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I know all these words have the same meaning and refer to some kind of plant.

Also, as far as I know, weed is the slang for marijuana or cannabis. (Correct me if I’m wrong).

What I do not understand is the difference between these words. Is cannabis a formal word, and marijuana and weed both informal?

Does one or two of these words originated from South America — for example, has a Spanish root — and the others originated from elsewhere?

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    As a tiny note, the Anglicization of "marijuana" leads to one of the street names for it: "Mary Jane". – user730 Dec 28 '10 at 4:44
  • The word marijuana seems to be used more commonly by Americans. Cannabis and the slang names for it, are more common in the UK. – Tristan r Jun 11 '14 at 17:34
  • Marijuana is not a herb, it's a plant. Herbs are thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil, sage etc. aromatic plants used to flavour dishes. – Mari-Lou A Jun 17 at 8:44
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    @Mari-LouA OED: herb, n. 1. A plant of which the stem does not become woody and persistent (as in a shrub or a tree), but remains more or less soft and succulent, and dies down to the ground (or entirely) after flowering. – Greybeard Jun 17 at 11:26
  • @Greybeard I shall visit my local supermarket and ask for a bottle of dried marijuana to sprinkle on top of my spaghetti ai pomodorini. Of course herbs are plants, so is a tree and a rose. – Mari-Lou A Jun 17 at 11:29
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It depends on the context. If you are referring to it scientifically, you call it cannabis (usually cannabis indica or cannabis sativa). Marijuana is a generic term mostly used by non-users. People who smoke the drug have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of slang terms for their favorite recreational drug, of which weed and bud are currently in vogue. You would not be likely to use those terms unless you don't mind people assuming you use the drug yourself, because they very likely will make that assumption.

EDIT: You can use the term pot in a disinterested way, as someone pointed out. Weed flirts with crossing the line, however, and bud is tantamount to a term of endearment.

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    Weed has significant uses completely unrelated to marijuana or cannabis - think horticulture or gardening. Without context, it could easily be misunderstood. – Jonathan Leffler Dec 27 '10 at 22:45
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    I disagree that "pot" implies usage. ("Weed" probably does.) "Pot" is, for me, the unmarked term, with "marijuana" and "cannabis" reserved for a more formal or scientific register. – JSBձոգչ Dec 27 '10 at 22:54
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    @Jonathan Leffler: True, but it's rarely ambiguous: "weed" is used uncountably for marijuana, and countably for other sorts of weeds. Consider "I picked weeds from my garden today" versus "I picked weed from my garden today". The latter definitely refers to marijuana. And if you say "I smoked weed today", there is no question about what kind. – Jon Purdy Dec 28 '10 at 0:11
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    I'd just use the word "hemp"... :D – user730 Dec 28 '10 at 4:43
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    That must be why a guy’s best friend is his bud, and why “Please Keep Off the Grass” signs are his worst enemy. – tchrist Nov 30 '12 at 18:03

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