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Cannabis 101: History & Terminology: Are These Products Right for Me?

Darrell Carrington


  • Historical Roots: Cannabis use dates 12,000 years, migrating with nomads, and medicinal records in China, Egypt, and Greece.
  • THC Discovery and ECS: Dr. Mechoulam identified THC in 1964, unlocking research on the endocannabinoid system.
  • Political and Industrial Influences: Xenophobia, racism, and economic interests shaped U.S. cannabis perception and prohibition.
Cannabis 101: History & Terminology: Are These Products Right for Me?

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The use of cannabis and cannabinoid products trace back to around 12,000 years ago near the Altai Mountains in Central Asia, and since then, cannabis seeds have accompanied the migration of nomadic peoples. Records of the medicinal use of cannabis appear before the Common Era in China, Egypt, and Greece, and later in the Roman Empire. In the 19th century, Western physicians coming into contact with Muslim and Indian cultures introduced the medicinal use of cannabis into Europe. The structure of the main psychoactive phytocannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), was determined in Israel by Dr. Mechoulam in 1964. This discovery opened the gate for many of the subsequent developments in the field of endocannabinoid system (ECS) research. As of now, the DEA has only authorized one grower, the University of Mississippi, which grows cannabis under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As part of this contract, UM holds a DEA Schedule-I Bulk Manufacturer registration to cultivate plants for this purpose.

It is important to distinguish between the two familiar subspecies of the cannabis plant. “Cannabis sativa,” most commonly, incorrectly, called “marijuana among other terms we will discuss later, has psychoactive properties. The other plant is “Cannabis sativa L.” (The “L” was included in the name in honor of the botanist Carl Linnaeus.) This subspecies is known as hemp; it is a non-psychoactive form of cannabis and is used in manufacturing products such as oil, cloth, and fuel. A second psychoactive species of the plant, “Cannabis indica,” was identified by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and a third, uncommon one, “Cannabis ruderalis,” was named in 1924 by Russian botanist D.E. Janischevisky.

Cannabis finally came to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. It arrived in the southwest United States from Mexico. Of Mexican-Spanish origin, the word “marijuana,” or “marihuana,” was replaced with American lexicon’s “cannabis” in the early 19th century.

The United States’ history of federally policing the widely accepted yet taboo word, “marijuana,” is rooted in xenophobia and misinformation. From 1910 to 1920, the U.S. saw tens of thousands of Mexicans immigrating to the southwest in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. The influx of immigration escalated anti-Mexican immigrant sentiment and a campaign of “reefer madness” among white Americans, most commonly by the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time, Harry Anslinger. Anslinger’s propaganda campaigns created racist narratives, like those who smoke marijuana are of an “inferior race” and are more likely to engage in sexual promiscuity and violence.

By adopting the Spanish word “marijuana,” rather than the already widely-used “cannabis,” Anslinger and other prohibition activists of the early to mid-19th century were intentionally connecting the use of marijuana by brown and black people to dangerous and fabricated side effects of the drug. Thus, my use of the term I created, the “M-Word.”

In the 1920s, the DuPont company developed and patented fuel additives such as tetraethyl lead, as well as the sulfate and sulfite processes for the manufacture of pulp paper and numerous new synthetic products such as nylon, cellophane, and other plastics. At the same time, other companies were developing synthetic products from renewable biomass resources--especially hemp. William Randolf Hearst hated minorities, and he used his chain of newspapers, the largest chain in the U.S., to aggravate racial tensions at every opportunity. Hearst especially hated Mexicans. Hearst papers portrayed Mexicans as lazy, degenerate, and violent, and as cannabis smokers and job stealers. The real motive behind this prejudice may well have been that Hearst had lost 800,000 acres of prime timberland to the rebel Mexican Revolutionary General Pancho Villa, suggesting that Hearst's racism was fueled by a Mexican threat to his empire. In response, from 1935 to 1937, DuPont lobbied the chief counsel of the Treasury Department, Herman Oliphant, for the prohibition of cannabis, assuring him that DuPont's synthetic petrochemicals (such as urethane) could replace hemp seed oil in the marketplace. The marijuana scare whipped up by Hearst newspapers and his direct lobbying efforts initiated the first prohibition efforts across the country and eventually the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

Current Status of State Laws

As of May 18, 2021, 36 States and 4 Territories allow for the medical use of cannabis products. In November 2020, voters in Mississippi passed a ballot initiative to allow for medical use, but it was overturned by the state supreme court on May 14, 2021, and is not counted in the state totals. In addition, as of April 14, 2021, 17 States, 2 Territories and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to regulate cannabis for adult use. Our friends at NORML have a great Countrywide Map of State Laws for medical and recreational cannabis.

What Does This Mean for Me?

The taboo use of cannabis has shifted dramatically in the United States, especially for medicinal purposes. Regardless of party affiliation, you know someone suffering from cancer, MS, anxiety, etc. Thanks to the diversity of products in the current marketplace and the laboratory testing regimens, patients and recreational consumers can rely on safe products that are properly labeled as to their THC contents, strain, and recommended doses. Staff at dispensaries can assist you in getting the right products for your individual needs. We know you have more questions and we look forward to answering them at our June 30, 2021, webinar, “Cannabis: 20th Century Highs to 21st Century Wellness.” Make sure you RSVP soon.

Glossary of Cannabis Terminology

This list is not comprehensive. However, it gives you some common terms you may hear and how they relate to the products that you may use for medicinal and/or recreational needs. For some, cannabis is a drug you take specifically for the side effects.

BHO stands for “butane hash oil” and is a potent concentrate of cannabinoids made by dissolving cannabis in its plant form in a solvent (usually butane). The resulting product has very high THC levels (generally more than flowers or hashish) and is a thick, sticky oil. BHO is also referred to as honey oil, “dabs” or “dabbing,” wax, or shatter, depending on the manufacturing method.

BLUNT is a hollowed-out cigar that’s filled with cannabis.

BUD refers to the actual flower of the cannabis plant. These are the fluffy parts that are harvested and used for recreational or medicinal purposes as they contain the highest concentrations of active cannabinoids.

CANNABINOIDS are the chemical compounds that are active in cannabis. There are at least 85 different known cannabinoids isolated from cannabis, all exhibiting varied effects. The two most popular cannabinoids are THC and CBD.

CANNABIS is a plant genus that produces three species of flowering plants: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are used to produce recreational and medical cannabis.

CBD or Cannabidiol is an abundant cannabinoid of cannabis. CBD has a wider scope of potential medical applications over THC. CBD is effective in treating neuropathic pain caused by MS, diabetes, lupus, cancer, and other injuries. It is also used to combat anxiety, seizures, sleeplessness, and nausea.

CROSS (GENETICS) referring to crossbreeding is the result when two different plant strains (explained below) are bred together. For example, Blue Dream is a cross between Blueberry and Haze strains.

CONCENTRATES refers to any wax, shatter, or oil that you vaporize or smoke or any tincture applied sublingually under the tongue. Concentrates are a potent consolidation of cannabinoids that are made by dissolving cannabis in its plant form into a solvent.

CO2 EXTRACTION is a type of supercritical fluid extraction used to maximize the cannabinoids and terpenes of the cannabis plant while still maintaining their delicate structure.

DABS/DABBING is a slang term used to refer to a dose of BHO received through butane combustion and inhalation. The act of “dabbing” refers to partaking in dabs.

EDIBLES are cannabis-infused foods, beverages, or tinctures containing up to 10mg of THC per serving. Some edibles contain multiple servings and direct you to consume only a portion.

FLOWERING TIME refers to the time it takes for a plant to produce mature flowers. Cannabis flowering times are affected by the length of daily exposure the plant receives to the sun (with the exception of the Cannabis ruderalis species, which flower automatically).

FLOWERS are often the “pretty” part of a plant, and the same is true for cannabis. While cannabis flowers don’t have traditional petals, they are still the reproductive organ of the female plants.

HASH is probably the oldest cannabis concentrate around and is made from the collected and compressed resin, or kief, from the leaves and flowers.

HEIRLOOM refers to a cannabis strain that was taken from its native homeland and propagated in another geographical location.

HEMP is a fibrous product that can be produced from the male cannabis plant and can be used in the manufacture of rope, paper, beauty products, and a vast array of other products. Hemp plants have no value as a drug since they are males and don’t produce the same level of cannabinoids as the female cannabis plants.

HYBRID refers to a plant that is a genetic cross between one or more separate strains of cannabis. Hybrids can happen unintentionally, but they are usually bred specifically to combine desired traits of the original plants. Most cannabis on the market today is some form of hybrid.

HYDROPONICS refers to a system of gardening that does not use soil. Plants are grown in water and receive their nutrients from the addition of solutions rather than soil.

INDICA is the less scientific name for the Cannabis indica species of cannabis. Generally, these plants originated in the Middle East and Asia and include both of the famous kush and Afghan lineages. This species tends to provide a nice body high that facilitates relaxation, or the “couch-lock” effect.

JOINT is a cannabis cigarette rolled using non-tobacco papers.

KIEF is a collected amount of trichomes that have been separated from the rest of the cannabis flower. Since trichomes are the sticky crystals that contain the vast majority of the plant’s cannabinoids, kief is known to be extremely potent.

KUSH refers to a line of cannabis plants that hail from the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kush strains are Indicas and have a unique aroma that has garnered a large fan base.

LANDRACE refers to a local variety of cannabis that has adapted to the environment of its geographic location.

LIMONENE is another prevalent terpene found not only in cannabis but in the peels of citrus fruits and cardamom. Limonene (named for its lemon scent and taste), is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Limonene is also recommended as a mood elevator and anxiety reducer.

LIVE RESIN uses fresh, frozen cannabis flowers cut from the grow before they’ve been dried or cured, and then processed within hours of harvest resulting in elevated terpene levels.

The M-WORD is the general term for female cannabis plants or their dried flowers. Females are distinct from male plants in that they are the ones that produce flowers that contain a high percentage of cannabinoids that hold psychoactive properties.

MYRCENE is thought to be one of the most abundant terpenes in cannabis. Myrcene is found not only in cannabis but in other plants like wild thyme, sweet basil, mango, and hops.

OG is a term that’s now used to describe many strains, though the term originated to describe Southern California’s Ocean Grown Kush, which was quickly shortened to OG Kush.

PHENOTYPE is a term that is heard most often in growing. It refers to the general physical characteristics of the plant such as height, color, branching, leaf configuration down to cell structure–any markers that can be used to identify and judge the healthiness of a plant.

PINENE is another terpene found in cannabis as well as in orange peels, pine needles, rosemary, dill, and parsley. Pinene derives its name from its woodsy, piney aroma.

PISTILS are part of a female plant’s anatomy. On cannabis, it’s identified as the little hair-like extensions on the flowers that range in color from white to red to darker orange-brown.

POT is a slang term for cannabis.

PRE-ROLL is a commonly used term that refers to a pre-rolled cannabis cigarette, commonly known as a joint.

RUDERALIS is a low-THC cannabis variety that is primarily selected by breeders for its CBD-rich genetics. Unlike Cannabis sativa and indica, which use light cycles to flower, ruderalis is an “auto-flowering” variety, meaning it flowers with age.

ROSIN is a solventless concentrate that’s made by heating and compressing the flowers, kief, or hash from the cannabis plant.

SATIVA is the less scientific name for the Cannabis sativa species of the cannabis plant. In general, these plants originated outside of the Middle East and Asia and include strains that are from areas such as South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Thailand. These strains tend to grow taller as plants (usually over 5 feet), are lighter in color, and take longer to flower. When consumed, sativas tend to produce more cerebral effects as opposed to physical and sedative ones

SENSIMILLA (Spanish for “seedless”) is the process of sequestering female cannabis plants from male plants to induce overproduction of cannabinoids.

SHATTER AND ICE are terms used to refer to BHO.

SPLIFF is commonly misused to refer to a joint. A spliff is actually a mix of both tobacco and bud rolled in smoking paper. In Europe, it’s the opposite. A spliff there is a cannabis cigarette while a joint is the combo of tobacco and ganja.

STRAIN is a specific variety of a plant species. Strains are developed to produce distinct desired traits in the plant and are usually named by their breeders (or by creative consumers). Strain names often reflect the plant’s appearance, its promised buzz, or its place of origin. They can also be named for their aroma or flavor. Although the medical cannabis industry strives for consistency, strains can easily be mistaken or purposely misidentified.

THC is an abbreviation of tetrahydrocannabinol and is one of the most abundant cannabinoids in cannabis. THC is responsible for weed’s psychoactive, “high” effects. Fun Fact: higher percentages of THC in bud (24%-30%), make for a quicker onset, “higher” high. Lower percentages (13%-23%) might take longer to take effect but will eventually get you there and often last a little longer.

TINCTURES is a liquid concentrate, typically procured through alcohol extraction, which strips the plant of its beneficial cannabinoids. Usually carried in a coconut oil or glycerin, tinctures are available in a variety of flavors and dosages and are a great alternative for those not interested in smoking.

TOPICALS are non-psychoactive balms, salves, and oils that users apply directly to the body instead of consuming. They can act as a muscle relaxant and as an antiseptic ointment.

TERPENE are the pungent, oily compounds found in the cannabis plant. Secreted from the plant’s trichomes, terpenes give cannabis varieties their distinctive flavors and aromas like citrus, berry, skunk, or pine.

TRICHOMES are the small and sometimes nearly microscopic resinous glands, stalks, and hairs that cover the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant and may protect it from fungi and high winds.