The Birth of the Name Cannabis Sativa and Why it Matters Now more than Ever
Cannabis has so many different names occured over the years- over a thousand at least! But let’s dive into how it was coined cannabis sativa and why it matters now more than ever.
If we're talking to Grandma now, we call it “Cannabis”. Behind our back, Grandma calls it “dope" and "Devil’s Lettuce.” When we used to get yelled at by Mom, it was, "Do I smell Marijuana leaves in there?!” Back in the dark ages of Colorado's prohibition, it was “the herb” when hitting up a dealer.
However, to Traditional Chinese medicine? It was called Ma, a plant medicine known to balance yin and yang properties. (Sound like the endocannabinoid system function of maintaining homeostasis, anyone?)
Now that we are in the Cannabis Renaissance Era (at least here in Boulder, sorry San Antonio) we call it * pinky out * Cannabis. Then we go on to add that it's the OG Kush Cultivar. We clink our bitters infused with tetrahydrocannabinol and discuss our favorite terpene profile and craft grower’s recent shift to coconut fiber.
It may seem odd for non-legal states. A dream come true, perhaps? Indeed we DO have these kinds of conversations in the Colorado Cannabis industry at open consumption lounges.
Why does it matter what we call the plant?
We use each name in different kinds of conversations. Each name evokes a different emotion. Our collective thought about a thing may affect what passes in government. What is legal can be the difference between life and death.
We are fortunate to sit pretty on our heaps of hand-craft cannabis cultivars. However, this year, on March 6th, 2019, a six-year-old girl Charley with epilepsy was starting show serious improvements on a cannabis oil from Colorado. Her father Dave rushed here to get more, taking a great risk to bring it to her in the illegal state of illinois. He was in Colorado for forty-five minutes when he got the call. His daughter was unresponsive. Charley died of a seizure.
We, as a nation, need to take a better look at this plant. A small but powerful way we can improve the perception of the plant is how we choose to talk about it. The power of a name can get the plant to be seen as scientific medicine or as a drug.
What's in a name?
Cannabis: the ancient world’s name for a hemp plant.
Sativa: Meaning “cultivated."
Cannabis is thought to be one of the earliest crops to be cultivated by humanity. A legend goes the Chinese grew cannabis (then called 'ma') since 10,000-6,000BC. The supposedly first written record is said to be 2727 BC in the Pen Ts'ao by Shen Nung. We'll go more into early history with cannabis, so stay tuned.
But let’s go back to the first clever guy who first called this plant Cannabis Sativa, and why does it matter today.
By untangling the cultural myths around cannabis, we may be able to educate our friends and families better. But also, to dispel some distorted thinking created during the 30’s anti-marijuana propaganda that hangs around in many people’s minds. The Man who coined cannabis Sativa had an intriguing way of looking at the world that influences how we may see cannabis itself!
(Enters stage left)
Meet Carl Von Linnaeus (AKA Linné) hailing from Sweden, living between 1707 and 1778. As a kid, homie was obsesssseedddd with plants- much to the disappointment of his parents. They wanted him to be a priest, but Carl wanted to hang out with plants. #Relatable
Carl up and moved to the Netherlands to earn his medical degree at the University of Harderwijk. In the port town, he began the “System Naturae.” His work is an outline of a new way to classify and name living things we still use today! His system is known fondly as the Linnaean system of classification in which our favorite plant was termed Cannabis Sativa.
Why was Carl Linnaeus so obsessed with naming plants, though?
Homie loved nature, a lot. He always managed to hold on to his sense of wonder with living things. Linnaeus was also religious and saw his scientific efforts as a form of worship to a divine creator.
Linnaeus thought, "the study of nature would reveal the Divine Order of God's creation."
He believed "it was the naturalist's task to construct a "natural classification" that would reveal this Order in the universe.” *
Thus, Linnaeus later updated the work’s title to:
Systema Naturae: Creationis telluris est gloria Dei ex opere Naturae per Hominem solum.
This translates to:
The Earth's creation is the glory of God, as seen from the works of Nature by Man alone.
As a company, we don’t take any stance on religion. We’re committed to providing the truth as much as we can. We didn’t want to withhold this particular part of Carl’s scientific thought just because it does contain religious content.
It is fascinating to compare the Father of Taxonomy's idea that Earth's creation is the glory of God the distorted American thinking during the '30s. Exhibit A: Devil's Harvest.
It’s interesting that this is very massive divergence from Carl’s original idea in taxonomy that plants are the work of a divine creator.
Cannabis in the Order of the Universe
In the original Linnaean system in 1753, Carl describes cannabis as a single species of hemp called “Cannabis Sativa. Currently, cannabis the classification that stems from our boy Carl Linnaeus’s work looks like this in the United States:
There are about 170 known species of plants in the cannabaceae family, including a variety of hops, nettle trees, and small evergreen trees.
We hope to show people cannabis has had a natural place in the world for thousands of years, and to dispel the cultural myths surrounding it. Not only for young people like Charley, who could have benefitted from it, but for our own clients who may also struggle to medicate due in part to family pressure or society’s miseducation.
Which names do you use for cannabis? With who? Also, do you notice a change when you use a different name in the quality of conversation?
Let us know in a comment on social media! We'd love to share your thoughts with others.
References: Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany by Robert C. Clarke and Mark D. Merlin, copyright 2013, University of California Press via Leafly https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/the-cannabis-taxonomy-debate-where-do-indica-and-sativa-classific
The Cannabaceae Family
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