The English lexicon is laden with ‘slang’ terms. Slang is classified as informal words and phrases restricted to a particular group of people or context.
According to Jonathan Green, the writer of Green’s Dictionary of Slang Marijuana has over 1,000 slang terms. Why does cannabis have so many slang names? To answer that question, you need to look back over the history of marijuana in the U.S.
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively made the herb illegal. Then, in 1970, marijuana was classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance. With the plant being illegal for decades, anyone looking to buy marijuana needed to speak in code.
Weed lovers came up with a variety of names for the illicit substance. As these slang terms became known outside of the cannabis-using community, marijuana consumers had to create new ones.
This article will look at some commonly used slang terms for marijuana during the last century.
The Immigrant Wave & Condemnation (1910 – 1936)
Up until the early part of the 20th century, people used marijuana as a medicine. The word marijuana itself is just another slang term for the plant species that include Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, or Cannabis ruderalis.
According to Green, the term marijuana probably came from the Panamanian word ‘managuango’ or the Mexican word ‘mariguano.’ Both of these words, when translated into English, mean intoxicant.
The word entered usage from the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. This conflict caused an enormous number of Mexican migrants to flee to the United States.
The term ‘ganja’ predates ‘marijuana,’ as people used it during the middle of the 19th century in Jamaica.
These Mexican immigrants were among the first to use marijuana recreationally in the U.S. The plant soon became associated with what the media termed ‘unruly’ Mexicans who allegedly caused trouble after using ‘marihuana.’
Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, launched his war on weed in the 1930s. This crackdown culminated in the dreadful Reefer Madness movie in 1936, which demonized the herb. And the piece of propaganda had the desired effect as public opinion shifted markedly against marijuana.
Incidentally, the term ‘ganja’ predates ‘marijuana,’ as people used it during the middle of the 19th century in Jamaica. Ganja is the Sanskrit word for the hemp plant.
Illegality & The Creation of a Million Nicknames (1937 – 1970)
The hysteria surrounding cannabis reached fever pitch in the 1930s. During this time, the government brought the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 into law. The act made marijuana federally illegal, and possession, cultivation, or sale of the herb came with stiff penalties.
Still, some people took a chance and continued to use the plant. Those who purchased or sold it knew it was necessary to begin speaking about marijuana in coded terms.
In 1943, TIME Magazine wrote an article about marijuana. The article gives a good idea of the number of nicknames for marijuana that existed in popular parlance at the time.
In the article, some of the terms the author uses to refer to the herb include:
- ‘Mary Warner’
- ‘Mary Jane’
- ‘Blue sage’
- ‘Indian Hay’
Individuals looking to purchase weed at the time were called ‘vipers,’ while sellers were known as ‘pushers.’ A viper would approach a pusher and say one of the following:
- “Gimme an ace.”
- “Are ya stickin’?”
- “Are ya layin’ down the hustle?”
- “Gimme a deuce.”
- “Gimme a deck.”
Over time, the use of almost all of these terms has ceased as people created new nicknames for the plant.
The Origins of Some Well-Known Marijuana Slang Terms
By the 1960s, marijuana generally consisted of dried, crumbled stems and leaves. As a result, people commonly referred to marijuana as ‘grass.’ Another widely used word to describe marijuana during this era was ‘dope.’ Initially, people used this term to refer to opium or a morphine derivative.
In the 1950s, dope came to be explicitly related to cannabis. It fell out of favor within a generation, as heroin became the next drug to carry the ‘dope’ tag.
‘Pot’ probably came from the Spanish word ‘potiguaya.’ This word is a contraction of the name for an alcoholic drink created by soaking weed leaves in wine or brandy (potacion de guaya). People widely used the word pot from the 1930s until the 1970s.
The term ‘kush‘ probably originated in the 1950s, as it was the beginning of the famed ‘hippie trail.’ Members of the hippie subculture made a trek to Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Afghanistan. They brought back seeds from the Hindu Kush plants that grew in the disputed region of the same name.
Out of the Wilderness (1970 – 1999)
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug. As a result, people perceived marijuana as one of the world’s most dangerous narcotics. The herb became more demonized, and those who continued to use it had to come up with new nicknames.
One of the most famous slang terms for weed originated in the 1970s. ‘Skunk’ referred to the pungent, unpleasant smell of the herb.
The term ‘420‘ also originated in the 1970s. There is a dispute over the precise origins of this term. Some claim it came from the Grateful Dead’s room number of choice while on tour. Others say it was the time (4:20 pm) when four High School students met in San Rafael, California, to smoke marijuana in front of Louis Pasteur’s statue.
The term ‘weed’ only came to prominence from the mid-1990s onward.
The term ‘weed’ only came to prominence from the mid-1990s onward. It was included in American Speech’s ‘New Words’ in 1929 and occasionally used in newspaper articles on marijuana. The nickname is likely due to the plant’s ability to grow in the wild under harsh conditions.
Another slang term that arose during the 1990s was ‘Chronic,’ apparently first used by Snoop Dogg. It spread through pop culture, and Dr. Dre used it as a name for one of his albums.
According to Snoop, he misheard someone talking about growing cannabis at a party. They said they grew their weed using hydroponics, and Snoop thought that the person said ‘hydrochronic’! He liked the sound of the word and shortened it to ‘chronic.’
The Glorious Return of Cannabis (2000 – Present) & Other Slang Terms
Public opinion has now shifted in favor of legalizing marijuana medicinally. A majority of states have legalized the herb for medicinal use. A growing number have also allowed the consumption of marijuana for recreational use.
As such, the need for creating secret terms for marijuana is dwindling. However, people love creating nicknames, so don’t expect the creation of new slang terms to stop completely.
We expect the terms’ marijuana’ and ‘weed’ to remain. However, less common ones are popping up from time to time. There are dozens of slang words for marijuana that you might not know. Some of these include:
- ‘Da kine’ (commonly used in Hawaii).
There are also slang words and phrases associated with cannabis created for various reasons. Low-quality marijuana is called ‘Cabbage,’ ‘Nixon’ or ‘Catnip,’ for example.
A ‘stogie’ or ‘blunt’ refers to the shape of a joint. ‘Ace,’ ‘baby,’ and ‘green goddess’ are terms of affection for the herb. The morning ritual of ‘wake and bake‘ relates to the use of certain types of marijuana strains first thing in the morning.
The end of a joint is called a ‘roach.’ Holding onto a joint for too long is known as a ‘Bogart.’ The slang term gets its name from the legendary actor Humphrey Bogart. Bogart was famous for having cigarette dangling on the end of his lips as he spoke.
As cannabis culture becomes more mainstream, you can expect even more nicknames and slang terms. Although you could try to keep up to stay ‘hip,’ it may be better to stick to the classics. It is unlikely that there will be a time when ‘weed’ and ‘marijuana’ are not acceptable slang terms for cannabis.