A term from the Sanskrit language in India to refer to Cannabis sativa. During the late 19th Century, “ganja” made its vocabulary debut by way of Indian laborers in Jamaica, where it became common among Jamaican fieldworkers.
"They smoked the ganja as part of the religious ceremony."
"Ganja is a sacred plant in Rastafarian culture."
In Sanskrit, ganja is the term for female cannabis flowers that are unfertilized. Indian swamis have had a deep relationship with ganja. Cannabis was used as a remedy for phlegm overproduction and diarrhea from the third to eighth centuries BCE and later used in Indian folk medicine as an aphrodisiac and pain killer.
The term really gained popularity when it was adopted by Jamaicans — and, in particular, Jamaicans who followed the Rastafari movement, a religion that began on the island in the 1930s.
Rastas, another term for followers of the Rastafari movement, use ganja as part of their spiritual practice. Musician Bob Marley was Jamaica's most visible Rasta and often made references to Rastafari ideals and ganja in his music (including in songs like “Ganja Gun” and “One Drop”).
Cannabis was illegal in Jamaica during the rise of the Rastafari movement. The plant was criminalized under 1913's Ganja Law, but as Rastafari gained more followers — and the elites feared political unrest from the lower class — amendments were made in 1941 and 1961 that made restrictions significantly more severe. In fact, ganja wasn't decriminalized in Jamaica until 2015.
Other Cannabis Terms Derived From “Ganja”
The term “ganja” has sparked other terms in cannabis culture, including:
Ganjapreneur: an entrepreneur whose business centers around cannabis in areas where the plant has been legalized. This can include growers, dispensary owners, cannabis educators, or any other cannabis-related business owners.
Ganj: a shortened, slang term for “ganja”
Ganja in Pop Culture
Ganja has become a popular term in the cannabis world — and, as a result, has made its mark on the pop culture lexicon with multiple references in films and music,, reggae music out of Jamaica in particular.
Some notable pop culture references to ganja include:
- “Ganja of Love”, released in 1995 by Jefferson Starship (“Come, come, O' brothers and sisters, All who wanna smoke the ganja of love, Rolling up our spliffs and twisters, We're rocking out until we get enough”)
- The song “Ganja Babe,” released in 20025 by Michael Franti (“Ganja babe, my sweet ganja babe, I love the way ya love me and the way ya misbehavin' ”)
- The song “Ganja Bus,” released in 2004 by Cypress Hill and featuring Damian Marley (“On the ganja bus, they comin' after us, We makin' stops all over Los Angeles, On the block, where the weed that get scandalous, When we run around, police can't handle us”)
- “Ganja Farmer”, released in 2006 by Marlon Asher (“Yes I'm a ganja planter, Call me di ganja farmer, Deep down inna di earth where me put di ganja”)
The Kevin Smith film “Dogma,” released in 1999 and starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Mewes, and Linda Fiorentino (“No wonder he saw Jesus. Homey's rockin' the ganj!”)