Marijuana – What’s In A Name?

The term “marijuana” has a complex and intriguing history with roots in various cultures and languages. Notably, the name itself is believed to have originated in Mexico during the early 20th century. However, the plant it denotes has a much lengthier historical background.

Furthermore, the plant commonly referred to as marijuana is scientifically known as Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. This versatile plant has been cultivated and utilized for numerous purposes for thousands of years. Interestingly, in ancient times, cannabis was recognized by different names, depending on the region and cultural context.


The Theories

The term “marijuana” emerged prominently during the early 20th century, specifically gaining popularity in Mexico and the United States. It is widely believed to be derived from the Spanish word “mariguana” or “marihuana,” which swiftly became the prevalent name for cannabis in Mexican Spanish. However, the exact etymology of the Spanish word continues to be debated and remains uncertain.

Multiple theories exist concerning the origin of the word “marijuana.” One compelling theory proposes that it may have originated from the Chinese term “ma ren hua” or “ma ren huo,” meaning “hemp seed flower.” It is suggested that Chinese immigrants, who contributed to the construction of Mexican railroads, might have introduced the term to Mexico, thus influencing its adoption.

Another intriguing theory suggests that “marijuana” could be a combination of the Spanish words “maría” (Mary) and “juana” (a common name in Mexico). According to this perspective, the name was intentionally employed to create an association between the plant and Mexican immigrants, aiming to stigmatise its use and engender negative perceptions.

The Propaganda Machine

During the early 20th century, the term “marijuana” gained popularity in the United States due to anti-cannabis propaganda campaigns. Consequently, it was used to create fear and negative connotations around the plant, associating it with Mexican immigrants and racial stereotypes. Furthermore, the use of the term “marijuana” helped to promote the prohibition of cannabis.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that prior to the 20th century, cannabis was commonly referred to as “hemp” in English-speaking countries. This term was utilized to highlight its various industrial purposes, such as making ropes, textiles, and oils.

Replacing Marijuana with Cannabis

Over time, the term “marijuana” became widely recognised and continues to be used today to refer to the cannabis plant, its flowers, and products derived from it. However, there has been a shift in recent years to use more neutral terms like “cannabis” or “weed” to avoid the negative historical baggage associated with the term “marijuana.”