Word Origin: קנה בשם → kánnavis → cannabis

What does Mirriam-Webster’s online dictionary tell us?…Not much —“the origin of the word cannabis is Latin for hemp, and derives from the Greek word kannabis (κάνναβης or kánnavis), and is akin to Old English hænep, meaning hemp.”—Lets dig deeper…Professor Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem suggests the following origin (etymology) for the word cannabis:

All bolded text are different words to describe the cannabis plant

Start with: The Greek word “kannabis‟ → This is from the Arabic word “kunnab‟ → Which is from the Syriac word “qunnappa‟ → That is from the Hebrew word “pannag” → Which came from mixing both the Sanskrit (Hindu) word “bhanga‟ & “bang” the Persian word.
Stated in reverse order (now going from old to new): “bhanga‟ &”bang → “pannag” → “qunnappa‟ → “kunnab‟ → “kannabis‟ → Latin form is “cannabis
Sneak peak: discussed later on is the transformation of kannabis → hempLets dig even more deep…Tracing cannabis back to its roots, we find a symbiotic relationship with humans beginning at the end of the last ice age, roughly ~12,000 years ago.

_______Time Frame____________Location_______Cannabis Terminology_____
  • 10,000 years ago (8000 BCE) | China | cannabis was or
  • 5,100 years ago (2100 BCE) | Akkadian/Assryian | cannabis was referred to by the name azallu and in Sumerian it was referred to as A.ZAL.LA
  • 3,500 years ago (1500 BCE) | Egypt | The Egyptian word for cannabis was šmšm-t which is pronounced shemshemet.
  • 3,400 years ago (1400 BCE) | Israel | cannabis in Hebrew is “קנה בשם” (“KaNeH BoSeM”)

IMPORTANT: It is believed that the previous word was split into two meanings. In Hebrew Kaneh =”reed” & Bosem = “aromatic”____Further on we learn how the psychoactive plant was called Bosem, while the industrial uses were called Kaneh. (note the similarity between today’s terminology of hemp & cannabis)

  • 3,100 years ago (1100 BCE) | India | cannabis was referred to by the name bhanga (resembling the Hebrew word for psychoactive plant called bosem)
  • 3,000 years ago (1000 BCE) | Israel | cannabis was referred to by the name pannag (note the similarity to bhang. In Hebrew, the letters p and b are frequently interchangeable)
  • 2,900 years ago (900 BCE) | Neo-Assyrian/Neo-Babylonian | cannabis was referred to as qunubu, qunnabu, & ,potentially, qunnappa (note the similarity in prefix to Kaneh)
  • 2,500 years ago (500 BCE) | Greece | cannabis was referred to by kánnabis
The long journey of cannabis that led to the discovery of the Western Hemisphere.  Beginning in China over 10,000-years-ago, the knowledge of cannabis spread across the continent of Asia to the early cultures of Mesopotamia. From central Asia, knowledge of cannabis began to spread south to India and westward to Europe. Reaching Europe around ~2,500 years ago, European cultures learned to use cannabis in much the same manner as the Chinese did 7500-years before in Taiwan. The Europeans would use hemp to weave canvas sails and ropes, eventually allowing Europe to discover and conquer the New World.

From kánnavis to hemp:The Greek kánnavis would spread throughout much of Europe, and following the first germanic sound shift, the k was given a softer h sound throughout the region. Hannabis would be adapted into Old English as hænep, Dutch as hennep, German as hanf, Swedish as hampa and Danish and Norwegian as hamp, eventually settling on hemp.History of קנה בשם – pronounced”KaNeH BoSeM”Kaneh bosem – appears in Exodus 30:23 —“God tells Moses to make a holy oil of ‘myrrh, cinnamon (kassia), kaneh bosem (cannabis) and olive oil.’” — Recipe is shared below (6 lbs of cannabis required)
Carl Ruck, a linguist and professor of classical mythology at Boston University shares that “since it [referring to the use of holy oil] was only the High Priest who entered the Tabernacle, it was an experience reserved for him. This same psychoactive chrism was later used for the coronation of the kings.” (reference)
Flash forward to today: A small amount of chrism + water = Holy Water

Recipe (converted into today’s measurements):
- Liquid myrrh 500 shekels 5.75 kg (12.68 lbs)
- Cassia 500 shekels 5.75 kg (12.68 lbs)
- Cinnamon leaf 250 shekels 2.875 kg (6.34 lbs)
- Cannabis flowers 250 shekels 2.875 kg (6.34 lbs)
- Olive oil 1 hin 6.5 liters (1.72 gallons)

As you can imagine, an oil that contains more than 6 lbs of cannabis steeped in less than 2 gallons of olive oil gives rise to a highly concentrated mixture. In ceremonies, the oil is poured over the head and body of the priest, drenching them. The skin readily absorbs THC (a non-polar molecule) and the effect of soaking in this oil would be psychotoxic (similar to psychoactive but denotes a negative connotation), offering some serious communion with the Lord. (reference)
English words like candy, cane, canal, canvas, & cannon have their origin back to kaneh, that ancient Hebraic prefix meaning “reed”.
Thanks for reading!
Author: David Katz | DavidKatz@cox.netAuthor note: I challenge you to read the additional resources section. Additional Resources:1. The Therapeutic Use of Cannabis sativa (L.) in Arabic Medicine(click me) Excerpt: “The part of the plant that was most used in therapeutic treatments was the seeds, and to a lesser extent the leaves. Methods of preparation differ according to the ailment to be treated, using the oil obtained from the seeds and the juice from the leaves and green seeds”2. Cannabis and the joys of biblical Hebrew! (click me) 3. An online forum debate about the origin of the word cannabis. They break the elements down into the Old and New Testament accounts. (click me)

  1. Duvall C. Cannabis. Reaktion Books; 2014.
  2. The Great Keneh Bosem Debate – Part 1. Cannabis Culture. Published November 16, 2009. Accessed March 27, 2020.
  3. Grimmer B. 10,000 Years: An Etymologically Guided History of Cannabis. Accessed March 29, 2020.
  4. Holland J. The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis. Simon and Schuster; 2010.

The first 5 minutes of this video gives an easy to follow description of cannabis history

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