By Any Other Name

Cannabis has been given countless monikers the globe over – more than 1,000 and counting. Some popular names in North America include bud, chronic and flower. It’s also been called asparagus, because it’s green, and mary – a pun on marijuana. The term reefer is a Spanish-derived word; the Mexican slang to describe someone who’s stoned is ‘grifo,’ which morphed into ‘greefo’, and then into the commonly used ‘reefer’. (Much less obvious than the term parachute because, well, it gets you high.) The word pot is said to have derived from the cannabis-infused Mexican drink potación de guayaya. And there’s no mystery around weed given the cannabis plant’s ability to wildly grow.

While some words are innocent enough (trees) or euphemistically literal (green), others were born from negative intentions. The “exotic” term marijuana was used in the early 20th century by fear-mongering U.S. politicians in an effort to racialize the plant and associate it with villainized Mexican immigrants. Dope is claimed to have come from likening cannabis consumers to idiots, or dopes.

Much of what cannabis has been called around the world varies, and often depends on regional legalities and origin stories. Balram Vaswani, who launched Kaya, the first legal herb house/dispensary in the St. Ann Parish of Jamaica earlier this month, shares insight into cannabis terminology and some of the historical background behind the actual plant, including its Indian roots.

Although cannabis (the Latin-derived word for herb, and the scientific name for the hemp plant) seems to be the term most industry professionals and an increasing number of the general public are comfortable with, Vaswani says it varies from country to country. “There are certain words that people don’t like to use,” Vaswani notes.  “Marijuana – if you do a deeper research – there’s a negative connotation as it was banned in the U.S. – the term marijuana was used in the war on drugs.”

A longtime cannabis advocate, Vaswani says in his home nation of Jamaica, cannabis is typically referred to as sensimillia, which is the equivalent of saying ‘weed without the seeds.’ “I believe it comes from the Spanish sin semilla, meaning ‘without seed,’” says Vaswani. “So in Jamaica, we say sensi. It kind of depends on which dialect you’re speaking,” he adds.  His own personal naming preferences include herb, ganja or just “a good draw.”

The term ganja is derived from the Gångá River, according to Vaswani, which refers to India, where the first cannabis plants were found. “It was the Sadhus that were praising the God Shiva, and some referred to it as ‘food of the gods,’” he explains. “Up until today, the Shiva Temple and its fields are still surrounded by it. It’s still a wild plant,” Vaswani says. “If you’re coming from the New Delhi airport, all the roads have these random wild plants, which are more hemp-based, and the other plants that have the THC are more frequently found in the hills. But it goes back thousands of years.”

Now that recreational legalization is on the horizon for many places including Canada, there’s less of a need for the old school nomenclature used by dealers of days gone by – even if the terms were quite crafty. “If you were a customer and you called, texted, or beeped someone and used words like weed, herb, or green, they would simply hang up and maybe never take your call again,” says Vaswani. Instead, calling about pizza, tomatoes or fresh produce was common for a pick up. Considering dispensaries are now cropping up in rec legal areas at the same rate as high-end grocery stores, perhaps they were on to something.

Story by Anicée Gaddis
Photo by Steph Martyniuk

The preceding is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to condone the use or consumption of cannabis. For more information, please refer to our disclaimer

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