Reefer, Mary Jane, Ganja, and Pot. Cannabis Slang’s Evolution is extensive. There are almost 1,200 slang words for everyone’s beloved flower, as well as hundreds more that characterize its effects, quality, and numerous shapes.
Cannabis has been utilized for millennia, giving it one of the most lengthy and complicated histories in agriculture. Given its global effect and popularity, the flower has been given several names of affection, each differing according to area, demography, age group, and historical period.
For Jonathan Green, this was his life’s work. Green, a slang historian, devotes his life to collecting and researching what he refers to as “counter-language.” Green contends that slang, more than any other subset dialect or technicality, is one of the most important components of the English language. And, after decades of investigation, he’s created one of the largest internet databases for it. He called it “Green’s Dictionary of Slang“.
But why does slang attach to some terms but not others? Sugar, for example, has been farmed for as long as cannabis – and has a similarly contentious past. However, we don’t hear people referring to sugar in the same manner they do the “green goddess.” So, why has cannabis been given so many various names?
To begin, taboo topics, or those that “shouldn’t be discussed publicly,” generally necessitate conversing in code in order to preserve social quotas. When marijuana became the subject of drug war propaganda, it forced individuals to go underground and get inventive.
Another factor that contributes to this is that once a fashionable phrase becomes widespread, it’s time for a change. Similar to memes or other pop-culture allusions, when your parents (or any authority figure in this situation) figure out what it means, it’s no longer cool. Given that cannabis has been present for millennia, it was certain to be washed thru the English language cycle hundreds of times.
So come on, Cannabis Slang’s Evolution. Let’s get going!
Cannabis’s Origins, 1689-1900
The first known English term for cannabis is “ganja,” albeit it is not an English word. Instead, it is derived from the old Sanskrit language. The term “ganja” originated in India and migrated to Jamaica when Britain introduced enslaved Indians to the plundered island. These laborers brought with them knowledge of various plants, including cannabis, or “ganja.”
Over time, the term spread across the West Indies before finding its way to continental North America. In Jamaica, the word “ganja” is now the most widely used to denote cannabis.
The Beginning of the Prohibition, 1900-1936
Prior to prohibition, cannabis was mainly known by its scientific names “cannabis” or “hemp.” It wasn’t until the twentieth century that a new name appeared. According to Green, the term “weed” was initially used in the early 1910s, and it was formally classified as one of the new cannabis expressions in the 1929 edition of American Speech. However, it was not commonly used at the time. Instead, “weed” was eclipsed by its more exotic cousin, “marijuana.”
Following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants migrated to the United States, spreading recreational cannabis into American society. Despite the fact that Americans were cultivating hemp in the colonies and utilizing cannabis extracts for medical purposes, experts say there was no “smokable pot.”
Green believes that the term marijuana was derived from the Panamanian word “managuango” or the Spanish word “mariguano.” When translated into English, both of these terms indicate intoxication, lending credence to arguments that Mexicans introduced the first smokeable and psychotropic cannabis to America.
Marijuana became connected with immigrants, and prejudice against them got associated with the herb as a result. Resentment and fear of Mexican immigration sparked a frenzy of studies linking cannabis have used to violence and crime. Three states had prohibited recreational cannabis use just three years after it was legalized in the United States. It was illegal in 29 states by 1931.
During this period, when it comes cannabis slang’s evolution, cannabis acquired a “unmentionable” character. Using the plant became connected with being “racially inferior,” being from a lower-class community, and engaging in socially deviant conduct. Because of its racially inequitable background, many cannabis fans now avoid using the name “marijuana.”
The Subterranean, 1936-1950s
Because of its heinous reputation, individuals who used cannabis were required to be quiet about it. Simultaneously, anti-drug advocates carefully referred to cannabis as “marijuana” to reinforce the idea that it was not a “white” item.
“Reefer Madness,” debuted in 1936, was one of the most divisive anti-drug efforts of the time. The film depicts kids being enticed to use marijuana before engaging in a variety of violent acts ranging from a hit-and-run accident to murder and rape.
Though the name “reefer” has been used to describe cannabis since the 1920s, it did not become widespread until after the movie was released. Etymologists aren’t sure where it came from, although most assume it’s a corruption of the Spanish term “grifa.” Others suggest it was sailor slang, as “reefer” meant to roll up the sail, which is comparable to rolling a joint.
Many etymologists believe pot derives from the Spanish word “potación de guaya,” which was allegedly a glass of wine laced with cannabis.
In 1937, Congress approved the Marijuana Tax Act in response to years of outcry over “evil marijuana.” This criminalized cannabis, prohibiting its recreational use and restricting possession to select recognized medicinal and industrial applications.
Hippie culture, 1960s-1980s
Counterculture was a distinguishing feature of the 1960s, and it brought with it peace, love, and a lot of cannabis. Cannabis would not be what it is today if not for the flower power of the 1960s. The arrival of progressive hippies was a watershed moment in the plant’s turbulent history. How did this period affect cannabis slang’s evolution?
Many labels employed during this period contrasted with the derogatory titles of the past, giving cannabis a far more positive meaning. Names like “flower,” “herb,” and “grass” emphasized the plant’s natural and therapeutic properties.
The hippie movement is also responsible for popularizing the term “kush”, which derives from the Hindu Kush plants in India. The seeds were brought back to America in the 1970s by visitors who traveled the renowned “hippie path” that runs through Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Afghanistan, the plant’s native location.
Another effect of the 1960s grassroots movement was that it polarized cannabis, with people in the center now firmly gravitating to either side. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 made cannabis illegal, including for medical purposes. However, it was only three years later that Oregon became the first state to decriminalize it. In the years that followed, Alaska, Maine, Colorado, California, and Ohio swiftly followed suit.
If we have already mentioned this period, you might be interested in reading about How Bob Dylan Seduced The Beatles Into Marijuana, or Why Jerry Garcia Compared The Grateful Dead to Marijuana.
The New Era, 1990s – Present
Cannabis terminology evolved in tandem with its reputation. The “too-cool-for-school” mentality of the 1990s gave rise to various cannabis-related phrases of affection, including “dank,” “doja,” and the notorious “420.” It also resurrected the terms “pot” and “weed,” despite their origins decades before.
As more states decriminalized cannabis and legalized medicinal use, the need for secret code names faded. Slang is being utilized as the “linguistic equivalent of fashion.” It may demonstrate support for a community, define one’s degree of authority (whether new or experienced), and foster a sense of belonging.
While nicknames for cannabis are constantly evolving, the majority of new nomenclature reflects the many ways to consume cannabis, such as “hotboxing” or “dabbing.” Even subcategories of the business, such as “glass heads,” have their own distinct names.
It’s difficult to predict the next great thing in cannabis lingo. But, if it’s anything like fashion, the 20-year cycle will be revived.