Cannabis is known by many names: bud, ganja, pot, reefer, marijuana, weed, and some lesser-known names such as alfalfa, green goddess, and muggle.
According to slang experts such as Jonathon Green, cannabis is a star candidate for slang words. It allows itself to be easily camouflaged under various names, allowing it to be snuck into different conversations without third-parties raising brows.
These different monikers act as code words or insider references.
Origin and History of Cannabis Slang Terms
Green’s Dictionary of Slang maintains an online database on slang. This ready reckoner has various details about the history, meaning, and usage of a word. For instance, ‘bud’ is grouped under plant-derived names for cannabis, but ‘Chronic’ and ‘Dank’ are grouped under quality-derived names.
Similarly, the word ‘marijuana’ is classified under a language-derived name as it traces its origin to the Spanish language.
From Literature to Pop Culture
Although there are many stories behind the coinage of the term ‘pot’, one such story is that it was popularized by the author Chester Himes. The author, in his work ‘The Way We Live Now’ published in 1938 had written, “She made him smoke pot and when he got jagged [high]..she put him on the street”.
Yet, according to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, there is no certain theory about the origin of the term ‘pot’.
Slang exists because of the constant need to evolve. Once authorities figure out that a particular word is used as a code for cannabis, the need for a new slang arises. It was the need for users to have safe ways of communication without alarming everyone around.
Perhaps the creative and mental high achieved from the usage of cannabis contributed to the spawning of new names for cannabis. Here are the details about some of those slangs.
The word traces its origin to Nahuatcl (Aztec) word mallihuan. It traveled north with the Mexican immigrants after the Mexican Revolution and eventually morphed into its current spelling. It came into common usage after being used by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics
Grass is a common way to address cannabis. The usage was popular because one could camouflage cannabis under the name and not get caught by parents, police, and other authorities.
The argument for the origin of the word ‘pot’ remains unsettled with one theory suggesting its origin from the Mexican Revolution, coming from the Spanish word ‘potiguaya’. It became popular in the 1930s -1940s with the jazz culture.
Common in the 1970s and 1980s, it came into use perhaps because of the hardy nature of the cannabis plant. Like weeds, cannabis can also grow anywhere.
A borrowed word, not slang, Ganja comes from Sanskrit. Specifically used to refer to the flowers of the Cannabis plant, the word now refers to the entire plant.
Corresponds to the first name in the list, Marijuana, and is a combination of the word Mari + Juana.
Found it’s way thanks to uninformed parents, who would question “are you smoking dope?”. It then jumped ship when it was no longer used to refer to opium products. However, its usage remained short-lived.
Made popular by one of the proponents of cannabis, Snoop Dogg, who used it first. As a result of a wrong hearing at a noisy party, chronic became common in the 1990s and was also adopted by Dr. Dre for the name of his album.
Origins of the term are shrouded in mystery. One theory suggests that it’s a distortion of the Spanish word ‘Grifo’. With the ‘i’ sounding as ‘ee’ and ‘g’ (as in English word gate) not being distinct when spoken with speed. ‘Grifo’, with time, evolved to ‘reefer’.
Originates from the aroma of smoked cannabis, it was used to describe the smell after smoking the strains of cannabis available in the 1970s. Skunky, the adjective, soon became Skunk.
A rather obvious name, the phrase exemplifies the effect of the product. After chopping, cannabis resembles tobacco and because its use can quickly lead to a psychoactive effect, it has been named Wacky Tobaccy.
The term Hashish has its origin in Arabic and is a resin that is extracted from flowers of cannabis. Hashish was shortened to ‘Hash’ and is interchangeably used to refer to the cannabis plant.