Names for cannabis aka marijuana, weed, pot, reefer, ganja, herb...

Why did we name our book The Newbie's Guide To Medicinal Cannabis and not something like The Newbie's Guide To Medical Marijuana, How To Smoke Medical Weed, A Primer On Pot, Getting Started With Ganja, Beginner's Guide to Bongsmanship, or any of the other hundreds of terms, nicknames, & euphemisms for the amazing herb? What's in a name?


Each word brings its own collection of associations & connotations, some more positive than others. We (The Dà Má Collective) chose the title we did for our book because its connotations are the most harmoniously aligned with our mission to dissolve the stigma surrounding cannabis and to spread seeds of cannabis knowledge far & wide.  Here’s why:


A "newbie” is defined as a newcomer to an activity, a beginner or novice who's just getting started with a new skill. (The word newbie has been in use since at least the 1960's when it was used among the US military, the word is likely derived from the term "newie" which has been in use since at least 1850). The term has generally positive connotations, with an additional nuance of "doesn't know about a topic but is willing to learn". There's another layer to the use of the term "Newbie's Guide": if a topic’s relevancy to the general public has progressed to the point where it needs a Newbie’s Guide, it’s a clear signal the topic has crossed a cultural line and become a commonly accepted mainstream phenomenon.


“Newbie” is neutral-to-positive, friendly, and advances the attitude that (like other activities often associated with the term "newbie" - such as learning how to use the internet) consuming medicinal cannabis is a normal everyday activity done by everyday folks, and "no big deal". (Just like it was in the pre-Prohibition era, when cannabis was found in at least 20,000-30,000 brand names of everyday household medicines used daily by millions of American men, women & children...)




A guide is "someone who leads or shows how to find the way", or "something that provides a person with information for finding their way" - we especially like the Guide word because cannabis is the herb of travelers, & when journeying in new or unfamiliar territory, wise travelers heed the advice of a knowledgeable local guide... We also like the concept of "guide" as it relates to "showing the way" due to cannabis's longstanding association with Taoism (which loosely translates to "the way"). 



Why "medicinal" and not “medical”?  The term “medical” denotes inclusion in the practice or science of medicine, the word is also used to distinguish the practice of medicine from other departments in a modern-day hospital (such as Surgery, Psychiatry etc.). Also the term "medical cannabis" has connotations of "cannabis having been accepted by the mainstream western medical profession" and as that's still in the process of happening, at this stage of the game "medicinal cannabis" is a better term.


The term “medicinal” means “(of a substance or plant) having healing/therapeutic properties,” we prefer this term as it’s a nod to cannabis’s ancient tradition of use in herbal/plant-based medicine. Also, the word Cannabis has its roots in Latin (1300 A.D. or older), as does “Medicinal”, while “Medical” has more recent origin, only dating back to mid-17th century French. And to us, the word “Medical” conjures up the allopathic mechanical increasingly-computer-driven overtones of the modern-day Big Healthcare industry, while “medicinal” recalls millennia-old traditions of herbal medicine and obtaining healing remedies from nature.


“Medicinal” also harkens back to earlier periods of history (including in the U.S.A.) where home-brewed botanical medicines (along with the general belief that skill & healing knowledge were available to commoners, not just the medical elite a.k.a. allopathic physicians) were quite common, including medicines brewed from cannabis. 




Western culture owes much to the ancient Greeks, the modern botanical term "cannabis" came from Latin, which borrowed it from the Greek “kannabis” (kannabis was mentioned in the Greek Materia Medica, ~77-90 A.D.), with the Greek term being derived from the Scythians (~2,500 years ago or ~500B.C.), and etymologists think this word is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit root word/cognate "cana".

The word "cannabis" has been in Western usage since at least the 1500's, it was first proposed as an official botanical name in 1728 and was standardized in 1753 with Linnaeus including it in his Species Plantarum. Since then, Cannabis has been the botanically & scientifically proper term to use when referring to what we affectionately call The Amazing Herb. When cannabis was used in 20,000-30,000+ common medicines pre-Prohibition (up to 1930s), “cannabis" was what appeared on the product label, catalogue, advertisement etc. Also, U.S. states are increasingly starting to use the word Cannabis (vs. other terms) in their legislation, with the state of Washington recently renaming their state regulatory agency the Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board.


To underscore the importance of what's in a name: During the Prohibition legislative hearings in the 1930s (spearheaded by Harry Anslinger), one of the few dissenting voices against prohibition was from the American Medical Association, who complained that because the term marijuana (or marihuana) was used (in the hearings, in the media, and in the name of the legislative act/bill) instead of hemp or cannabis, it never made it onto the medical profession's radar until the day before the hearings, and thanks to this linguistic bait-and-switch the medical profession never had time to react or protest (until far too late) that one of their most commonly prescribed medicines was being made illegal. (See discussion on history of the term marijuana for more info.)
For more on the history of the different names used for cannabis, check out the following extract/preview (some call it a dab :) from The Newbie’s Guide To Medicinal Cannabis’s topic on


Names For Cannabis Throughout The World


Where we have solid info available, the link contains what we know about each term's history along with why “cannabis” is a better word. We’ll be adding to/refreshing this list as the hemp elves continue their research...


Modern-day slang terms for cannabis


Traditional Words For Cannabis From Around The World


  • Ganja, bhang, charas (India)
  • Dagga (Africa)
  • Dà Má 大 麻 (China)


For the whole story on The Amazing Herb's integral role in the fabric of human culture, history and the healing arts check out our book The Newbies' Guide To Medicinal Cannabis!