The Colorful History of 5 Cannabis Slang Terms

photo of cannabis in a plastic container from a dispensary that could fit a little more than an eighth of weed

Depending on the crowd, how old you are, and your outlook on it, the next collection of cannabis slang terms can mean a TON of different things. Much like the various terms for a partaker (stoner, pothead, etc.), some cannabis slang words come with certain connotations. Not all are good, not all bad, but most have negative associations due to the federal illegality that plagued the United States for so many years.

1. Pot

cannabis joints and weed

Pot has been a cannabis slang term since the early 1930’s! The word came to the United States as a shortening of the Mexican Spanish words “Potacion de guaya”, which was a fermented fruit drink (wine or moonshine) that was used to steep cannabis flowers. It directly translates to “the drink of grief”, which is why so many cannabis enthusiasts are hoping to get people to stop using words like ‘pot’, ‘marijuana’ and ‘reefer’. Many feel that words like this create negative associations for consumers and the industry.

2. Reefer

reefer maddness marijuana prohibition

Reefer is a cannabis slang term born from racism. Let’s get that out there first and foremost. For those of you that are curious, the word reefer was coined in the 1920’s, as an alternation of the Mexican-Spanish slang word grifo (pronouned greef-o), which meant drug-addict. It also meant pick-pocket in criminal slang. Later, in 1936, the movie Reefer Madness was released as an anti-cannabis propaganda crusade, which affected the public mindset on cannabis so elegantly, that some people born up until the 1960’s still have a deep rooted fear of cannabis and its culture.

3. Marijuana

Maryland new medical marijuana

Marijuana, much like pot, can have a very negative connotation, and some people in the industry prefer not to use it. Starting out as an innocent Spanish term ‘marihuana,’ “marijuana” has seen a dark past. It all starts with one William Randolph Hearst, who many of you know as the the guy who caused almost 100 years of cannabis prohibition in the United States to protect his interests in the timber industry. Hearst is well known for his propaganda in publishing, as he controlled hundreds of newspapers to advocate against cannabis. These stories mainly targeted the African American and Mexican American communities which featured horribly embellished, and false stories about these people committing murders and causing domestic terrorism. These stories were able to help Hearst render cannabis illegal at the federal level in 1937.

4. Herb

Herb is a much lighter word. Herb actually has a positive connotation dating back to the happy point in time where cannabis was used for medicinal properties, much like ginger and other medicinal herbs and spices. Before big pharma, before Hearst, and before the prohibition, cannabis was treated for what it was: A naturally occurring, possibly beneficial herb. In the more recent days, herb has become a popular term due mostly in fact that it has one syllable, like weed, which is becoming the go-to word for the green revolution we see today.

5. Hemp

industrial hemp field

Hemp is being used as a cannabis slang term, but it isn’t a slang term at all! The folks over at Alternet said it best: ‘Thanks to nearly 80 years of federal cannabis prohibition, public knowledge on the topic is limited to rumors and misinterpretations perpetuated online everything from “hemp plants are male and marijuana plants are female” to “one is a drug and the other is not.”‘ The difference is pretty clear when you get into the origins. Hemp mostly refers to strains that were genetically selected and bred for use in industrial matters, while cannabis is bred for potency and medicinal value.

6. Mary Jane

While the origins of this cannabis slang term are debated and not totally clear, many suggest it stems from the Spanish word for marijuana, “marihuana”. When broken up, the word sounds like this: Mari – Juana. Both of those words could also sound like common Spanish names for girls, so maybe English-speakers just replaced those words with our own names: Mary and Jane. It might be a stretch, but however Mary Jane came to be, it’s still a well-known and commonly used cannabis slang term.

So there’s the short history of five cannabis slang terms. Feel free to go digging on your own for other slang terms. You never know what you’ll find, or what you’ll learn! If you DO find anything noteworthy, let us know. Much like you, we’ve got the munchies for knowledge, and we’d love to hear from you.