Knowing the Difference: Marijuana & Cannabis

Whether it’s being talked about in the news or you’ve seen it on shop signs around your community, the words “cannabis” and “marijuana” are often used interchangeably and viewed as the same thing. But did you know that there is actually a technical difference between these two terms?

Cannabis vs. marijuana

The word cannabis refers to all products derived from the plant Cannabis sativa.

The word marijuana refers to parts of or products from the plant Cannabis sativa that contain high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the substance that’s primarily responsible for the effects of marijuana on a person’s mental state. Some cannabis plants contain very little THC. Under U.S. law, these plants are considered industrial hemp rather than marijuana.*

Then and now

Now that you know more about the meaning of each word, let’s talk about how they’ve been used in the past and how they’re being used today.

The term ‘marijuana’ has a racist history in the United States that targeted communities of color. In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed. During this time, some media outlets created false connections between marijuana and negative stereotypes of people within the Mexican immigrant and African American communities. Much like we still see today, in the year after the Marihuana Tax Act passed, Black people were around three times more likely to be arrested for violating narcotic drug laws than White people who violated the law. And Mexican immigrants were nearly nine times more likely to be arrested for the same charge.** The biased enforcement of these laws and false media stories created to target racial and ethnic minorities helped build racist structures that deeply harmed communities of color. These impacts are still felt to this day.

As a way to recognize this discriminatory history, many people have advocated for a widespread adoption of the term “cannabis,” including advocacy groups in Washington state. In 2021, House Bill 1210 was passed, replacing the term “marijuana” with the term “cannabis” throughout all of Washington state laws. If you’re not familiar with “cannabis” as a term—that’s okay. For many people, “marijuana” is still the most commonly used word. And the term’s negative connotation is mostly rooted in American history. In Latin American countries, the word, spelled “marihuana,” has its own unique history. It’s been used long before it was introduced in the U.S. and is how most Spanish speakers identify cannabis today.

While the term “cannabis” is starting to be more commonly used in the U.S., often when talking about treatment for health issues, it’s important to understand that some of these cannabis products can contain high levels of THC and be harmful to your health.

Taking care of you

No matter what you call it, marijuana and cannabis products can impact your mind, body, and mood in ways that might make you perform and feel less than your best. They can also be addictive. No matter how it’s consumed—whether vaped, smoked, or eaten—research shows that you’re four times more likely to develop a dependence if you start using as a teen. It can weaken your motivation and lead you to lose interest in the activities and hobbies you love. And because of how it interacts with your brain chemistry, marijuana can even make you feel depressed, anxious, and/or paranoid.

If you or someone you know is struggling and looking for ways to cope—there are so many healthy options and reliable resources that can help.


*Source: NIH Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need to Know

**Source: Business Insider: How Racism Contributed to Marijuana Prohibition in the US