Cannabis vs. Marijuana: Does the Name Matter?

Cannabis vs. Marijuana: Does the Name Matter?


How do you feel about the plant we call cannabis? What first comes to mind when someone mentions marijuana? In some circles, the two terms are synonymous. In other circles they are not. But when push comes to shove, does it really matter which word we use?

In addition to the more formal ‘cannabis’ and ‘marijuana’, our society is familiar with other terms. Some refer to marijuana as ‘weed’. Others like to talk about the ‘devil’s lettuce’. Then there are scientific terms as well. You are familiar with them if you know anything about cannabis sativa and cannabis indica.

So many terms lead to a bit of confusion. And if there is one thing that cannabis industry does not need, it is confusion. So perhaps we have reached the point at which it’s time to come up with some concrete terms and standards for applying them.

Cannabis vs. Marijuana

Cannabis is a type of plant under which there are numerous species. Despite the fact that so many people believe cannabis and marijuana are exactly the same, they are not. Marijuana is just one species of cannabis. Hemp is another. Both are types of cannabis sativa.

This makes more of a difference than you might know. Why? Because industrial hemp, also known as non-narcotic hemp, must contain less than 0.3% THC by volume in order to be classified as such. That is one of the main differences between hemp and marijuana.

Both hemp and marijuana are cannabis species. One has more CBD than THC while the other is exactly the opposite. Calling it all cannabis is technically correct, but the term fails to draw the distinctions that make the two plants suitable for different purposes.

Cannabis and Marijuana Stigma

Evidence that the chosen word is important is found in the modern preference for the term ‘cannabis’. Take the state of Utah, for example. Utah Marijuana says that state government insists on discussing cannabis rather than marijuana. Utah has a medical cannabis program that gives access to qualifying patients through medical cannabis pharmacies. The state frowns on any mention of marijuana in the medical program.

Why is this? Because state lawmakers do not want to give even the slightest impression that they might be open to recreational use. Keeping discussions of marijuana out of the equation ostensibly helps their cause.

One cannot help but extrapolate from Utah’s position the belief that there is some stigma associated with marijuana. State lawmakers do not want Utah turning into a recreational-use state. They don’t want Utah to become California, Oregon, or Colorado. There is a stigma associated with marijuana use, and they don’t want it to come to Utah.

It Doesn’t Change the Drug

Despite insisting on using only the term ‘cannabis’, Utah lawmakers are not changing the actual drug patients use. CBD and THC are what they are regardless of the names used to describe them. Likewise, recreational-use advocates pushing hard to decriminalize marijuana don’t change the nature of the drug by referring to it as cannabis instead.

It comes down to something very simple: modern society now prefers to speak about cannabis because they know that the word ‘marijuana’ doesn’t sit well with people. Referring to it as cannabis softens the blow. It is a lot like referring to a garbage collector as a sanitation engineer. We change the terms to make them more palatable, despite the fact that those terms don’t change reality.

Does it matter whether we call the plant marijuana or cannabis? Perhaps, at least when differentiating between marijuana and hemp. But as far as using THC and CBD, the chosen terms do not change anything.