By Patrick L. Myers
Humans have interacted with cannabis for hundreds of years, and have since given many names to it over the ages, and for many different reasons. An uglier and more recent term- marijuana- can be attributed to Harry Anslinger, the nation’s first drug czar as Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
The term marijuana is derived from the Mexican slang “marihuana” and was first used instead of the word cannabis in the 1890’s. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics popularized the word in the 1930’s, through articles written by timber mogul and major media publisher William Hearst.
Heart’s sole mission along with leading the public to believe that the effects of marijuana would cause just about anything bad to happen to you (insanity, murderous tendencies, etc..) was to taint the public’s perception of it, starting with it’s name.
If it weren’t for Anslinger and Hearst, the herb would indefinitely be referred to as cannabis, which is the herbs official Latin name. Anslinger and Hearst stigmatized cannabis through the most effective method that they could come up with; through example. One of Anslinger’s favorite social stereotypes proved useful in his bastardization of marijuana, in his writing he would inform the reader that there are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and then he would state that most of that statistic is comprised of “Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers,” as if the scare the reader off citing that their satanic music, Jazz, is a result of marijuana use.
A more fitting term for the plant would be cannabis, it’s the proper name and identification for the plant. The plant has been referred to as cannabis since before biblical times; there is solid evidence of the Hebrew use of the word Cannabis, which was established in 1936 by a well known Polish etymologist named Sula Benet. Benet divulged that the word has Semitic origins like Hebrew, and appears several times throughout the Old Testament. Cannabis hemp has been referred to both as a type of incense and as an intoxicant. The Semitic word for Cannabis is Kaneh-Bosm, or kaneh or kannabus, and literally means “hemp blossom”. The root of the word is Kan which means “reed” or “hemp”, while root word bosm means “aromatic”.
Cannabis has been a widely talked about subject throughout history, and the words corresponding to it pop up throughout history, but can have different meanings; making it hard for etymologists to track down what a word boils down to; sometimes they can have many meanings.
Scribes in Egypt were writing about cannabis around 2000 B.C.E, and it is a consensus among experts of Egyptian hieroglyphs that the Egyptian word for cannabis is Shemshemet. The ancient Egyptians considered cannabis an important medicine, using the herb for things like disinfectants for malignant flesh.
Some of the earlier negative reports of cannabis came from European colonies in Africa that observed the indigenous people chew on the hemp, which they reported would affect the brain like Opium. There are references to cannabis all throughout Hindu ancient scripture, and cannabis is listed as one of the five sacred plants of Hindu culture.
The medicinal properties of cannabis have been no secret to people throughout the ages, and it wasn’t until this last century that the looking glass was shown on cannabis, and the governing powers decidedly judged cannabis unfit for regular human consumption, due to political reasons and morality.
Much of the world still struggles with this past century’s depiction of cannabis, but the true scientific facts are starting to sway the societal attitude towards cannabis, as the herb is being legalized by governing bodies such as some of the states in the U.S.; and some latin american countries with some of the strictest laws on cannabis consumption have even rewritten some of their laws in order to allow for cannabis derived medicine.