supplies so they could not support a navy. No cannabis, no canvas and no rope. So Queen Elizabeth’s many sons came up with a solution: they sent Sir Walter Raleigh to the New World to obtain millions of hemp seeds. Elizabeth then forced all citizens to buy the seeds, and forced all of them to farm it, even the ones in the cities. By law they could only sell their product to the State and they had to turn over most of their seeds too. Elizabeth was already growing cannabis in the medicinal portion of her “Tudor Garden” aka “POTAGER Garden”, because all the plants were grown in clay pots. She simply taught the city dwellers to grow in pots as well, from which we get our modern word “POT”.

I also think you should include the Sumerian word “shesh” which the Egyptians used as well. There are inscriptions of cannabis leaves in Egypt, but more importantly, the Kharsag Epics mention Shesh-Grain and these were concerned with the era around 5500 BCE.

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with best wishes,

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Over the ages, different cultures have coined different names for the cannabis plant. In this article we explore these terms and their etymological origins.