There are a few reasons why weed has some of the best slang around. For starters, you can find weed pretty much anywhere. There are diverse strains and customs surrounding the herb, and each language has its own ways of referencing it.Secondly, until recently, marijuana smokers were an illegal and persecuted subculture. People needed to refer to the reefer without getting arrested. So let’s begin.
Dro / Chronic / Hydro /
All of these classic ’90s terms for weed come from hydroponic, synonymous with hydroponically grown weed. Hydroponically grown weed is cultivated without soil.
Though experts debate the merits of grow styles, the commonly perceived advantage of hydroponic weed is that the marijuana plant receives all the nutrients directly. This means that the plant will have higher yields and grow faster.
The origins of your favorite weed slang wouldn’t be complete without a reference to Snoop Dog. While Hydro and Dro are pretty clear derivatives of Hydroponic, Chronic has a more interesting history.
In 1991, Snoop Dogg went to a party where he heard talk of hydroponically grown weed. In an interview with Seth Rogan, Snoop explains that chronic is a mispronunciation of hydroponic.
“They don’t know the origins of how f****d up I was when I said it,” Snoop says. We wonder how many ounces of weed he had smoked to get to that point.
Reefer goes further back than the 1936 movie that popularized it: Reefer Madness. Some say that reefer was a sailing term.
The reefer on sailing ships was the man who folded the sails up in a shape that, some say, looked like a joint. Others argue that reefer comes from the Spanish term grifa, which means marijuana.
Reefer grew in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s but became known nationally when Reefer Madness, a movie about the dangers of marijuana, became an ironic hit in the 1970s legalization movement.
For those too embarrassed to ask, we’ll lay this one out for you. Long before 420 was an international holiday, a group of ’70s high school kids who called themselves the Waldos used it as a code for getting high.
These California Mary J enthusiasts blazed by a statue of Louis Pasteur near their Bay Area high school they attended at exactly 4:20. In a twist of fate, the Grateful Dead hired one of these weed connoisseurs as a roadie.
History was made when, inspired by the roadie, Deadheads invited everyone to a 420-themed party on 4/20 at 4:20. Of course, High Times did its part by publishing one of the 420 flyers in 1991.
Today, 420 is synonymous with weed—all thanks to us, the Grateful Dead and some Cali stoners. The origins of your favorite weed slang wouldn’t be complete without a reference to our favorite holiday.
Different from a lot of common weed slang, ganja comes from the east. Derived from the Sanskrit term for hemp, ganja gained popularity in the West after the British forced Indians into indentured servitude.
In the late 19th century, the British then brought Indians to various plantations in the Caribbean, including ones in Jamaica.
Rastafarians adopted the term in the 20th century. Since then, ganja has symbolized the struggles of two distinct displaced peoples.
This vintage term for weed is making a comeback. In addition to being a popular first name from the early 20th century, Mary Jane is also the Americanization of the Spanish term ‘marijuana’.
Some people believe that marijuana is really Mary Jane in Spanish, but that’s up for debate. What we do know is that Mary Jane comes from a time—the ’30s and ’40s—when people could only refer to weed through euphemisms.
A Left handed Cigarette
This old-timey term for a joint came out of the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1930s and ’40s, many adopted a slang known as jive talk, the lexicon of the Jazz Age. A left-handed cigarette exemplifies this sort of speech.
As most people would smoke with their right hand, a left-handed cigarette calls to mind the evil generally associated with the left side in Christianity. A left-handed cigarette would be something way worse than tobacco (or so they thought).
Don’t do that.
The Devil’s Lettuce
Perhaps the most hilarious way to talk about ganja, the devil’s lettuce was no joke back in the day. In the 19th century, people referred to marijuana as Indian Hemp due to its origin.
A report released by the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in 1894 found that “the moderate use practically produced no ill effects.”
So marijuana was re-branded as a different drug that made people aggressive and deranged. The “devil’s lettuce” was the perfect name for this evil substance.
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