Weed terms are very much like code. They were a way to talk openly about something that, for the longest time, was illegal.
So cannabis slang was, essentially, born from necessity. Cannabis enthusiasts had to have a way to communicate without parents, teachers, principals, and police officers becoming wise.
This also explains why there are so many weed terms: the slang had to constantly evolve as those who tried to curtail cannabis use figured out the lingo.
This is one explanation for the myriad words we use to stay under the radar when talking about cannabis. But let’s not forget the inevitable creativity and mirth we’ve all experienced during a particularly powerful high.
The combination of those two feelings alone is enough to spawn several volumes of slang.
So where did all these words come from? In this article, the all-things-cannabis experts at Honest Marijuana discuss some of the most popular cannabis weed terms.
The Most Popular Weed Terms
Believe it or not, marijuana is actually a “slang”, or borrowed, term that has its roots in the early part of the 20th century. Before the first decade of the 1900s, the weed we’ve all come to know and love was simply referred to by its scientific name — cannabis sativa (or just cannabis for short).
More specifically, cannabis referred to the parts of the plant that were used to experience the psychoactive high. In a more general sense, the plant was also referred to as hemp when it was grown for its fibers instead of its hallucinogenic properties.
The word marijuana has its origins in the Nahuatl (Aztec) word mallihuan. The word traveled north with the influx of Mexican immigrants following the Mexican Revolution.
It eventually morphed in spelling to its common form and was used by the director of the newly-created Federal Bureau of Narcotics to paint a fairly racist picture of the non-white population (who purportedly were made the way they were because of the devastating effects of the cannabis plant).
It was because of this use that the word marijuana spread from coast to coast and eventually around the world.
The origins of the word “grass” as referring to cannabis are hazy. But, again, you’ve got to have some way to talk openly about an illegal product without your parents and the police getting wise, so calling cannabis “grass” seems like a logical next step.
Grass — as in our lawns — is something we, as Americans, often prize and take care of. Similarly, grass — as in cannabis — is something aficionados highly prize and take care of. The parallels are fairly obvious.
Plus, it’s not hard to imagine a young cannabis smoker who mows lawns coming up with a way to tell his friends he’s going to wake and bake tomorrow: “You want to help me mow some grass tomorrow?” His parents would be none the wiser.
Like “grass”, “pot” is a term that is hotly debated amongst cannabis enthusiasts. It’s a term that came into use in the 1930s and 1940s, likely as a result of the growth in popularity of the jazz culture.
According to most sources, the nickname “pot” came from the Spanish word “potiguaya.” Potiguaya is a contraction of potación de guaya, which refers to an alcoholic drink made by soaking cannabis leaves in brandy or wine.
“Pot” was used consistently up through the 1970s, when it was overshadowed by the next weed term.
“Weed” grew in popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And, again, little is known as to why this became a slang reference to cannabis. We just know that it did (as is obvious by the title of this article).
As it is with a lot of these terms, it’s easy to speculate as to their origin. A weed is basically an invasive plant that grows in the wild under often harsh conditions.
Although not technically a weed by scientific terms, cannabis is hearty like a weed and does grow all over the world. In addition, it was definitely something that was “unwanted” or “invasive” according to the parents and the authorities of the day.
“Ganja” is not so much slang as it is a word borrowed from another language. Many mistakenly think that ganja has its roots in the Rastafarian culture that is famous for its promotion of the cannabis plant.
In fact, ganja is a Sanskrit (Indian) word that refers to the common strain of the cannabis plant — cannabis sativa. More specifically, ganja refers to the flowers of the cannabis plant with other words referring to the resin and seeds/leaves (charas and bhang, respectively).
6) Mary Jane
“Mary Jane” stems from the first slang term for cannabis, marijuana. It’s a combination of the words mari + juana.
Pronounced correctly in Spanish, the ‘i’ in marijuana makes an ‘ee’ sound. Because of that, the first two syllables come out sounding similar to the name Mary. In addition, ‘Juana’ is a Spanish first name that corresponds to English first names like Jane.
The adoption of the word could have gone something like this: Mexican immigrants settle in the U.S. during the early part of the 1900s, bringing with them psychoactive plants. The government adopts the Aztec name for the plant in an attempt to scare the native U.S. population into turning against the immigrants.
The new term — marijuana — spreads like wildfire and evolves into Mary Jane (and the shortened variation, MJ) after it is pronounced Mary Juana by the Mexicans who brought it over the border.
“Dope” got its start in the drug world when it was used to refer to opium or a morphine derivative.
More specifically, dope refers to the thick, syrupy, molasses-like preparation used when smoking opium. It then jumped the fence, as it were, to mean a drug that is not specifically named (rather than being restricted to opium).
It wasn’t until the 1950s that dope resumed referring to a specific drug. This time it was cannabis. That designator wouldn’t last long as a weed term because new, more powerful drugs, like heroin, co-opted the term for their own use.
With the increased availability of opiates, the term then became almost exclusively used to refer to harder drugs. Occasionally, “Are you smoking dope?” found its way into the conversation thanks to uninformed parents, but that fell by the wayside as the 1980s and 1990s progressed.
The weed term “chronic” owes its creation to one of the most outspoken proponents of cannabis consumption — Snoop Dogg. Snoop started using the word in the 1990s, and it spread throughout cannabis culture, even being adopted by Dr. Dre for his album of the same name.
Snoop admits that the origin of the term was based on something he misheard at a noisy party in 1991. According to Snoop, someone told him the cannabis they were smoking had been grown using hydroponics, and he misheard it as hydrochronic.
He liked the sound of the word and shortened it to just chronic. He eventually learned the correct term, but chronic stuck and is now an acceptable slang term for cannabis.
The term “reefer” as it refers to cannabis is, like so many other terms, shrouded in mystery. No one is sure where the weed term came from.
One likely explanation has reefer originating in the 1930s from the Spanish word “grifo,” which informally means smoker of cannabis.
With the ‘i’ in Spanish making the ‘ee’ sound, and the ‘g’ sound (as in the English ‘gate’) being indistinct when spoken at speed (in conversation), it’s not difficult to see how the Spanish word evolved into the word we have today.
This weed term is pretty easy to understand. For anyone who’s ever smoked certain cannabis strains that first emerged in the 1970s, describing the smell as “skunky” is an obvious moniker.
“Skunk” fit as a weed term particularly because the odor of those, and later, strains was decidedly pungent. Some even went so far as to describe the smell as “dead animal” and reminiscent of a skunk’s spray. And they’d be right.
From those strains (i.e., Skunk #1), the term was picked up by marijuana enthusiasts and used to refer to cannabis in general. The term still fits, as many strains, like Sour Diesel, still produce the pungent, skunk-like odor that gave cannabis its slang name.
11) Wacky Tobaccy
This one is, or should be, fairly obvious. When cannabis is chopped up in preparation for smoking, it looks a lot like tobacco (or oregano). But unlike regular tobacco, cannabis can very easily bring on the psychoactive effects that make you wacky.
While “wacky tobacco” is more accurate, “wacky tobaccy” just sounds better and is more fun to say. And with cannabis, it’s all about the fun.
This weed term for cannabis comes from the word “hashish,” which, in Arabic, roughly translates to “grass.”
Hashish is a thick, sticky, dark-colored resin extracted from the flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant. It can be produced by hand, by sifting leaves through a screen, or by alcohol extraction.
Though the cannabis that you smoke and the hashish that is produced from its parts differ considerably, the term hashish was shortened and then used to refer to cannabis in general. It’s also not difficult to see the name coming from the chopped up food of the same name.
Cannabis contains many nutritional, medicinal, and industrial properties (not to mention a healthy kick of psychedelia).
The first two properties — nutritional and medicinal — are enough for botanists to lump marijuana in with other herbs such as basil, dill, and cilantro (sprinkle THIS herb on your salad and eat it!).
Science aside, in more common parlance, cannaenthusiasts have co-opted the word to the smokable parts of the marijuana plant.
Even the newest newb among us must know that plants produce flowers. That’s Biology 101 from, what, like second grade, right?
Anyway, cannabis is a plant just like any other. And it, too, produces flowers. It’s these flowers that provide the bulk of the marijuana experience.
These flowers don’t just spring fully formed like The Birth of Venus. They develop from small buds.
Stoners of yore took that fact and used it as a way to talk about marijuana so The Man wouldn’t understand.
Building off the bud idea, creative cannabis smokers came up with another weed term that is still in use today.
The cannabis plant produces buds all up and down the length of its leader (i.e., the main stem). But, many feel that the tippy-top buds are the cream of the crop because they receive the most sunlight and often grow the biggest.
As a result, the slang gods among us got together, wielded their uncanny powers, and gave us lowly mortals a way to speak efficiently about these choice buds.
Now, instead of saying, “I’d like a Zip of your finest Yoda OG, good sir,” you can slide three Benjamins across the counter (check local listings) and speak the password, “Nugs of Blue Dream, please.”
It might not be that much shorter, but it is a lot more fun to say (thank you, slang gods).
The key takeaway from all this is that, technically, all nugs are buds, but not all buds are nugs. Only the chosen few, high-quality buds earn the right to be called nugs.
If you’re worried about using this weed term correctly, don’t fret. These days, everyone uses the words interchangeably (because who doesn’t want to smoke the best ganja possible?).
Once you know about buds and nugs, this weed term is fairly obvious. You do have to be careful about where, and with whom, you use this word.
If you walk up to the wrong person and say, “I’d like some flowers, please,” you’re pretty much guaranteed to get roses, or daisies, or tulips. And you’re certainly not going to get high or relieve your pain by smoking those!
For the uninitiated, dank ranks right up there with moist on the list of words they hate to say. But for stoners, dank is a good thing.
As a noun, it refers to quality cannabis itself and can be used in all kinds of situations (as in, “Pass that dank my way!”).
Somewhere in the annals of hash history (annals pronounced with a short “a,” by the way, not the long “a” you hear in your dirty mind), some well-meaning but otherwise completely uninformed stoner started using the word hemp to refer to the cannabis you smoke.
That started a chain of events (and word use) that still has people scratching their heads to this day.
Hemp is a non-psychoactive variety of the Cannabis sativa plant. Hemp is non-psychoactive because it contains less than 1% of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the cause of the “high” that has made marijuana the hotly-debated topic that it is today.
So even though hemp and marijuana come from the same species of cannabis, they are genetically distinct and differ in their chemical makeup, use, and cultivation methods.
Hemp seeds can be processed for inclusion in foodstuffs like bread, cereal, dressings, margarine, and flour. Those same seeds can also be used to produce fuel, lubricants, paint, cosmetics, and body products. Even the stalk of the hemp plant has industrial applications.
Various parts of it can be used in the production of:
- Paper products
Hemp also contains the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), although it is present in much smaller volume than it is in the non-hemp variety of Cannabis sativa.
No one really knows why people started referring to perfectly good psychedelic or medicinal cannabis as hemp, but, for whatever reason, it stuck and you’ll still hear it used now and again.
As you can see, though, it’s absolutely, 100% wrong to use hemp as a weed term.
If you ask for hemp at your local dispensary, at the very least, they’ll look at you funny and maybe sell you a ball of hemp wick. At the worst, they’ll point you in the direction of the hardware store down the street and tell you never to come back.
In fact, strike this term from your canna-vocabulary altogether and you’ll be just fine.
Sinsemilla is a portmanteau (two words scrunched together) of the Spanish words “sin” (without) and “semilla” (seed) and literally translates to “without seeds.”
So, sinsemilla is cannabis flowers that were not pollinated during growth and do not contain seeds.
This one’s a safe weed term to use because, unless you’re a grower who wants to cultivate male pot plants for the seeds, pretty much everything you’ll come in contact with — plants, buds, and products — will be sinsemilla (or made from it).
For more information on the origins, pronunciation, and benefits of sinsemilla, check out this article from the HMJ blog: What Is Sinsemilla: Everything Cannabis Enthusiasts Need To Know.
The word “tree” or “trees” used in certain contexts refers to the pot plant itself because healthy marijuana on the stalk can grow tall and thick — like a tree.
Like some other weed terms on this list (flower, we’re looking at you), trees requires a bit of prior knowledge on both the speaker’s and hearer’s part.
You can’t just go around saying, “Hey, man, I’m going to burn some trees this afternoon. Wanna come?” or, “You holdin’ trees?” You’ll confuse the hell out of whomever you’re talking to.
This is especially true at your local dispensary. We wanna seriously discourage you from saying these words to the budtender behind the counter: “I’d like to buy some trees, please.”
As they would if you used hemp on the premises, they’ll probably direct you to the nearest greenhouse, shake their heads, and make fun of you after you leave.
Trees isn’t a common weed term you hear these days, but it might still be floating around here and there. We don’t recommend using it outside your close friends, but if you hear it in the right context, at least you’ll be able to figure out what the other person is trying to say.
Focus On The Smoke
With all this knowledge about weed terms now taking up space in the dank corners of your brain, don’t get too hung up on using the right word.
Rather than trying to memorize ALL the weed terms on this list, adopt a choice few and then focus on the smoke itself (slang for being more concerned about what you put in your body rather than what comes out of your mouth).
With enough practice, you’ll get the hang of flinging weed terms like a pro and you won’t have to worry about it anymore.
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