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Part of Cannabis and consumers

From the archives: This article was originally published February 9, 2018

If, five years ago, someone had asked me how I felt about cannabis, I'd assume they were a cop.

Even the term "marijuana" – a word believed to be brought to the United States by Mexican migrant workers before the prohibition era, which was later used to promote racist anti-pot messaging – was a red flag to discreet and casual users such as myself.

Weed, cheeba, ganja, sticky-icky, dank nugs – terms the community has appropriated from Rastafarians, West Coast hippies, rappers and Indian yogis: These are the words that would have communicated familiarity and therefore acceptance of the habit. But what do you call it now that Canada has developed a sophisticated legal medical program and is close to passing its recreational cannabis legislation? Well, from black-market producers to young workers in illegal dispensaries to the burgeoning, optimistic legal industry: We've all agreed to say cannabis.

I joined the industry full-time last spring. First, I handled the social-media channels for a Canadian licensed producer of medicinal cannabis. Replacing "weed" with "cannabis" came naturally in a medical setting because, after all, it's the proper botanical name for the plant.

It's not just scientific: Marketers have another challenge, which is to try to reduce stigma and break through the stoner stereotypes. No, we're not all lazy or forgetful. We don't all wear Birkenstocks and tie-dye and talk like surfers. Using neutral language helps to market the product to a new, curious population that feels alienated by films such as Pineapple Express.

But in my new role as an editor for a Canadian cannabis news and reviews website, we know that "weed" is searched far more than "cannabis" or "marijuana" on Google. Weed stocks, surprising no one, is one of the most-searched terms on search engines. But some feel the word connotes something negative. (I would argue that it really it depends on your tone.)

But what's even more interesting is how much language hasn't changed. Cannabis is a marketer's nightmare, and not just because Canada's advertising regulations are likely going to look a lot like tobacco's. It's also complicated and not simple to unpack: There are so many different types of the plant with myriad and unconventional names; various ways of ingesting it and countless accoutrements that you never dreamed you would ever want to know about, let alone own. And – fortunately for those of us with a sense of humour – there just isn't the time or desire to rebrand the whole lexicon.

And that's why I love cannabis: Yes, it's extremely complex and powerful. But it's also very, very silly.

For example: strains. Would you like some Green Crack or are you more in the mood for a Sour Diesel? How about some Bubba's Gift? There are innumerable strains of cannabis, and some licensed producers are developing proprietary genetics with even more names. Different strains produce different effects, so it's important to know what you're using, and I will never forget the time I heard a brand-new user extol the sleepytime virtues of "kush," an indica (one of two categories of cannabis) derived from the Kush mountains in South Asia. Why? Because Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre have a song dedicated to kush; rapper Wiz Khalifa called one of his mixtapes Kush & OJ, a winning combination I'm sure. It warms the heart.

Ingestion methods also present a steep learning curve when it comes to vocabulary. We all know that joints are, uh, "marijuana cigarettes," right? (Has any cannabis user ever said that, ever, in the history of the universe?) And because we can all agree smoking spliffs, blunts and jimmies is generally bad for your health, new ingestion methods have been invented. Now, many patients registered with Health Canada are advised to buy a vaporizer or vape, which heats up your pot (or dried cannabis flower) in a portable oven to "decarb" it (or decarboxylate, which activates the psychoactive and anti-inflammatory compounds) without combusting it.

First, you put your flower in a grinder – simple palm-size steel technology that helps you break down your cannabis from a tight nugget to a fluffy substance. Then you fill a chamber with flower. Adjust your temperature settings, and once it's ready, sip lightly on the mouthpiece. We call the flavours you taste "terps" (or terpenes), which are actually found in lots of other plants. Increasingly, cannabis consumers want to know more about terpenes, which were once described to me as the "essential oils" of cannabis. Substances such as limonene and myrcene are aromatic, and produce weed's distinctive, unmistakable scent. Sometimes it's a little skunky, sometimes it's almost fruity, but … you know it. In Toronto, where I live, I smell it on the streets multiple times a day.

As you continue to grind your pot over time, a powdery, sticky substance called kief collects in the bottom chamber. Researchers have discovered that this is where the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound) and CBD (cannabidiol, the anti-inflammatory, "body-buzz"-inducing non-psychoactive) are located, and it's also what you make hash from. It's gold, and many just mix it in with a joint or sprinkle it on to a bong hit.

Can you believe I'm writing this for The Globe & Mail?

Sorry, to continue: Flower that has been vaped now has an abbreviated term – ABV. This stands for Already Been Vaped. Yes, seriously! But it doesn't matter, because you can recycle your ABV. Sprinkle it into your slow cooker with a few sticks of butter to make canna-butter for edibles. (But be careful. Think of the Toronto officers who recently called their own police department on themselves after eating edibles. Mostly harmless, but positively mortifying!)

And because the new legal industry isn't just building on what the illegal industry innovated, defined black-market language is alive and well at Canada's 80-plus licensed producers. Production facilities, sometimes hundreds of thousands of square feet in size, are still often referred to as "grows." And some even sell "shake" – the lower-quality blends of bits and pieces of cannabis that have fallen off as the smokable flowers are trimmed from the plants. Shake is useful for edibles, too.

But there is one term that, for me, still distinguishes the activists and counterculture from the rest of us who are leaping on the new legal bandwagon. You know you're talking to an old-school member of the cannabis community when they send you an e-mail and, instead of opening with, "Hi Kate," they open with, "High Kate!"

I admit, there was a time that made me cringe. But when I'm watching the politics unfold with the worries about youth (who already use cannabis more than in any other country) or the new marketing campaigns aimed at de-stonerizing the culture's reputation, it's easy to forget that this was supposed to be fun. It's easy to forget how we got here and why.

The government says they're legalizing recreational cannabis because prohibition hasn't dissuaded enough young people, whose developing brains could be affected, from using it. Nor has it prevented organized crime. But it was cannabis activists and, yes, drug dealers – who risked their reputations, their abilities to travel, their relationships with their families, their freedom – who created Canada's enthusiasm for cannabis. Why? Because they believed in not just its medicinal applications, but also its power to bring people together to connect, tell jokes and have fun.

Cannabis, weed, whatever you want to call it: So long as it contains THC, it will make you feel high. No words can ever change that. Weed does alter your perception. And yes, it might also make you talk silly.

The views expressed are the author's own.

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