The differences between marijuana, cannabis and hemp should be clarified. Cannabis is the genus of plant, so all hemp and marijuana varieties are a type of cannabis. Hemp is reserved solely for cannabis plants containing little-to-no THC (less than 0.3%), meaning that smoking hemp will not ever get you high. Hemp plants are a heavily selectively bred variety of the cannabis sativa species and have more industrial purposes, such as use in creating rope, biofuel, clothing and much more. They can also grow up to 4 meters tall, which a marijuana plant could never reach. Marijuana is the term used to describe the psychotropic varieties of cannabis, which include cannabis sativa and cannabis indica species, and contain a fair amount of THC and CBD. To recap, cannabis is the overall species, hemp is for industrial use and marijuana is to get high.
The word “cannabis” saw its first origins in the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian words qunubu and qunnabu, a word meaning “a way to produce smoke,” suggesting its use as a recreational substance. Ancient Semitic groups trading with these cultures began referring to the plant as kaneh-bosem, a component of biblical holy anointing oil according to Exodus 30:22-30. Separately, qunubu would be adopted by the Scythians of modern-day eastern Iran and the Thracians of eastern Europe, eventually evolving into the Persian kanab and the Greek kánnabis. Qunnabu and kánnabis would mesh with kaneh-bosem into the Hebrew qannabōs. Cannabis would become its Latin counterpart, which has remained to this day. Cannabis has since become a catch-all term for anything relating to the plant, as well as the chosen name for the genus and species as a whole.
The word “marijuana” (also spelled marihuana) originates from ancient China, some of the first cultivators of cannabis, who referred to the plant as “ma ren hua” in Chinese, or “hemp seed flower.” Frequent trade with the people of the Middle East would inspire a simplification of this term in an unknown Semitic dialect, referring to the cannabis plant as “mrj.” The name would continue to spread spread throughout the world as centuries passed, and would even be confused with other, similar substances. It’s also where we get the alternative name to oregano, “marjoram.” Marijuana would become the Spanish word used to describe the plant, spread throughout Latin America around 1545 by Spaniard explorers importing the plant to Chile for its use as fiber. The word marijuana would fade in and out of prominence throughout history, but saw special popularity in Mexico during the Mexican Revolutionary era around the early 1900s. The word was hijacked and popularized in the 1930s by Harry J. Anslinger during his campaigns against the drug, attributing its Spanish name to that of “dirty immigrants looking to poison our children and drive our women insane.” Although its brief racist use carries a negative connotation, its origin goes much deeper than this dark part of our history, and the term marijuana is still widely used and accepted in the industry today.
The word “hemp” actually has the same beginning origins of the word cannabis, oddly enough. The Greek kánnabis would spread throughout much of Europe, and following the First Germanic Sound Shift, the k was given a softer h sound throughout the region. Hannabis would be adapted into Old English as hænep, Dutch as hennep, German as hanf, Swedish as hampa and Danish and Norwegian as hamp, eventually settling on hemp.
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