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.
This style guide is designed 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.
This guide supplements the AP Style Guide for journalists and PR professionals and The Chicago Manual of Style for educators.
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.”
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 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
Cannabimimetic refers to molecular compounds that are not cannabinoids but interact with the endocannabinoid system. Cannabimimetic molecules are found in various plants, including frankincense, kava, black pepper, chocolate, echinacea, and liverwort.
Also known as marijuana and hemp
The term “cannabis” refers to any plant in the cannabis genus, including plants grown for either their resinous medicinal flowers or their industrial uses such as paper, fabric, food, lotions, plastics, and building materials. Cannabis taxonomy is not settled. While the genus, Cannabis L., is generally agreed upon in scientific communities, species and subspecies are not as clearly defined. (See Indica/Sativa/Ruderalis for more clarification on the taxonomy debate.)
Because of the muddled traditional and legal definitions, reporting on the cannabis and hemp industries also becomes muddled. A common reporting mistake is to refer to hemp as a “cousin” to cannabis or “marijuana.” This is inaccurate. Hemp is cannabis but has separate legal and traditional botanical definitions.
The entire cannabis plant — flowers, leaves, seeds, and stalks — is harvestable and usable. Traditionally, plants referred to as “hemp” or “industrial hemp” were bred to harvest their seeds and stalks, which can be manufactured into a long list of byproducts. Plants bred primarily for their resinous flowers, specifically the density of therapeutic compounds they contain, have traditionally been referred to as “marijuana.” Legally, it is the overall content of the psychotropic cannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that distinguishes “hemp” from “marijuana.” Although the distinction is arbitrary and confuses traditional understandings of cannabis varieties, in the United States, plants that contain less than 0.3% THC are legally considered “hemp,” and those that contain greater than 0.3% THC are considered “marijuana” or “cannabis.” This arbitrary threshold to distinguish “hemp” from “marijuana/cannabis” ranges from 0.3% to 1% worldwide.
Due to arbitrary THC thresholds, the majority of the global and domestic hemp producers focus on low-THC cannabis flowers that contain more significant amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) and other therapeutic compounds, as opposed to growing the plant for its industrial uses.
In most cases, the writer will need to define the terms used in source quotations or legislation. The following definitions allow a writer to assess the meaning of the terms better as they are being used in a particular context and clearly define and clarify them for their audience:
Hemp can be defined as either:
- Cannabis flowers grown for non-psychotropic therapeutic compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenes, with an overall THC content arbitrarily set to less than 0.3% in the United States.
- Cannabis plants grown to harvest their seeds and stalks to make products such as foods, personal care products, fabric, plastics, and sustainable building materials, among many other uses.
Marijuana is defined as:
- A slang term used to describe the dried resinous flowers of the cannabis plant with a THC content greater than 0.3%.
Cannabis is defined as:
- The more appropriate term, as opposed to “marijuana,” to refer to the dried resinous flowers of the cannabis plant with a THC content greater than 0.3%.
- The entire plant and all of its uses.
Always default to the term “cannabis” when referring to what is commonly known as “marijuana.” “Marijuana” is a controversial slang term (See Marijuana).
When referring to commercial industries, the term “cannabis industry” generally refers to products made from high-THC plants, and “hemp industry” refers to products made from low-THC plants. Again, to provide the reader with the best understanding possible, use the term definitions provided here to clarify the meaning of “hemp” in the context it is being used.
The term “cannabis” should be capitalized and italicized only when used in scientific nomenclature, such as Cannabis Sativa L. In all other instances, do not capitalize “cannabis” unless it appears at the beginning of a sentence.
See also Cannabinoids, Flowers, Hemp, Marijuana, Reefer Madness
The term “cannabis oil” can refer to any extract or concentrate of cannabis that is an oily consistency but most often refers to full extract cannabis oil (FECO), also known as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). This term should always be defined clearly for the reader to make the appropriate distinction within the context because it is alternately defined as the following:
- Hemp seed oil
- Carrier oils such as olive or coconut infused with cannabis flowers
- FECO/RSO, which is a dense, thick, tar-like extraction popularized for its therapeutic use by cancer patients
- Distillate oil
See also Cannabis, Concentrates, Distillate, Extracts, Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO), Hemp, Hydrocarbon Extraction
Cannabinoids are compounds that bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which is found in almost all animal life, including humans. Well-known endocannabinoids include anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), and others yet to be identified.
- Endogenous cannabinoids or “endocannabinoids” are produced within the body. This includes anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), and many others that may or may not have already been identified.
- Plants produce phytocannabinoids that also interact with the endocannabinoid systems of animals. Cannabis is not the only plant that produces cannabinoids. THC and CBD are (currently) the most commonly sought-after plant-sourced cannabinoids found in the resin of cannabis flowers.
- There are two different substances referred to as “synthetic cannabinoids.” The first is FDA-approved pharmaceuticals produced in laboratory settings, such as dronabinol (Marinol®, synthetic THC). The second refers to various unregulated “designer” mixtures, like “Spice/K2,” which are sold in convenience stores and smoke shops, are dubiously legal, and sometimes dangerous. These do not contain classic cannabinoids, nor do they have the same safety profile.
- Synthesized cannabinoids use chemical processes to convert hemp-sourced cannabinoids such as CBD and THC into THCO, Δ8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC), and other cannabinoids that naturally occur in the plant in minimal quantities. Cannabis researchers have raised concerns about their use and safety in new products sold on the hemp market.
While all cannabinoids, endogenous, phyto, synthesized, or synthetic, can be referred to as “cannabinoids,” when appropriate within the context of the work, they should be defined to distinguish their source.
Always define “endogenous cannabinoids” at first use and then use “endocannabinoid” for subsequent uses within the same work.
Phytocannabinoids can be referred to in the appropriate context as simply “cannabinoids” because of the common use of the term to refer to THC, CBD, and other cannabis phytocannabinoids. THC and CBD are often referred to as just their acronyms when it is assumed that the audience is already familiar with the terms. While it can be the writer’s choice to spell the compounds out fully at first use, the full names of all other cannabinoids should be spelled out first before abbreviated. Here is a list of the most common:
- Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
Always use the delta symbol (Δ) and a superscript 9 with a hyphen in Δ9-THC and similar compounds. Do not capitalize the full terms unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence.
Example: Cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are phytocannabinoids.
When using cannabinoids to describe different plant varieties, use a hyphen. In plants, these are referred to as “dominant,” and in products, “rich.”
Example: CBD-rich lotion and THC-dominant plants.
If a cannabinoid was synthesized rather than a naturally occurring endo- or phytocannabinoid, state it is synthetic or synthesized upon first use.
Cannabinoid Acids & Varin Cannabinoids
Before cannabis is heated, compounds such as THC, CBD, and CBG have different molecular forms (they contain an additional carboxyl chain) and are called acid cannabinoids. Always spell them out at first use, and define “acid cannabinoids” if the audience is unlikely to be familiar. The “a” is lowercase in the acronyms. The most common acid cannabinoids and their acronyms are:
- Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa)
- Cannabidiolic acid (CBDa)
- Cannabigerolic acid (CBGa)
The cannabis plant synthesizes Cannabigerol acid (CBGa) first. Depending on the plant’s genetics and the environment it is growing in, CBGa will combine with a THCa, CBDa, or CBCa synthase to become THCa, CBDa, or CBCa. These “cannabinoid acids” become their active counterparts (CBG, THC, CBD, CBC) either through heating or maturation.
Varin cannabinoids are another form that naturally occur in smaller amounts in some cannabis varieties. The letter “V” remains capitalized in their acronyms:
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
- Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
See also Cannabis, Flowers, Hemp
The term “chemotype” classifies cannabis varieties by the spectrum of phytochemicals they produce.
See also Genotype, Phenotype
Cannabis plants are commonly grown from seeds and clones. A clone, or “cutting,” is a branch cut from another plant and rooted to grow a new full-sized plant. It has identical genetics to the plant it was cut from, referred to as “the mother.” Define the term at first use for unfamiliar audiences. A simple definition is “starter plant.”
Closed-loop extraction refers to making cannabis extracts using volatile solvents (like butane) with industrial equipment. Producing cannabis extractions using volatile solvents is dangerous and should never be done at home. In professional, licensed, and commercial settings, closed-loop extraction machines recycle the solvent rather than disperse it in the air, making the process safer and more sustainable.
Always hyphenate “closed-loop.” Do not use “close loop.”
See also Hydrocarbon Extraction, Butane Hash Oil (BHO)
Also referred to as “smoking.”
Combustion is a chemical process that creates tar and ash and is the basis for health concerns like bronchitis. The term “combustion” has come into common use in the cannabis industry to differentiate cannabis smoking from cannabis vaporization. In most cases, “combustion” can be used interchangeably with “smoking” if the intended audience is already familiar.
The term “concentrate” refers to the final product of the resinous glands that have been separated from cannabis flowers and concentrated into kief or various forms of hash. As a subcategory of “hash,” concentrates are differentiated from “extracts.” They are not produced using solvents but through sifting, pressing, rolling, or a combination of agitation and cool temperatures, often ice water. The resulting product is a concentration of the separated resin that can be further subcategorized by the process used to concentrate it. Examples of solventless hash are kief, bubble hash, pressed hash, and rosin. While all extracts are also concentrates, concentrates are not extracts. Unless the audience is already familiar with cannabis hashes and subcategories, provide context and a definition at first use.
See also Extract, Hash, Kief
The word “strain” is often used to describe varieties of cannabis but is incorrectly used to reference plants. The term “strain” is appropriate to classify viruses, fungi, and bacteria. The word “cultivar” is often the more suitable replacement. It is a portmanteau derived from “cultivated variety.” It refers to the dried resinous flowers of the cannabis plant as a unique product of both the plant’s genetics and the conditions provided by the cultivator. It can be used in place of “strain” or “variety” where appropriate. Capitalize cultivar names, which are proper nouns.
Example: Well-known sativa varieties include Punto Rojo and Acapulco Gold.
See also Chemotype, Strain, Variety
See Garden/Grow/Cultivation Space/Farm
The term “dab” is used as a noun and a verb. As a verb, it refers to the process of combusting or vaporizing small amounts (“dabs”) of extracted cannabis resin. As a noun, it refers to the extracted resins themselves. For clarity, avoid using “dab” and “dabbing” except in quotations or within the appropriate context. Instead, refer to the process of vaporization or cannabis extracts. When using the term, define it at first use unless the primary audience is already familiar with it.
See also Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Combustion, Concentrates, Extracts, Hydrocarbon Extraction
Dagga is commonly used in South Africa to refer to resinous cannabis flowers (aka “marijuana”). It is a Khoekhoe word, and although English spellings vary, the most widely used and understood is “dagga.” Dagga should be defined immediately for international audiences but may not necessarily need a definition for audiences in South Africa.
Cannabis distillate is produced using an extraction method that pulls chemicals out of cannabis resin, concentrates, or other extracts, which results in a refined oil that is almost 100% pure cannabinoids. The process removes terpenes, and while they can be captured and reintroduced, most distillate manufacturers substitute other botanically derived terpenes. The end product is a subcategory of “extracts” and is referred to as “distillate.” It is produced through the process of “distillation.” Unless the audience is already familiar with cannabis extracts, provide context and a definition at first use.
See Cannabis Oil, Extracts, Hash, Hydrocarbon Extraction
Drug War/War on Drugs
See War on Drugs
Use Roman numerals as opposed to numbers. Capitalize “Schedule.”
Example: Schedule I, Schedule II, Schedule III, Schedule IV, Schedule V
The term “edible” refers to any food infused with cannabis. Often, cannabis beverages are legally considered edibles. The term can be defined at first use for unfamiliar audiences as “cannabis-infused food” or “cannabis-infused beverage.”
Efficacy describes the use of the substance as “effective” for its intended purposes. Efficacy should not be confused with potency, which describes the quantity of the desired compound within a product.
See also Potency
Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of receptors that make up a complex regulatory system throughout the human brain, body, and central and peripheral nervous systems. The endocannabinoid system is thought to be the “mother” of all internal systems by some experts because it maintains homeostasis by regulating the processes of the body’s various systems.
Both naturally occurring (endogenous or endocannabinoids) and plant-sourced (phytocannabinoids) interact with the ECS to regulate mood, insomnia, pain, digestion, and more. CB1 and CB2 receptors are the most studied and understood. They are found throughout animal bodies regardless of cannabis use. CB1 receptors are primarily found in the central nervous system, and CB2 receptors are found primarily in immune cells.
Do not capitalize “endocannabinoid system” unless it appears at the beginning of a sentence.
Spell out the term at first use and use the acronym ECS for subsequent use.
Example: All animals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS interacts with cannabinoids and other compounds found in plants.
See also Cannabinoid
Entourage Effect/Ensemble Effect
What is usually referred to as the “entourage effect” is a theory postulated in 1998 by Dr. Mechoulam that the effects of cannabis are a result of a synergy of all the naturally-occurring plant compounds in cannabis (or other herbs) as opposed to any isolated ingredient within it. Many experts, including Oaksterdam University, now prefer the term “ensemble effect,” which implies harmony among all phytocompounds, as the term “entourage” can imply that one cannabinoid is more important than the others.
See also Cannabinoid, Flavonoid, Terpene
An extract is a hash made by stripping cannabis trichomes from plant matter using a chemical solvent such as alcohol, butane, propane, or carbon dioxide. The resulting concentrate is usually no longer considered “full spectrum,” except in the case of full extract cannabis oil (FECO), which is considered both an extract and full spectrum. While all extracts are also concentrated, concentrates are not extracts.
The end product of this process is referred to as an extract and is also a type of “hash” further subcategorized by the method used to extract it. Examples of extracted hashes are BHO, live resin, and most oils prepared for personal vaporizer “pens.” Unless the audience is already very familiar with cannabis hashes and subcategories, provide context and a definition at first use.
See Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Concentrates, Distillate, Hash, Hydrocarbon Extraction
The term “fan leaves” refers to the larger leaves that grow from the cannabis stem and branches to collect sunlight to fuel the process of photosynthesis. The five-fingered fan leaf is also the symbol most commonly associated with the cannabis plant. Terms such as “shade leaves” and “primary leaves” can be used interchangeably as long as the meaning is clear in context to the reader.
See Garden/Grow/Cultivation Space/Farm
Flavonoids are color pigments found in cannabis and other plants with known medicinal properties. They are part of what is referred to as the “full spectrum” of cannabis compounds found in “whole plant” cannabis products. Cannabis contains common flavonoids with known therapeutic properties found in other plants, such as quercetin and luteolin, and cannflavins, which are unique to the cannabis plant.
See Full Spectrum, Whole Plant
Also referred to as “bud” or “buds.”
The term “flowers” refers to the dried resinous flowers of the cannabis plant. These flowers have the highest concentration of resin, which contains THC, CBD, and other desirable chemical compounds.
The term “flower” is often used in both the plural and singular in colloquial use. The most accurate term to use is “flowers,” plural, because rather than being a single flower, what is referred to alternately as “buds,” “bud,” or “flower” is actually inflorescences (or racemes), which is a cluster of flowers on a single stem.
See also Bud(s), Cannabis, Marijuana
Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO)/Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)/Cannabis Oil
When made properly, full extract cannabis oil (FECO) is a highly-concentrated extract that includes as much of the full spectrum of phytocompounds as possible. It is thick, black, tar-like, and highly concentrated. It was popularized for use in cancer and other chronic or fatal illnesses by Canadian cancer patient Rick Simpson. Simpson popularized original methods for home production, and the resulting oil was referred to as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). West Coast growers prepare the oil using food-grade alcohol solvents and refer to the resulting product as FECO.
Unless appropriate in the context, use the term full extract cannabis oil (FECO) rather than Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). Rick Simpson Oil is always capitalized because it is a proper noun. Full extract cannabis oil is not capitalized unless at the beginning of a sentence. Spell out at first use and then use the acronyms thereafter for both terms.
The term “cannabis oil” is vaguely used to refer to FECO, RSO, and many other cannabis-infused oils and should always be defined for clarity.
See also Cannabis Oil, Extracts
Full spectrum refers to the entirety of the phytochemical compounds found in cannabis. Do not hyphenate.
See also Whole Plant.
Ganja is the term used in Jamaica and India to refer to dried resinous cannabis flowers. Only use this term in quotations or the relevant context of the cultural history of the plant in Jamaica and India.
While the terms are often used interchangeably in colloquial use, the terms distinguish size and market.
- “Garden” refers to small-scale cultivation, usually by a home grower/gardener.
- “Farm” refers to larger-scale outdoor cultivation.
- “Cultivation space” can refer to indoor or outdoor cultivation of any size but is most appropriately used for indoor gardens.
- The terms “grow,” “grow operation,” or “grow op” have traditionally been used as nouns and are associated with the legacy/illegal market. Do not use these terms unless in quotations or the appropriate historical context.
The terms “garden” and “farm” are often used as verbs and should remain consistent with the terms defined here as nouns.
The choice of the term should be consistent with the noun used to reference the garden, grow, farm, or cultivator. Although “grow op” or “grow” is a legacy market term that may no longer be appropriate, “grower” is appropriate for any cultivator.
See Garden/Grow/Farm/Cultivation Space
See Garden/Grow/Cultivation Space/Farm
“Hash” is a catch-all term for all extractions or concentrations of the resins produced by cannabis flowers. Unless used in a quotation, the “hash” type should be defined for clarity. There are many options, with the most common being:
- “Hashish” is an Arabic term that refers to pressed cannabis resin produced using traditional methods, such as sifting. The term should only refer to this traditional product made using traditional methods or in the appropriate historical and cultural context. No solvents are used to produce hashish.
- “Solventless hash” is a catch-all term for modern concentrated cannabis resin produced without using a chemical solvent, such as sifting, water extraction, or pressing. Types of solventless hash include “bubble hash” and “rosin.” Solventless is different from “solvent-free,” which implies a chemical solvent (like butane) was used but has been properly purged to non-detectable levels.
- Hydrocarbon extractions such as butane hash oil (BHO).
See Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Concentrates, Extracts, Hydrocarbon Extraction
Although “cannabis” and “hemp” are regulated separately, hemp is, in fact, also cannabis. Traditionally, plants referred to as “hemp” or “industrial hemp” were bred to harvest their seeds and stalks, which can be manufactured into a long list of byproducts. Plants bred for their leaves and resinous flowers, specifically the density of therapeutic compounds they contain, have traditionally been referred to as “marijuana.” Legally, it is the overall content of the psychotropic cannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that distinguishes “hemp” from “marijuana.” Although the distinction is arbitrary and confuses traditional understandings of cannabis varieties, plants that contain less than 0.3% THC are legally considered “hemp” in the United States, and those that contain greater than 0.3% THC are considered “marijuana” or “cannabis.”
With the legalization of hemp, the 0.3-1% THC threshold has shifted the majority of the global and domestic “hemp” markets toward producing low-THC cannabis flowers rather than growing the plant for its industrial uses.
Because of the muddled traditional and legal definitions, reporting on the hemp industry also becomes muddled. Common reporting mistakes include referring to hemp as “the male plants” or as a “cousin” to cannabis or “marijuana.” Neither assertion is accurate. Hemp is cannabis.
In most cases, the writer will need to define the terms used in source quotations and legislation. The following definitions allow a writer to assess the meaning of the terms better as they are being used in a particular context and clearly define them for their audience:
Hemp can be defined as either:
- Cannabis flowers grown for their non-psychotropic therapeutic compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenes, with an overall THC content of less than 0.3% THC (in the United States, up to 1% in other countries).
- Cannabis plants grown to harvest of their seeds and stalks to make products such as foods, personal care products, fabric, plastics, and sustainable building materials, among many other uses.
When referring to the industry, the term “cannabis industry” generally refers to products made from high-THC plants, and “hemp industry” refers to products made from low-THC plants but can sometimes instead refer to traditional industrial uses. Again, to provide the reader with the best understanding possible, use the term definitions provided here to clarify the meaning of “hemp” in the context it is being used.
See also Cannabis, Marijuana
“Hydrocarbon extract” refers to hashes extracted with hydrocarbon solvents such as butane, ethanol, or propane. The end products are referred to as butane hash oil (BHO), ethanol hash oil (EHO), or propane hash oil (PHO), respectively. The techniques used to produce each subcategory of hydrocarbon-extracted hash varies.
Home or DIY production of hydrocarbon extracts is dangerous. They are only safe to produce in a legal, licensed setting with well-trained staff and professional industrial equipment.
Hydrocarbon extracts are sold by the gram, half gram, or in vaporizer cartridges 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, live resin, shatter, taffy, pull and snap, sugar, budder, and batter/badder.
If the audience is already familiar with variations of hash and hydrocarbon extracts, there is no need to define terms. If the audience is unfamiliar, use the definitions here to provide relevant clarification and context.
See also Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Concentrates, Dabs, Extracts
Hydroponics is a method of plant cultivation where nutrition is provided through water in a soilless medium.
See also Aeroponics
Although the term “black market” refers to unlicensed/illegal markets, the term is offensive and should not be used. Instead, refer to the market as “illegal,” “illicit,” “unregulated,” or “unlicensed.” In the case of the semi-legal medical cannabis markets on the West Coast before adult-use legalization, these markets should be referred to as “the legacy market.” “Legacy” should only refer to the operators who originated safe access for medical patients and should not be used interchangeably with violent criminal cartels.
See also Legacy Market
The terms “indica,” “sativa,” and “ruderalis” refer to different varieties of cannabis based on their geographic origins and common traits. While the terms “indica” and “sativa” are commonly used to describe the effects of varieties – such as indicas produce sedative effects, and sativas produce stimulating effects – this is inaccurate. Only use these terms in quotations to describe effects, adding clarification to correct inaccuracies. The terms are appropriately used to categorize plants by origin and common traits. Although the term “ruderalis” has not taken on the same meanings as “indica” and “sativa,” it is yet another variety of cannabis defined by geographic origin and common traits:
- Indicas originated in the Hindu Kush mountain range and tend to be smaller, denser, darker green, have thicker leaf blades, and begin flowering earlier than sativa plants.
- Sativas originated in equatorial regions and tend to be taller, looser, lighter green, have thinner leaf blades, and begin flowering later than indica plants.
- Ruderalis plants originated in Northern Russia are smaller, and contain the “autoflowering” trait, meaning they begin flowering at germination and mature quickly, regardless of the season.
Most plants cultivated on modern markets are hybrid varieties bred from a mix of these varieties.
Only capitalize these terms at the beginning of a sentence. Italicize only when used in scientific nomenclature. In all other instances, do not capitalize or italicize.
A note on the taxonomy debate:
There will be more nuance to using these classifications for those writing for scientific audiences or audiences familiar with the taxonomy debate. Over the years, various other taxonomies have been proposed, but they can mostly be divided into two camps, the “lumpers” (who lump cannabis into as few categories as possible) and the “splitters” who feel there are more species or other species than are currently recognized. Karl Hillig and Robert Clarke view hemp plants as “sativas” and lump all other plants into sub-species of indica. In 2015, Robert McPartland proposed a new taxonomy based off geographic origin, where “sativa” would now be indica (because they originated in India), “indica” would become afghanica (because these plants originated in Afghanistan), and “ruderalis” would be “sativa.” At present, most people adhere to the old indica, sativa, and ruderalis framework, but it is subject to change as new research comes in.
See also Cannabis, Hemp
Kief refers to the sifted trichomes (resin) of dried cannabis flowers. It is either smoked, added to foods, or further processed into hashes.
See also Hash, Trichomes
The semi-legal medical cannabis markets that emerged on the West Coast before adult-use legalization originated most of the industry standards and popular genetics on today’s legal markets and, therefore, should be referred to as “the legacy market.”
See also Illegal/Unlicensed/Black Market
Legalizalization, Decriminalization & Descheduling
The terms “legalization,” “decriminalization,” and “descheduling” are often used similarly, but they each have distinct meanings. While they all describe changes to current law, each is a distinct policy change:
- Legalization is when a jurisdiction authorizes, regulates, or otherwise permits cannabis use, possession, and commercial activities.
- Decriminalization is not legalization but removal or significant reduction of criminal or legal penalties associated with personal cannabis use and possession. Under most state-level decriminalization schemes, civil penalties/fines remain in place.
- Descheduling means the complete removal of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Drug scheduling happens at the state and federal levels, so true “descheduling” would have to happen federally and state-by-state. The President, Congress, and the DEA have the power to change this federal designation.
Live resin is a hydrocarbon extraction of fresh, usually frozen cannabis flowers that were not cured or dried. Live resins generally have more terpenes (scent molecules). Live resin is not capitalized unless at the beginning of a sentence. For unfamiliar audiences, clarify that it is a type of cannabis hash extraction at first use.
See Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Extracts, Hydrocarbon Extraction
Marijuana (also Marihuana)
The term “marijuana” refers to the dried resinous flowers of the cannabis plant. The modern use of the term originated in Northern Mexico and was popularized in American culture through racist anti-Mexican propaganda. “Marijuana” is a controversial term today because of its use to create this negative association leading up to prohibition.
Although it is the term written into many federal and state laws, it is not scientifically accurate. It is believed this negative association was used to obscure that “marijuana” is cannabis and garner support for the prohibition of a “scary new drug” coming across the US-Mexico border.
The term should only be used in quotations or the appropriate historical or cultural context. There are several theories of the word’s original etymology, as the plant did not appear to exist in the pre-Columbian Americas. (This article breaks down the word’s origins for those who wish to learn more.)
Marijuana is alternately spelled “marihuana” during the time of the Marihuana Tax Act (1937). Only use this spelling in the appropriate historical context. When writing about law, the writer must use the same terminology, usually “marijuana,” increasingly “cannabis,” and less often “marihuana.” Both “marijuana” and “marihuana” can be used appropriately in a sentence.
See also Cannabis, Flower(s)
From the 1940s to the 1970s, most of the cannabis consumed in the United States was purchased from other countries that use the metric system, and it was therefore sold in metric units; kilograms and grams. There are 1,000 grams in a kilogram, and a gram was a popular unit of measurement for small purchases. With the rise of domestic cultivation, cannabis in the United States is now sold in a blend of metric and imperial units; pounds, ounces, and grams. In the United States, units of cannabis flowers are sold under the following terms:
- Pound (16 ounces)
- Ounce (approximately 28 grams)
- “Quarter” (one-quarter of an ounce, approximately 7 grams)
- “Eighth” (one-eighth of an ounce, approximately 3.5 grams)
- “Tenth”* (one-tenth of an ounce, approximately 2.8 grams)
*The “tenth” is only a measurement under state law in Ohio, where “eighths” are not sold in licensed dispensaries.
Although they have distinct meanings, “medical” and “medicinal” are often used interchangeably. Most state laws refer to “medical” marijuana or cannabis, so this term must be used when referring to legislation or the category of the commercial market.
The term “medical” refers specifically to the practice of medicine by the medical industry, and “medicines” are FDA-approved pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs.
The term “medicinal” is an adjective used to describe substances with properties of therapeutic value. Cannabis in its natural form does not fit the definition of a “medicine,” but often, the purpose of consumption is therapeutic. Therefore, the term “medicinal” is more appropriate to describe the therapeutic use of cannabis.
N-P-K stands for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). N-P-K are “macronutrients” because they are the primary nutrients required by most plants for growth. The ratio of these three elements is prominently displayed on all plant fertilizers and nutritional supplement labels. Different plants have different nutritional needs at different stages of the life cycle. Because the term is a ratio and displayed in numbers such as 6-4-4, “N-P-K” is also hyphenated.
See also Aeroponics, Hydroponics
Cannabis is dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. As a result, breeding cannabis is relatively simpler than many other plants and can be done by amateurs and dedicated breeders. When two plants are bred, the resulting seeds inherit genetics from the parent plants but, like human siblings, are unique from one another.
The term “phenotype” refers to the different distinguishable traits between plants from the same parent genetics. These traits include plant height, yield, leaf size, the spectrum of phytochemicals, and more. Only use this term in the context of plant genetics. A “pheno hunt” is a term used by breeders to describe the process of germinating many seeds to select specific plants that reflect the desired traits.
The vast majority of cannabis plants are annuals, meaning they evolved to begin growing flowers after the summer solstice and finish in the fall. Annual plants respond to the ratio of darkness to light and measure when the nights become progressively longer to initiate and complete the processes of seed or flower production. The term “photoperiod” refers to this ratio of darkness to light. Different varieties of cannabis have slightly different photoperiod requirements to trigger flowering. Indoors, the grower controls the photoperiod to mimic this environmental trigger.
Because this is a slang term almost always used in a derogatory way to refer to “cannabis flowers,” do not use it unless in a quotation or the appropriate cultural or historical context.
See Buds, Cannabis, Marijuana
Potency refers to the concentration of a desired compound within a product, as opposed to efficacy, which refers to the effectiveness of a product for its intended use.
Because cannabis is a Schedule I drug, it cannot be prescribed in the United States and most of the world. The term “prescription” is often incorrectly used in reference to suggested use by a doctor. Doctors write letters of recommendation where the medicinal use of cannabis is legal. FDA-approved pharmaceutical synthetic cannabinoid medicines (like Marinol®) and botanically-derived cannabinoid medicines (like Epidiolex®) are prescribed rather than recommended.
Although the term “psychoactive” has come to be understood as feeling “high,” the term “psychotropic” is the correct term to use in this context. While the words have similar meanings, “psychotropic” is defined as “affecting mental activity, behavior, or perception,” or the feeling of “being high.”
“Psychoactive” is defined as a substance that affects mental processes. CBD affects neurological conditions such as epilepsy and is, therefore, “psychoactive.” It is non-psychotropic. Do not use the term “non-psychoactive” to refer to phytochemicals from cannabis that do not produce the “high” associated with THC. Instead, use “non-psychotropic.” Using a strict definition of psychoactivity, chocolate, coffee, tobacco, and many other substances are also considered psychoactive.
Although the term “recreational” is commonly used to refer to the use of cannabis by adults who do not have a doctor’s recommendation, the more appropriate term is “adult-use.” “Adult-use” can and should be used in place of “recreational” because the term is most often associated with activities for children.
See Adult-Use, Legalization, Medical/Medicinal
The title of the 1936 movie Reefer Madness is often used to refer to any anti-cannabis rhetoric or propaganda. Always capitalize Reefer Madness in this context, even if not explicitly referencing the film. Defer to Chicago or AP Style when referencing the film.
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)
See Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO)
Screen of Green
A screen of green is a cultivation term that describes the manipulation of leaves and branches with netting so the plant canopy receives as much light as possible in an indoor garden. Spell out the term at first use and abbreviate it thereafter as “ScrOG.” This formatting of the acronym is from the traditional use of the term in cannabis-centric publications.
Be careful not to report the results of a single study as fact. Always review the study’s methodology and see if the results have been replicated or supported by other research. Do not use titles such as “science says,” as “science” cannot “say.”
Another common mistake is to report on preclinical cannabis studies done in labs with isolated cannabis compounds and human cells (or in animal models) as definitive. Although these studies are a sound basis for future research, their results do not necessarily extrapolate to actual diverse human use with diverse natural plants.
Seed-to-sale refers to software required by federal guidelines that tracks medical and adult-use cannabis supply chains. Always hyphenate seed-to-sale.
Shatter See BHO
The term “sinsemilla” means “without seed” in Spanish. It refers to unfertilized cannabis that results in larger, more resinous flowers rather than seeds. Its use was popularized through cultivation in Mexico in the 1970s and is not currently a common use term and should only be used in quotations or the appropriate historical or cultural context.
The term “solvent” refers to substances that separate cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids from the leaves to produce cannabis extracts. Common solvents include alcohol, butane, and carbon dioxide.
See also Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Extracts, Hash, Hydrocarbon Extraction
The word “strain” is often used to describe varieties of cannabis but is incorrectly used to refer to plants. The term “strain” is appropriate to classify viruses, fungi, and bacteria. The term “variety” is a blanket term that can refer to any different type of cannabis plant and is an acceptable alternative to “strain,” as is “cultivar” when used appropriately. “Cultivar” is a portmanteau derived from “cultivated variety.” It refers to the dried resinous flowers of the cannabis plant as a unique product of both the plant’s genetics and the conditions provided by a cultivator. The term “chemovar” is a portmanteau for “chemical variety.” It classifies plant varieties based on their chemotype or phytochemical profile.
Cultivar names are proper nouns and should be capitalized.
Example: Popular indica varieties include Hindu Kush and Granddaddy Purple.
See Chemotype, Cultivar, Variety
Terpenes are aroma molecules found in cannabis and other plants. Terpenes have known medicinal properties. They are part of what is referred to as the “full spectrum” of cannabis compounds found in “whole plant” cannabis products. Terpenes deter pests in the living plant, are found in many other plants, and have a wide range of known therapeutic utility.
It has become common in places where cultivation is legal for the media to report on odor complaints near cannabis cultivation sites and repeat commentary, through quotations or otherwise, that inhaling cannabis terpenes is potentially dangerous for the communities where it is cultivated. While the smell may be bothersome to some, the terpenes found in cannabis are no different than those found in all other cultivated crops and plants found in nature and should be treated similarly. Seek expert commentary and clarification when engaging in this sort of reporting.
See Flavonoids, Full Spectrum, Whole Plant
Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most abundantly found phytocannabinoid in cannabis.
See Cannabis, Cannabinoids, Hemp
A tincture is a liquid extraction or infusion of cannabis sold in dropper bottles for easy dosing. It is often made with alcohol, glycerin, olive, or coconut oil. Tinctures are usually administered sublingually (under the tongue) for quick absorption, but they can also be used topically or in cooking. The term “tincture” is not capitalized unless at the beginning of a sentence or in a specific product name.
“Topicals” refers to products infused with cannabis applied to the skin for various therapeutic or cosmetic uses.
Trichomes are glands that grow on cannabis plants, mainly the flowers, containing high concentrations of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals with therapeutic properties. They are referred to as the “resin.” They are either stripped from the plant to create concentrates or removed using a solvent to produce extractions.
See Concentrate, Cannabinoid, Extract, Flavonoid, Hash, Terpene
The word “strain” is often used to describe varieties of cannabis but is incorrectly used in reference to plants. The term “strain” is appropriately used to classify viruses, fungi, and bacteria. The term “variety” or “varietal” is a blanket term that can refer to any different type of cannabis plant and is an acceptable alternative to “strain.”
Variety names are proper nouns and should be capitalized, except for “indica,” “sativa,” and “ruderalis.”
See also Cultivar, Chemotype, Indica/Sativa/Ruderalis, Strain
War on Drugs/Drug War
The “War on Drugs” is a proper noun and should be capitalized, similar to other declared wars such as The Vietnam War or World War II. It is America’s longest war.
When the term “Drug War” refers to the War on Drugs, it is capitalized as another form of that proper title. The Drug War and War on Drugs can be used interchangeably at the writer’s discretion. When referring to any nonspecific war involving drugs, no capitalization is required.
Whole plant is not hyphenated and can be used interchangeably with “full spectrum.”
See also Full Spectrum.
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.