When you search Wikipedia for a list of alternative names for cannabis, the list is long. I mean, it’s really long, including more than 80 “slang names”, and more that differentiate between high- and low-quality product. 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 2 long.
Since it would take weeks to delve into the origin of all these nicknames (and would probably be hugely enlightening and entertaining), I’ve decided to break this post up into a series on Cannabis Names (please, hold your applause). 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
The Name “Cannabis”
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 it’s 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 (which we will, below). 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)
Is that way more than you ever wanted to know about the dried buds you smoke to chill out? You’ve officially earned the right to watch a few cat videos.
On to etymology.
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 vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed.” Sounds like the first highs to me!
Other Names for Cannabis
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 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”.
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 more dense 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.
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!