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Cannabis or Marijuana?

September 30, 2019

Following a long hibernation, cannabis is re-emerging as a global health phenomenon. Modern technological advancements are reshaping our attitudes to cannabis around the world.

As conversations progress in topics such as the endocannabinoid system, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the Special Access Scheme (SAS), manufacturing and importation licencing, and good manufacturing practices (GMPs), a discussion regarding the correct terminology of cannabis is timely.

There are three main species of the cannabis flowering plant – Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Sativa and indica, and the hybrid variations, are the main species used in medical-grade cannabis. However, cannabis is referred to as “marijuana” or “marihuana” on a day-to-day basis. Why is this the case?

The words “marijuana” and “marihuana” stem back to a history linked to a then-predominately racist opinion to make cannabis illegal in the United States. The use of the words adopted a focus towards “recreational” use, rather than its medical and industrial uses at the time. This pejorative term has played a key role in forming the negative stigma that we still unfortunately hear in discussion.

In Australia, cannabis importation was prohibited by Federal Legislation in 1926. The prohibition model, based on the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs, saw all Australian states make cannabis use illegal over forthcoming years. During this time, the linguistic shift demonised the cannabis plant. “Marijuana” terminology has been associated with ideas of danger, addiction and intoxication; in contrast, cannabis is used to refer to a plant-based medicine that assists with a plethora of chronic, debilitating medical symptoms.

As we proceed to diversify the medical cannabis industry, and look to re-revolutionise the way the cannabis plant is used in medicine, we must lead with awareness. By eliminating the “M” word from our conversations, we seek to change the thoughts that have held us back as a society. We remove the prejudice, and allow science-based facts to break through decades of propaganda.

Both in the regulatory and political spheres of Canberra and beyond, the word “marijuana” has been officially replaced by the term “cannabis”. All stakeholders engaged with the medical use of this plant-based medicine should thus now refer to it as medical cannabis.