We had a special report on the different names we call cannabis, where these names originated, their connotations, and which ones are appropriate to use.
This one’s a shorter version and only talks about how the slang terms came to be.
Pot is believed to have come from the traditional Spanish-Mexican drink called potiguaya, short for potación de guaya. This beverage is mainly cannabis leaves and buds steeped in alcohol made from the tropical guaya fruit. Potación de guaya literally means “drink of grief.”
The use of the nickname or code word “pot” referring to cannabis became popular in the United States in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Weed was first used as a synonym for “marijuana cigarette,” so this slang originally meant smoking cannabis.
There isn’t any account of exactly why cannabis came to be called weed. However, judging from the definition of the word weed, it is likely that the term has underground origins.
Weed is defined as a wild plant that grows in places where it is unwanted and where it competes with cultivated plants. So we can only guess that underground users called it “weed” because of its unwanted and prohibited status.
The widespread use of the slang “grass” to refer to cannabis is most likely because of its appearance. The term became vogue in the 1960s and 70s. Although it should be noted that the cannabis available during this period of the hippies and flower power was green, often resembling lawn clippings, and was of lesser quality.
Cannabis was also mentioned in the Atharvaveda (Science of Charms) — a Hindu sacred text — as “sacred grass,” which is one of India’s five sacred plants. Sacred grass is used in rituals for Shiva, as well as in Ayurvedic medicine.
Now, Mary Jane has a much simpler and easier explanation. The use of the word “marijuana” or “marihuana” first came to the U.S. from Mexico, and the term is associated with the Mexican-Spanish personal name María Juana. The English version of this name is Mary Jane.
The act of “reefing” a ship’s sail lessens the sail’s area by rolling on one edge of the sailcloth in on itself. The sailor who rolls it is called a “reefer.” A reefed sail, apparently, resembles a joint. So this could be one of the reasons why cannabis is called a reefer.
Reefer is also associated with the Mexican slang term grifo, which refers to someone stoned. Grifo means tangled or frizzy, which presumably describes the way our minds get when stoned. Anyway, this word fused to “greefo,” and then to “reefer.”
Most people believe that ganja is originally just the Jamaican word cannabis. And it is highly associated with the Rastafarian culture. However, the term is so much older than this. Ganja actually comes from Sanskrit, and means the Ganges River in India. As you may already know, the British Empire shipped slaves from India to Africa in order to work on the plantations. The Indians brought their cannabis habit with them and introduced them to the Africans, including the Jamaicans.
There are so many more nicknames and slang terms that refer to cannabis. There’s “herb,” “dope,” “bud,” “doobie,” “skunk,” “herb,” and “tea,” among so many others. It helps to know where these names originated so we can put a stop to the stigma and avoid using words with racist or with generally negative connotation.