While it might seem natural to think that Thais are using the slang term “ganja” (กัญชา) as a borrowed word from Jamaica or the Rastafarian religion, the word actually has it’s origins in the ancient language of Sanskrit, which is one of the languages that influenced the Thai language.
The Sanskrit language is often referred to as ancient Hindi and one can trace the roots of the language going back at least 3,500 years. Sanskrit, along with the Pali language, make up a large chunk of the early writings about Buddhism.
According to Wikipedia, over half of the Thai language is derived from Pali, Saknskrit, Mon, and Khmer.
Both Hindi (another Sanskrit influenced language) and Thai use the Sanskrit word ganja to describe the marijuana plant.
So the real question is how did the word make it’s way from Asia to Jamaica, the place most people assume the word originated?
That is a little more complicated story.
It begins with the British conquering Jamaica in 1655 and turning the island into a slave colony. When the Britain abolished slavery in the 1800’s they began importing indentured Indian labor into places like Jamaica to harvest sugar.
The Indians brought with them marijuana and their word for the plant, ganja, which was adopted by the Jamaicans.
Even then, the word might have stayed a very localized term, if it had not been for the birth of Rastafarianism in the 1930’s and the later popularization of the word by Jamaican musicians like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
Although the word ganja did appear sporadically in the English language before the 1930’s, it really wasn’t until Reggae music began breaking into the mainstream that it became popular.
So, despite the fact that the word is most closely associated with Reggae music and the Rastafarian religion, Thai and Hindi speakers had been using it long before it every became a hip reference in the rest of the world.