Back in May 2017, the Drug Enforcement Agency of America released an intelligence report named “Drug Slang Code Words”, which featured an expansive list of supposedly popular slang terms for illegal drugs for law enforcement to stay hip-to-the-jive on the street lingo.
The DEA report featured some truly stellar monikers for weed, including but not limited to: Burritos Verdes, Joy Smoke, Big Pillows, Bambalachacha, Crippy, Green Mercedes Benz, Pocket Rocket, Smoochy Poochy, righteous bush, tex-mex, My Brother, and Rainy Day Woman.
Now, as hilarious as this list is, have you ever stopped to consider where exactly all the old-school names we have for cannabis come from?
Since the cannabis plant has widely been illegal for the better part of the 20th century (and continues to be illegal across most of the globe today), people had to get creative with slang and secret codewords when talking about buying and using the drug. And since slang catches on fast, soon everyone knew what certain words meant, which meant even more names had to be created – and society is still inventing new terms to this day (and infuriating law enforcement in the process).
Many people may be surprised to know that the term “marijuana” isn’t the most scientifically correct term for cannabis. Although its enshrined in U.S. law, the word marijuana is a slang term believed to have originated from the Mexican Spanish word mariguano, meaning “intoxicant”. Panama also has a similar word managuango, which means the same thing.
The word entered U.S. vernacular around the same time as the Mexican revolution in 1910, which saw countless Mexican migrant workers fleeing the war and settling in border states.
The use of this foreign-sounding name for cannabis didn’t do the drug any favors, and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics capitalized on xenophobia and growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the lead up to the Great Depression to portray cannabis as an external “foreign” evil preying upon good American values. Harry Anslinger, the first ever head of the Bureau, purposely used the name marijuana because of its Hispanic sound, which stoked fear among millions of Americans already pushed into poverty by the Depression and now contending with Mexican migrants for work. By the height of the Depression in the 1930’s, most states had enacted laws criminalizing the consumption, sale and possession of cannabis, and the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 effectively made use of the drug illegal throughout the entire U.S.
The term “marijuana” has birthed many other cheesy slang words for weed, with the most popular being Mary Jane, having appeared in countless musician’s lyrics praising their love of the drug with the metaphor of a beautiful woman. Other derivatives include MJ, Proud Mary, Aunt Mary, Dona Juanita, Lady Jane, and Sweet Jane, to name just a few.
Although we largely associate the word ganga with Jamaican island culture and Rastafarianism, the term is the Sanskrit word for hemp. The term ganga travelled with slaves from the East Indies where the plant is revered for its medicinal properties, settling in Jamaica where it became one of the key elements of Rastafarian culture.
The term pot comes from the South American concoction potiguaya, which itself comes from potación de guaya, which translated to English means “drink of grief”. The beverage is created by steeping cannabis buds in wine, brandy or another liquor.
Like marijuana, the term reefer is derived from the Spanish word “grifo”, meaning tangled or frizzy. The word is a Mexican slang term for describing someone under the influence of the drug, and thus exhibiting a particularly frazzled state of mind.
The origins of the word spliff are a little hazier than others on this list, but the term likely comes from the verb splificate, which also has confusing origins. Time magazine concluded that the word may be a combination of stifle and suffocate.