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Blog 丨 2022.11.29

The Difference Between Cannabis, Marijuana, Hemp and Weed

If you are new to the wonderful world of cannabis, you might be confused by the terms Cannabis, marijuana, hemp and weed in the industry. Even if you are an old-timer, you might hear people use different terms seemingly to refer to the same thing; or, conversely, the same term to refer to different things. This includes terminology referring to the substance itself. When we say ‘weed’, are we referring to the living plant or the processed consumable product? Are ‘hemp’ and ‘cannabis’ interchangeable? Having the right terminology to refer to different products is especially important for cannabis manufacturers and retailers, but cannabis consumers would do well to know them, too. In this article, we will explain what each these terms (and more) means and how they differ from one another.

What Exactly is ‘Cannabis’?

The word ‘cannabis’ comes from the Greek word κάνναβις (kannabis), which is thought to be derived from Scythian and Thracian. Some linguists suggest that it may have evolved from the same root word as that of ‘hemp’, though this is very much unconfirmed. In scientific terms, the term ‘cannabis’ refers the genus of the flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family. There are two widely accepted species in the Cannabis genus, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. A third previously acknowledged species, Cannabis ruderalis, is now suspected to be a variation of or subdivision under Cannabis sativa. The terms of ‘sativa’ and ‘indica’ are also referred to as cannabis ‘strains’ for commercial purposes, based on the species of the plant that the product is derived from (mainly or entirely).

‘Cannabis’ is therefore an all-encompassing term. It refers to the plant, yes, but it is also used to widely encompass all products that result from processing cannabis plants (for example, “the cannabis industry” or “cannabis consumers”). Due to its scientific use, the term ‘cannabis’ is considered to have a neutral connotation and is less associated with stigma compared to ‘marijuana’ or ‘weed’.

Refer to: Indica vs Sativa: The Difference You Should Know

What Exactly is ‘Marijuana’?

The term ‘marijuana’ came from Mexican Spanish, which the Oxford English Dictionary suggests might have come from the Nahuatl word ‘mallihuan’ (‘prisoner’). Some linguists argue that the similarity may be coincidental, as the term became popular in the early 20th century when Mexicans immigrated to the United States in droves due to the Mexican Revolution. Racism and anti-immigrant sentiment motivated the use of the term ‘marijuana’ to allude to the frequent use of cannabis by Mexicans (a negative stereotype). Another theory is that the connection between ‘marijuana’ and ‘prisoner’ was popularized in the 1930s in the midst of an anti-cannabis campaign. The term, therefore, carries a negative connotation that lingers until today.

Today, ‘marijuana’ carries different meanings according to its legal, and commercial uses. As a legal term, it has a variety of definitions according to the jurisdiction. Some use it to mean the cannabis plant or any part of it. Others use it to refer to portions of the plant that contains high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), including the dried leaves and flowers. In commercial (and some legal) use, ‘marijuana’ often refers to any strain of cannabis that has higher levels of THC, differentiating it from ‘hemp’. In colloquial or everyday use, it is often applied broadly to refer to cannabis and cannabis products, and is therefore interchangeable with the term ‘cannabis’. Although these days, with the increasing popularity of cannabis products with lower THC content, there is an increasing use of ‘marijuana’ to denote higher levels of THC even in everyday conversation.
Today, ‘marijuana’ carries different meanings according to its legal, and commercial uses. As a legal term, it has a variety of definitions according to the jurisdiction. Some use it to mean the cannabis plant or any part of it. Others use it to refer to portions of the plant that contains high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), including the dried leaves and flowers. In commercial (and some legal) use, ‘marijuana’ often refers to any strain of cannabis that has higher levels of THC, differentiating it from ‘hemp’. In colloquial or everyday use, it is often applied broadly to refer to cannabis and cannabis products, and is therefore interchangeable with the term ‘cannabis’. Although these days, with the increasing popularity of cannabis products with lower THC content, there is an increasing use of ‘marijuana’ to denote higher levels of THC even in everyday conversation.

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What Exactly is ‘Hemp’?

The exact root of the word ‘hemp’ is unknown, though some have proposed that it is descended directly from the Greek word ‘kannabis’. In scientific use, ‘hemp’ refers to specific cultivars of Cannabis sativa that were selectively bred to have lower THC content. Hemp was originally grown largely for industrial use, although as of late it is also grown for medicinal use. It was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber, and it has been processed into many commercial products, from paper to clothing, plastic to food items. Hemp is known for its sustainable production, as it can grow quickly using minimal water and no pesticides. It is also a popular green building material due to its many environmental benefits like anti-erosion and reclamation properties.

The legal status and definition of hemp have changed over the years and differ by jurisdiction. Hemp was freely grown as a cash crop in the United States until the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act levied a heavy tax on commercial dealings involving hemp (along with marijuana). The tax on hemp was lifted during World War II as it was needed to make uniforms, rope, and other supplies for the U.S. armed forces. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and established it as an agricultural product. It is now regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sets the acceptable levels of THC in domestic hemp production. In the U.S., the THC limit for ‘industrial hemp’ is 0.3% or less THC, while in Australia, for example, it is 0.35%.

In commercial and colloquial use, the term ‘hemp’ then refers to a type of cannabis with very low THC content, far more likely to end up as household items than in a cannabis vaporizer.

What About ‘Weed’ (and ‘Pot’ and ‘Ganja’ and Other Similar Terms)?

‘Weed’ is one of the many slang terms used to refer to cannabis, and as such has never entered legal or scientific use. It became popular due to the illegality of cannabis and the negative connotations around the term ‘marijuana’. The rebellious youth in the late-20th century would use the term to discreetly discuss cannabis without arousing suspicion. It is a more recent alternative to the term ‘pot’, another slang for cannabis. ‘Pot’ came from the Spanish term ‘potación de guaya’, which means the “drink of grief”. ‘Ganja’ is another slang term derived from the Sanskrit name for cannabis, which has spread to many Asian countries. In the west, these slang terms almost always refer to cannabis in commercial (processed) form, largely for recreational use, rather than the living cannabis plant. They also frequently feature in branding and advertising for cannabis products.

 

So What is the Difference Again? When Do I Use Each Term?

To summarize the difference between the different terms: ‘Cannabis’ is an umbrella term referring to the cannabis plant, whether living or processed, and all products derived from it. It is a neutral term that can be used in everyday, commercial, legal and medicinal contexts. When in doubt, use ‘cannabis’. ‘Weed’, ‘pot’, ‘ganja’ and other similar terms are slang for cannabis, usually referring to processed cannabis products for recreational consumption. ‘Marijuana’ is sometimes used interchangeably to ‘cannabis’, but to avoid confusion, stick to ‘marijuana’ to denote cannabis with higher THC levels. Keep in mind that it still carries a slight negative connotation due to its historical association with campaign against cannabis. ‘Hemp’ specifically refers to a cannabis variety with very low levels of THC, and is mostly associated with industrial production.

Hopefully that clears things up, and you feel comfortable to discuss cannabis in its many forms and variations with other cannabis enthusiasts! Furthermore, don’t hesitate to leave comments and discuss with one of Cilicon’s professionals through www.ciliconplus.com to learn more about cannabis extraction knowledge and how the most convenient cannabis vape pen work.

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