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 weed terms. So where did all these words come from? This article will discuss 12 of the most popular cannabis slang terms.
1. Marijuana (The most common weed term)
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 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 does 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 to 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 plant. 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 like 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.