A Brief History of Cannabis Slang

Cannabis has been around for centuries, and during that time, it has developed a rich slang vocabulary. From ‘Pot’ and ‘Mary Jane’ to ‘Ganja’ and ‘Reefer’, there are an incredible 1,200+ slang terms for cannabis – not to mention the hundreds of other phrases related its effects, potency, and consumption methods. In this blog post, we will explore some of the most interesting cannabis slang terms throughout history.

Cannabis flower has had a long and varied history across the globe, making it one of agriculture’s most widely used plants. Its immense popularity has resulted in countless nicknames over time, each region or group giving cannabis its own unique label of affection.

The Taboo Cannabis Plant

One of the reasons that nicknames and slang often come about is because a subject is taboo to speak about directly. Taboo topics, those considered too sensitive to be openly discussed in public, have required individuals to become more creative with their means of communication. This became increasingly true once the war on drugs began targeting marijuana use and pushed it into darker territory. As such, this necessitated people to go underground through implied speech or coded language.

Moreover, once a fashionable term infiltrates the mainstream consciousness, it’s time to move on. Just like memes and other pop-culture references, cannabis terms quickly lose their cool factor once your parents or any authoritative figure discovers their meaning. Cannabis has been around for centuries so it’s no surprise that the English language is constantly incorporating new words related to this plant into our vocabulary.

Cannabis: The Early Years

The term “ganja” is the oldest English reference to cannabis and has its roots in Sanskrit, an ancient language. The term “ganja” originated in India and was brought to Jamaica when Britain forcefully relocated Indians as enslaved workers. These laborers brought along with them their expertise in various plants including cannabis, otherwise known as “ganja.”

Gradually, the word caught on in other parts of the Caribbean before arriving to mainland North America. Still today, “ganja” is frequently used as a slang for cannabis in Jamaica.

Cannabis Flower and Prohibition

For many years, the plant was known simply by its botanical names – “cannabis” or “hemp”. It wasn’t until nearly 1910 that a new word began to be used in reference to it: “weed”. However, due to its mysterious connotations, “weed” never achieved widespread usage and instead gave way to the more provocative term of choice: “marijuana.”

‘Marijuana’ is rumored to derive from the Panamanian term ‘managuango’, or the Spanish word “mariguano”, which translates into English as “intoxicant”. This lends credence to theories that Mexicans introduced smokeable psychoactive cannabis in America.

Marijuana came to be linked with immigrants, as the bias against them was transferred onto the cannabis plant. Distrust of Mexican immigrants fueled the fire for research associating marijuana use with violence and crime. Within the first three years of cannabis being legalized in the U.S., 3 states had already criminalized it, leading to a total of 29 by 1931.

Reefer Madness

Released in 1936, “Reefer Madness” was one of the most polarizing anti-drug campaigns ever produced. The movie presented teenagers who were enticed to smoke cannabis flower and consequently committed a range of violent crimes.

The term reefer has been around since the 1920s but it didn’t become widespread until after the film was released. Etymologists are unsure of where this word came from; some suggest that it’s an adaptation of the Spanish “grifa,” while others think it originated in sailor slang and is related to rolling up the sail – which could be likened to rolling a joint.

According to numerous etymologists, the term ‘pot’ likely originates from the Spanish phrase “potación de guaya,” which was a drink composed of both wine and cannabis.

Marijuana as Counterculture

The decade of the 60s is remembered for its counterculture, where peace and love abounded along with lots of doobies. Without those independent-minded hippies, the marijuana plant wouldn’t be in such a progressive position today. The era’s flower power was indeed a catalyst that shifted the course of this plant’s often tumultuous history.

To erase the negative names of past eras, new terms were adopted to give cannabis a more positive spin. New labels such as “flower,” “herb” and “grass” emphasized the plant’s natural and medicinal characteristics.

1960s youth smoking a joint

Cannabis Plants in the Modern Era

As the perception of cannabis shifted over time, so did its terminology. The ’90s attitude cultivated expressions for marijuana such as “dank,” “doja” and that ubiquitous number, 420. It also brought back to favor expressions from long ago like “pot” or “weed”.

As cannabis legalization has spread in recent years, many have sought to re-legitimize marijuana by forgoing slang altogether and returning to the plant’s botanical name: cannabis.

Within the cannabis industry, new jargon is constantly being coined to describe a variety of ways to consume marijuana such as “hotboxing” or “dabbing,” with even more specific groups within this field earning their own titles like “glass heads.”

The Last Toke

Whatever you call it, Frost Denver Dispensary is proud to offer some of the highest quality cannabis flower in all of Colorado. We believe that everyone should have access to premium marijuana and be able to enjoy it with a name they’re comfortable with. So, whether you call it “ganja”, “pot” or “flower”, come on by and sample our selection!

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