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‘Marijuana’ or ‘cannabis’: Which term is appropriate for modern medicinal use?

‘Marijuana’ or ‘cannabis’: Which term is appropriate for modern medicinal use?

Marijuana is a loosely used term for the derivatives (dried flowers and leaves) of the cannabis plant, often used for recreational purposes. Surprisingly, more than 1200 names have been identified for cannabis, with some of them designated as slang names by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. In addition, the history of the word ‘Marijuana’ has made the modern use of this term discriminatory and derogatory to a substantial extent.

When was the term ‘Marijuana’ first used

In the late 1800s, the term ‘Marijuana’ did not exist, and the plant was referred to as ‘cannabis’ or ‘hemp’. Further, cannabis was accepted as a potent medicinal drug and companies across the US and Europe were capitalising on its pharmaceutical use. However, with the arrival of Mexican migrants in the US, the idea of using cannabis for recreation became popular.  In 1913, the US passed the first bill to criminalise weed in California as its recreational use was associated with violence and panic. Consequently, Americans started associating ‘marijuana crimes’ with the fall of the economy during the great US depression and many innocent Mexican immigrants were wrongly targeted for the collapse. Hence, the term ‘marijuana’ is connected to a history of hatred.

History of cannabis or hemp in Australia

First hemp seeds were brought to Australia with the ‘First Fleet’ at the request of Sir Joseph Banks. It was hoped that ‘hemp’ would be produced commercially, but it was being used notoriously for recreation. Hence, in the 1920s, hemp was restricted to scientific and medicinal use under the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs. Several laws were passed and enacted in Australia to control the recreational use of hemp, but in 1998 it was approved for commercial production as industrial hemp fibre. Further in February 2016, Australia legalised the commercial production of cannabis for medicinal use and scientific research.

What is right?

As we begin using medicinal cannabis, we should ensure that the plant is not demonised again due to its discriminatory history. Intellectuals and industrialists prefer to use the term ‘hemp’ or ‘cannabis’ to highlight its remarkable uses. Hence, adding these terms to your vocabulary would be a great idea. Using the term ‘Marijuana’ might not resonate with a lot of people as we live in a multi-cultural and modern society. General non-derogatory terms such as ‘weed’ can be used loosely.


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