Origins of Common Cannabis Terms

Written by Colby McCoy

If you were to ask a random soul on the street to name one or two commonly used cannabis terms, chances are they would be able to come up with something. From “bhang” to “kush,” the etymology of cannabis spans thousands of years across multiple geographical locales and cultures.

In this article we will break down a handful of some common terms:


The origins of this now commonly-used name can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European roots, which evolved over time to give us a series of cognates that are widely used today.[1] A few examples are the Czech word “konopí” and the Hebrew “qannabbôs”. While the origins of this terminology has been widely debated, the first instance likely used in the written form is based on the Greek “kannabis.”


Roughly following the same lineage as “cannabis,” hemp was most likely derived from Scythian linguistics. A few examples of the earliest usage of the term “hemp” have Old English and Proto-Germanic roots, the Old English being “hænep” and the Proto-Germanic “hanapiz.” Estimates suggest the term “hemp” began to be used to describe fibers from the cannabis plant by 1300. Additional examples can be found in the Indo-Germanic “hanep” and “hampf.”


A term most people are familiar with, “marijuana” is newer in comparison to other variations. It entered into popular use during the sweeping prohibition campaigns of the 20s and 30s. Many have argued the term “marijuana” is largely derived from the Spanish name “Mari Juana,” also known as “Mary Jane.” It is worth noting that the term marijuana has been largely phased out of the cannabis industry–and for good reason.


Another classic term in our culture today, “ganja” is rooted in the Sanskrit “gañjya,” which may have been further derived from ancient tablets. Needless to say, the term did not originate in Jamaica as common culture suggests, rather, it has deep Indian roots. This is a prime example of how terms change geographically and grow over time.

Although we only discussed a few terms in this article, these are most commonly used in our cultural lexicon. Looking closely at these terms one thing becomes immediately clear, cannabis has ancient roots in language and has played a role in civilization for thousands of years, making it one of the most important plants cultivated with so much to offer.

Image Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/green-cannabis-plant-3536257/


  1. Long T, et al. Cannabis in Eurasia: origin of human use and Bronze Age trans-continental connections. Veget Hist Archaeobot. 2017. 26:245-258.

About the author

Colby McCoy

Colby McCoy is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia who has written for non-profits, marketing firms, and personal blogs. When not writing he can be found trekking the mountain ranges around Seattle, WA, with his two pups Harry and Riley.

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