Language Matters: Weed, Words and Perception

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Set up in the mountains of Syria and Persia during the Crusades in the years 1090-1275 a secret society of highly trained Assassins and his magnetic leader, Hasan Ben Sabah, aka the Old Man of the mountain lived among their adversaries the Mustali. At least that is most likely the plot for the story of the origin of the word Assassin and how it entered the English language.

Most of the records on the Nizari Ismaili,  the original name of the brotherhood and secret society,  vanished during The Inferno of Alamut  in 1256 by the hands of the Mongol army of Genghis Khan; after the fires,  the Assassins’ vast library disappeared and the documentation that survived, came to us from a Persian historian named Ata Malik Juvani, sympathizer of the Mongols,  or from European accounts that lived long after the events.

One hypothesis based on texts recovered by Juvani from the Alamut, states that their leader, Hassan Ben Sabah, called his disciples Asāsiyyūn (أساسيون, or obedient to the faith; the word sound similar, had a different meaning but it is believed to be the case of a language false friend, apparently some foreign historians misunderstood or mistranslate the term as deriving from the term hashish.

The term hashishi or hashish users spread during the medieval period, it is said that Marco Polo and Western scholarship contributed to the popular view of a radical sect of hashish users assassins and by the end of the 14th century, the origin of the word disappeared, thereafter the term Assassin exclusively means “professional murderer.

Even though the first evidence of the term hashishi used is from 1122, it is important to know that it was not used by the Nizari Ismaili brotherhood but by their opponents that used it in a derogatory sense, with the desire of defaming their enemies.

Today, the story is revived by the stealth video game Assassin’s Creed a fictionalized version of the real story with millions of fans around the world.

It is also a brotherhood of players, and a game said to be made for cannabis smokers with deep roots in the stoner subculture.

Parenthesis, I cannot escape imagining a brotherhood of gamers murdering their fridges and just the fridges after a long night play and humongous munchies, and probably not deliberating on the story of the Nizari Ismaili and I know it may not be fair with the brotherhood, but I’m a noob and the picture makes me laugh.

Weed Words And perceptions
via @JosiEpic/Twenty20

Back to the idea behind this post, language matters…

…and in the face of a political change around the world, with cannabis becoming mainstream, we need to rethink and revitalize the perception around marijuana by changing the language. It is not casual that the Global Commission in Drug Policy report of 2019 states that attitudes drive drug policies and not facts, and that is the challenge we have as a society, to change the narrative fill with negative connotation with the baggage of the past for a more positive perception based on facts and not opinions.

Healthcare workers, policymakers, journalists and we as citizens by promoting the use of non-stigmatizing and non-discriminatory language will have an impact, more significant than we can imagine now.

Marijuana, weed, pot, cannabis or a cumulate of popular alternatives including the devil´s lettuce, 420, dope, tea and many more, were coined by an underground subculture as a coded language in need for secrecy to navigate the illegal status with the help of slang.


From hell to wonderland, Cannabis is in the path of transforming the way society thinks about it, nevertheless,  even with what we have progressed, the narrative must shift if we want to win the fight against prejudices and criminalization and as investment, research and development grows, in the medical field, the cuisine,  from CBN to the late boomers, from terpenes to infused, the environment and even climate change solutions we are still midway the reefers madness fever of the 30s and a new cannabis paradise.


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