Five Cannabis Word Origins

The etymology of cannabis-related words is a complex lesson in world history.
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Hemp

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The word “hemp” is of Germanic origins adopted into Old English. According to the Etymology Online Dictionary, “hemp” comes from the Old English word “hænep,” referring to Cannabis sativa. It originates from the Proto-Germanic word “hanapiz,” which is also the word source of the Old Saxon word “hanap,” the Old Norse word “hampr,” the Old High German word “hanaf,” and the German word “hanf.” It really goes to show how words evolve over time. It’s also related to the Dutch word “hennep.” Nowadays, of course, hemp only refers to non-psychoactive varieties of cannabis.

Dagga

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While countries in northern Africa use different terms, in South Africa and surrounding areas, “dagga” is commonly used to describe cannabis. Dagga is the Afrikaans word for cannabis that became widely used in the 1660s. Dagga derives from the word “dacha” in the Khoekhoe language, used by Hottentot people, and is a term used to describe cannabis and other various psychoactive plant species such as Leonotis leonurus, a smokable shrub also called lion’s tail. Today, legendary strains like Durban Poison and Malawi Gold put South Africa on the map.

Hashish

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According to English Words of Arabic Ancestry, the earliest known archived record of the word “hashish” is from 1598, but it has been commonly used at least since the Middle Ages. Hashish comes from “assassin,” originating from the 13th century French and Italian words “assissini” and “assassini,” and transforming from the Arabic “hashīshīn” in the 12th century. Legend has it that assassins from the Hassan-i Sabbāh sect used hashish to recruit more members by drugging themselves and others with the potent cannabis concentrate, as described in Marco Polo’s writings.

Bhang

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The ancient Sanskrit word for cannabis is exceptionally old and dates back to the 5th century BC or 400 CE. According to Cannabis: A History, the word “bhang” and other variations became popular among Hindi-speaking cultures. The word was first mentioned in 1596 by Dutch merchant Jan Huyghen van Linschoten. The Shaivite tradition, for instance, believes that bhang should be given as an offering to Shiva. It has been used to describe hemp, marijuana, and intoxicating drinks made from marijuana. Modern bhang is usually a cannabis tea made with milk and sometimes saffron and garam masala.

Pakalōlō

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Literally speaking, pakalōlō, the Hawaiian word for weed, means “numbing tobacco.” The Hawaiian “paka” means tobacco, and “lōlō” means numbing or getting high. It has been in use since at least 1842, when it appeared in the Hawaiian language newspaper Ka Nonanona. It’s also the reason for the name of the cannabis brand lōlō. In Barack Obama’s early years living in Hawaii, he and his “Choom Gang” (stoner crew) called weed pakalōlō. We love Maui Wowie and classic Kona Gold.

This article appears in the August 2022 issue of High Times. Subscribe here.

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  1. Helps with pain, insomnia, and much more. Has less calories than a 12 pack. It needs to be made legal across the board — no need to reschedule, no need to do anything, but change the archaic law! Allow adults the same rights as alcohol, regulate the same way and punish misuse the same way. Don’t overthink, don’t overcomplicate!

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