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Words matter: why it’s time to reclaim the language around cannabis

Hemp Point explores how the cannabis industry can use language to challenge stigma and stereotypes.



Centuries of stigma means that cannabis can still be a controversial word.

Whether it’s hemp extract or CBD oil, it’s still just cannabis. But decades of stigma means cannabis is still a controversial word. Hemp Point explores how the industry can use language to challenge stereotypes. 

Would a cannabis plant by any other name smell as sweet?  Shakespeare jokes aside, the hundreds of different terms used to talk about what is essentially cannabis—from CBD to hemp and everything in between—can be confusing. And from the standpoint of a potential consumer, word choice could be the difference between purchasing a product and leaving it behind in the basket. 

Labels matter

As the legal cannabis industry evolves, a new lexicon has emerged to differentiate medicinal and adult-use cannabis products—which can contain psychoactive cannabinoids such as THC—from the non-psychoactive cannabis wellness products that are rolling out across pharmacies and high street retailers across the world. 

The latter, often lumped together under the label of ‘CBD,’ is a rapidly growing market that’s expected to increase in value from just US$45 billion in 2022 to more than US$101 billion by 2026.

But as Tomas Biroscik, founder of Hemp Point, explains, calling legal, non-psychoactive cannabis-based items ‘CBD’ can fail to capture the sheer range of additional beneficial compounds that might be present. CBD, after all, is just one of more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. 

This is one reason why Hemp Point is shifting from CBD-forward labelling to using the term ‘hemp extract’ instead. 

“I would be happy to call it a ‘cannabis extract’ because that’s what it is,” explains Biroscik. 

“CBD is just one [beneficial part of the cannabis plant], but there are much more. In extract you can find a range of cannabinoids and terpenes, flavonoids and other substances that exist in the plant as nature intended.” 

Breaking the stigma

When it comes to cannabis, perception is everything. The cannabis plant has a complex history plagued by propaganda and disinformation which ultimately led to worldwide prohibition. The term ‘cannabis’ still carries with it some of that stigma. 

“The power of language is extraordinary,” says Biroscik. 

“Our perception of the world is greatly influenced by the associations we attach to language. Cannabis remains illegal in many parts of the world, and many cannabis users still deal with stigmatisation from society, whether being judged or rejected from friends and family, [because of continued] negative stereotypes about cannabis consumers being lazy, dangerous or less intelligent.” 

The ‘lazy stoner’ is perhaps the most commonly depicted cannabis consumer in mainstream media (think Spaced or Knocked Up), and has become a stereotype synonymous with cannabis. Yet researchers have found no scientific evidence that cannabis users are less motivated than their non-cannabis-using counterparts.

“It’s important to become much more conscious in choosing the way we speak about [cannabis] and start differentiating cannabis as medical, wellness or recreational cannabis,” says Biroscik. 

“Separating wellness terminology and symbolism from slang is essential in retaining public perception of the plant’s health benefits.”

Embracing a holistic, whole-plant approach

Knowledge of the many health benefits of cannabis is slowly becoming mainstream, hence the burgeoning cannabis wellness industry. But with so many different products saturating the market, how can consumers choose what’s right for them? 

One term to look out for is ‘whole-plant’, a process that preserves many of the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids present in the natural cannabis flower. 

“The term ‘whole-plant’ actually emerged in response to the trend of isolating cannabis compounds like CBD or THC,” explains Biroscik. 

“Whole-plant refers to cannabis that is enjoyed in its original state—flower form—from which cannabis extract is produced, with intent to preserve as much of the plant’s biodiversity as possible.” 

Research suggests that cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids complement each other to create a more effective experience. This is referred to as the ‘entourage effect’. Products that are CBD-isolate based only will likely lack some of the additional benefits which could be found in a whole-plant product. 

“In some areas, laws prohibit the manufacturing or possession of anything more than CBD isolate, banning products with [even minimal amounts of] THC,” says Biroscik. 

“However we believe whole-plant is more effective because it contains chemical diversity expressed in the plant.” 

But until laws change to reflect the reality of cannabis’ health and wellness potential, the legal cannabis industry will have to remain careful and clear when talking about and labelling products. 

“People are seeking a getaway from reality, and it doesn’t matter if you’re talking legal, illegal or pharmaceutical,” says Biroscik. 

“If we legalise cannabis, the industry will turn to whole-plant itself. If we don’t, the industry will distribute synthetic and semisynthetic psychoactive cannabinoids (which can be harmful) because they’re not prohibited.”

He continues: “The only way to make this right is legalisation.”


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