Stoned, Buzzed, High or Lit: How Nomenclature Impacts the Culture of Cannabis

Do you get “high” or do you “get medicated” like they say in the medical cannabis community? In cannabis culture, words hold their weight as much as they do in all levels of society. And as this underground culture becomes more mainstream with its legalization, the semantics of the language around it is beginning to change too.

You see, the weed lingo you use to describe your cannabis experience may say a lot about you. It defines your history with the plant and perhaps your generation or socioeconomic class.

The Language of Cannabis Culture

According to Vice´s Angus Harrison, if you use “pliff,” you probably consider yourself worldly. If you use “blunt” or “chronic” you are very serious about your cannabis. If you use “bud” you dabble in it. If you use “reefer” you are all about good vibes in small doses. If you use “ganga” you never ever use it. And if you use “grass,” you are a narc.

But aside from its never-ending list of cool and uncool slang, the most loaded topic in this culture right now is using the term “marijuana” over “cannabis.” It speaks volumes about someone’s social awareness about the plant´s history. Here, we´ll explain the difference.

Linguistic Semantics: the Marijuana vs. Cannabis Debate

Cannabis is the plant´s Latin genus name and that is how it was known for centuries in the Americas and Europe when it was prescribed as a cure-all medicine. According to Al Jazeera, large pharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly used cannabis in medicines to treat insomnia, migraines and rheumatism.

But when in the early part of the 20th century the anti drug movement began to grow strong, paranoid, and racist, cannabis became known “marijuana” in the press, a term that came from its connection to Mexican peasants migrating to U.S. border states with it.

The term marijuana was strategically adopted for its prohibition efforts by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics head Harry J. Anslinger. Analysts say Anslinger´s bigotry played a key role in placing social controls on immigrant populations and connecting cannabis to their recreational use of the plant. This way they could stigmatize the plant and distract from its medical benefits by calling it something foreign sounding like marijuana.

Anslinger was widely quoted saying: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

“Reefer,” on a side note, was a slang term associated with African-Americans, used during the early part of the 20th century.

The word ‘marijuana’ or ‘marihuana’ is an emotional, pejorative term that has played a key role in creating the negative stigma that still tragically clings to this holistic, herbal medicine.

Today’s Weed Lingo

The gradual return of “cannabis” into our lexicon is connected to its incredible medical benefits being studied worldwide. Dale Gieringer, the California state coordinator of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, told the Boston Globe that in his social circle, “Let’s get high” has been replaced by a semi facetious “Let’s medicate!”

And if you go to one of California’s most influential dispensaries webpage, Harborside Health Center, you will find this compelling argument of why to use cannabis over marijuana the next time you find yourself in conversation about it.

“The word ‘marijuana’ or ‘marihuana’ is an emotional, pejorative term that has played a key role in creating the negative stigma that still tragically clings to this holistic, herbal medicine,” it reads. “Most cannabis users recognize the ‘M word’ as offensive, once they learn its history. We prefer to use the word cannabis, because it is a respectful, scientific term that encompasses all the many different uses of the plant.”

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