‘Marijuana’ vs. ‘cannabis’: Study finds different terms make no difference

With the rise of legal weed, you might have noticed a slight change of terminology since the illicit days of the drug — most notably, many are calling it “cannabis” rather than “marijuana.”

Some have argued that the term “cannabis” should be used instead of “marijuana” to help build a new image for the drug, away from the latter’s history and stigma.

The name “marijuana” was largely adopted in the 20th century by prohibitionists as a way to scare white people from using it because it sounded foreign.

“Cannabis,” on the other hand, is the scientific name for weed and presents a fresh start to build a friendly image of the drug.

One study from researchers at Vanderbilt University asserts, though, that the different terms actually makes no difference in how the drug is perceived.

The study, titled Has the “M” word been framed? Marijuana, cannabis, and public opinion, was released last week in the journal PLOS-ONE.

It found that in all of its tests, there was “no evidence to suggest that the public distinguishes between the terms ‘marijuana’ and ‘cannabis.’”

The study partnered with YouGov and surveyed 1,600 adults in the U.S., to find their opinion on four terms: “marijuana,” “cannabis,” “medical marijuana,” and “medical cannabis.”

To find whether the different terms make a difference, the study asked whether people support “marijuana legalization” versus “cannabis legalization.”

According to the survey, 50.1 per cent supported the former while 50.3 per cent supported the latter — not much of a difference.

Similar results were found when respondents were asked whether “cannabis” or “marijuana” are “morally acceptable,” and their perceived potential harms of the substance.

However, 34.3 per cent “strongly” supported “cannabis legalization” compared to 26 per cent that “strongly” supported “marijuana legalization.”

That was not enough to convince the researchers that calling the drug “cannabis” boosted public support for the drug.

Ultimately, the study found the two terms alone don’t affect public perception of the drug.

“We find no support for the notion that changing the name of the drug from ‘marijuana’ to ‘cannabis’ affects public opinion on the drug or the policies governing it,” the study states.

The study did find though that attaching the word “medical” before either term improved people’s perception of the drug.

Respondents said they found medical marijuana/cannabis users to be “sick” and “honest,” while marijuana/cannabis users were described as “teenaged” and “lazy.”

“We find consistent support for the notion that the public views the drug more favourably when told it is for medical versus unspecified purposes,” the study states. “The public is much more supportive of legalization of medical use, more morally accepting of it, less bothered by activities involving it, less convinced that it is harmful, and more likely to attribute positive traits to its users when told that the drug is ‘medical.’”

About the author
Eric Stober

Eric is an experienced journalist that enjoys cannabis for its many creative benefits. He has written for Global News, Post City magazine, The Grid and many more blogs.

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