Where Do Cannabis Names Come From?

Cannabis Names

When you search Wikipedia for a list of alternative cannabis names, the list is long. I mean, it’s really long, including more than 80 “slang names”, and more than differentiate between high- and low-quality products. There’s also a whole section for “cannabis cigarettes” in general, which includes classics like Joint and Doobie, as well as Pinner, Roach, Spliff, and Two long.

The Origin of Cannabis Names

Today, we’ll take a peek at the etymology of the separate species and cannabis itself, and we’ll move on to the other categories. Cannabis is the classic name for everyone’s favorite medicinal plant. Most people know marijuana was coined around the early 1900s along with the rise of all that bad press – “Reefer Madness” and so forth – and we’ll absolutely devote a post to that term and its recent fall in favor. But for now, let’s focus on our choice term for this plant. Cannabis is literally part of the full Latin name of the plant and is the Genus or the last classification before you get into species. For kicks, let’s see the full breakdown. FYI: a “clade” is a sort of sub-classification, and multiple clades can be nested within each other – yeah, I hadn’t heard of them, either. Basically, if you want to offer to write a blog post for us about cannabis clades, contact me. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

Kingdom: Plantae (just like all vegetation)
Clade 1: Angiosperms (flowering plants)
Clade 2: Eudicots (an “evolutionary divergence” of angiosperms, also known as dicots)
Clade 3: Rosids (a category of eudicots, which includes some 70,000 species)
Order: Rosales (which includes mulberry, elm, and rose)
Family: Cannabaceae (also in this family: the aphananthe tree from Madagascar, the nettle tree, the thorny elm, and hops)
Genus: Cannabis (the one and only)

The Etymology of Cannabis

Cannabis is from Greek (kannabis), of course, and is similar to the Persian word “kanab”. The same word seems to have inspired the English terms “canvas” and “hemp”, which makes sense when you consider that fabrics were often made from hemp. Unlike other English words that come out of descriptions of the item, it seems cannabis goes back far enough to be what the word has always meant. The term shows up in writings from 440 BCE, wherein the author lauds the effects of throwing the plant on the fire, saying it “gives out such a vapor as no Grecian vapor-bath can exceed.” That sounds like the first highs to me!

Other Names for Cannabis Species

These first examples aren’t slang but rather the scientific names of cannabis species. Most plants are known predominantly by their common name, with their scientific designation reserved for botanists and people who like getting blank looks, but in the case of marijuana, even those relatively new to the culture have heard at least two of these three terms:

  • Cannabis sativa: Cannabis sativa was classified in the mid-18th century by Carl Linnaeus, though obviously cannabis had already been in use for over 1000 years. Sativa strains are native to Europe and what was Eurasia and include industrial hemp. “Sativa” is the feminized form of the word Sativum, which is Latin for “cultivated”.
  • Cannabis indica: This species name describes the cannabis strains found by a dude named Jean-Baptiste Lamarck back in the late 1700s. He noticed the strains he found in India were shorters and denser than the previously known sativa. “Indica” is the ancient Greek and Latin version of India. So, all in all, not super creative on Lamarck’s part.
  • Cannabis ruderalis: Ruderalis is native to Russia and was found by a local botanist in the 1920s. The species is used to prompt the automatic flowering trait in all autoflowering cannabis seeds. You can learn more about this in our Auto-Flowering Cannabis Seeds article. “Ruderalis” is from Latin again; rudera means “rubble” or “rough piece of bronze”, and any plant that colonizes land after previous vegetation has been wiped out is called a ruderal species. In this case, I’d guess the botanist was referring to the harsh climate in which Ruderalis grows.

If you’ve reached this point you’re one of those people – like me – who finds etymology sort of fascinating. If you’ve skipped to the end to see if I’m wrapping up with anything interesting, that’s good too. Either way, be sure to hop over to our Cannabis Seeds page and pick out your favorite “kannabis” strain to start growing your own. It’s up to us to keep this ancient tradition alive, after all!

Cannabis Names Boil Down to Genealogy

Like our own names, some are unique simply because they strike significant meaning to our parents, while others are passed on from our grandparents or great-grandparents. Strain naming follows similar patterns; in other words, there really is no scientific rule for breeders to follow. Cannabis naming conventions are most commonly derived from a number of traits including a strain’s potential effect on patients, the country of origin, its unique aromas, combined genetic background, or simply a cannabis breeder’s sense of humor. Skunk, Lavender, and Chemdog for example were named after their unique aromas while others were named for icons of the cannabis community like Jack Herer and Willie Nelson. Orange Bang and Strawberry Tahoe achieve fruity flavors, thus earning their names which explain the flavors patients can expect when consumed.

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