What Do We Call It? A Cannabis Vernacular Discussion

As cannabis pushes further into the mainstream, the language we use to describe it can often times feel obsolete. This is due in part to the massive influx of misinformation that has plagued cannabis research over the last century, but in other ways, this phenomenon can be attributed to the pace at which new information is processed by the community as a whole. Even as we continue to make profound discoveries, the mainstream canon can be reluctant to adopt changes in vernacular as they occur. As a result of this, cannabis culture has begun to polarize around its own lexicon.

Cannabis vs. Marijuana

This debate spans all the way back to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Before then, “cannabis” and “hemp” were the dominating nomenclature, spanning back to the plant’s original genus. The term “marihuana” originated from the newspapers’ anti-cannabis rhetoric in the early 1900’s to scare people into believing cannabis was an evil crop. The word was modified from Spanish vernacular by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. He was the spearhead of this paradigm shift by incorporating a heavy anti-cannabis agenda into his widely popular newspaper. Within the Marihuana Tax itself, the word is said to represent the cannabis sativa plant and virtually all of its components. Since then, the term has become inherently ingrained within prohibitionist rhetoric. In 1970, the Nixon administration changed the official spelling of word to “marijuana.” Today, even though most people understand that marijuana is a less desired vernacular for cannabis, the word is still widely used. In may ways, the term marijuana still represents the ignorance that perpetuates cannabis prohibition.

Indica vs. Afganica

In 2014, John McPartland presented to the International Cannabis Research Society a proposal to reclassify the Cannabis Sub-Species from C. Indica, C. Sativa, C. Ruderalis (a classification that has existed since 1970), to C. Indica, C. Afganica, C. Sativa due to the misclassification of a previously identified Afganica subspecies variety. Where this discovery by McPartland gained traction within the scientific community at the time for it’s convincing validity, incredibly the overall cannabis marketplace never really adopted the change. In virtually every legal market today, cannabis products are still classified by either having indica or sativa properties. These distinctions are so heavily ingrained into the infrastructure of the market that it could be some time before we see anything sorted out.

Strain vs. Cultivar

Did you know that there are at least a half dozen words that you can use to characterize a varietal of cannabis? In biology, there are 3 major identifiers that we can look to first. The first is a genotype, which represents the genetic composition of a plant. The physical attributes of that plant are representative of the plants phenotype. In many cases, the word chemotype is used to describe a variety of cannabis. A chemotype refers to a plants individual chemical makeup, what scientists often categorize cannabis sub-species by.  But what do we call cannabis subspecies varietals in the marketplace? Many would argue that calling them “strains” is incorrect because the term misrepresents and sometimes bypasses previously used taxonomy protocols. However, adopting scientific terminology to replace market vernacular can be tricky. By definition, strains are subspecies of a plant that have distinct characteristics. The term “cultivar,” another popularly used term to differentiate cannabis, may be defined as a plant variety that has been produced by selective breeding. This definition is tricky because where it has the ability to encompass almost all of the selectively bred and cultivated cannabis that currently exist within our market, it cannot include landrace strains that are grown in the wild and are not selectively bred but still circulated. Another body of advocates suggests that all cannabis sub-species should be characterized as “varietals,” since the term represents plant subdivisions that are distinguishable by minor characteristics. This is a heavily polarizing topic, and depending on where you are and who you speak with, you will get a completely different answer.

Whatever you call it – let us know!

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