Oaksterdam Cannabis Terminology Style Guide

More media is reporting on cannabis than ever before, requiring common-use definitions of the terms and concepts core to writing about its complexities. Cannabis isn’t a simple subject; more than 80 years of prohibition have muddled knowledge of the plant’s taxonomy, therapeutic use, cultivation, culture, history, law, and scientific study. Until now, there have been no common style standards for writing about this subject.

Oaksterdam has published the first-ever style guide style for use in academia and by any journalist, reporter, writer, or public relations professional. It was composed and edited by the experts at Oaksterdam University and will evolve with use, so we welcome your feedback, input, questions, and requests for clarification.

The guide supplements the AP Style Guide for journalists and PR professionals and The Chicago Manual of Style for educators. Here is a sample. E-book or print versions of the guide can be ordered here.

Need fact-checking or experts to review your content before you publish?

Oaksterdam University is happy to offer expert practitioners to review your content for accuracy and provide quotes from authoritative experts and specialists from every facet of the cannabis industry. Please contact [email protected] for assistance or visit Oaksterdam Cannabis Content Review Service to learn more.


Although there are various alternate histories of where the term originated, it was originally used as code for high school students in Northern California as the “time to smoke.” This is commonly understood by audiences already familiar with cannabis, but should be defined at first use for unfamiliar audiences.

When referring to the date or the date as an adjective to refer to events and celebrations use “4/20.” When using it as an adjective to describe the culture in any way, use “420.”


Adult Use

The term “adult use” is an adjective used to distinguish cannabis use by any person over the age of 21 from those who have a recommendation from a doctor for medicinal use. “Adult use” can and should be used in place of “recreational” because that term is most often associated with activities for children and therefore is inappropriate.

See also Legalization, Medical/Medicinal, Recreational



Like hydroponics, “aeroponics” is a soil-free method of cultivation. Nutrition is provided through fertilizers and supplements mixed into the water. In aeroponics, the plant’s roots are suspended in air rather than a soilless growing medium and misted with a nutrient-water solution. 

Aeroponics should not be capitalized unless at the beginning of a sentence and defined for unfamiliar audiences at first use. 

See also Hydroponics



Also referred to as “automatic.”

The autoflowering trait in cannabis is a genetic adaptation that most likely originated in Russia and Northern China. Autoflowering plants begin their flowering cycle immediately after germination as opposed to annual plants that initiate their flowering cycle in the spring as the sunlight hours grow longer. Autoflowering cannabis plants have shorter life cycles that benefit cultivators looking to produce multiple crops outdoors or in climates with short growing seasons. Indoor cultivators can also benefit from the quicker maturation cycles of autoflowering cannabis.

European seed banks are most likely to refer to these varieties as “automatics.” Use the term “autoflower” when referring to the genetic trait described here and the term “automatic” only in varietal names where a company or nursery already uses it. Depending on the audience, state that automatic is the same as autoflower and define it if necessary. 

See also Indica/Sativa/Ruderalis, Photoperiod



See Autoflower


Black Market

See Illegal/Unlicensed/Black Market


Budder (“butter”) See Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Hydrocarbon Extraction



Also referred to as “flower” or “flowers.”

The term “buds” refers to the dried resinous flowers of the cannabis plant, which contain the highest concentrations of THC, CBD, and other desirable phytochemical compounds. The terms “bud” and “flower” are often used in both the plural and the singular in colloquial use. “Bud” should only be used in quotations. Use the term “flowers,” plural, as what is referred to alternately as “buds,” “bud,” or “flower,” are actually a cluster of many flowers on a single stem called inflorescences (or racemes). 

See also Cannabis, Flower(s), Marijuana


Butane Hash Oil (BHO)

Also referred to as wax, shatter, budder, and live resin, among many other terms. 

Butane hash oil (BHO) refers to a form of hydrocarbon extraction of cannabis compounds using butane as a solvent. It is not legal to produce BHO at home and is only safe to produce in a licensed facility with professional equipment and trained operators.

BHO is sold in vaporizer cartridges or by the gram for home vaporization or combustion (smoking). It is sold under various names, usually in reference to variations in processing that result in different textures, shades, and consistencies of the finished products. These names include but are not limited to wax, shatter, budder, and live resin. 

Spell out “butane hash oil (BHO)” without capitalization at first use and simply “BHO” in every use thereafter. Use the terms “wax,” “budder,” “shatter,” (etc.) only when referencing specific products that use these names. 

See also Dabs, Extracts, Hydrocarbon Extraction



We Welcome Your Feedback

Thank you for using the Oaksterdam Cannabis Style Guide. We hope you found it useful. We consider this an evolving document so please check back. If you have any feedback, input, questions, or requests for clarification, or would like to book an interview with an Oaksterdam expert, please contact [email protected] for assistance.


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