Cannabis Slang Throughout History: Part 1

Cannabis Slang Throughout History Part 1

Cannabis Slang Throughout History Part 1



In my last article I briefly covered a few bits of modern cannabis slang. During my search I came across a few things that Guardian crossword writers probably still think are said by the young people and that got me thinking. I wonder what people used to call weed when it first became popular. I wonder what the young hip slang was at the start of the 20th century. So I had a little dig and I loved it all so much that I decided you all needed to know. Honestly, I think that we should bring some of these back and I shall point out which words I will be saying from now on as we go through the list. So without further ado, let’s have a gander at cannabis slang of the past. I reckon I’ll go through by era and then at the end put all of the funniest ones I could find. That’s called incentive. 


By Era 


1800s – 1900s


We can actually start all the way back in the 1800s when cannabis was first moving across the world from India and the Middle East. This is where we first find the word ‘ganja’ in 1856. This came from the Hindi word for the plant which was simply ‘ganjha’. The reason that the word moved forward into the patois of the time is that this was how it was taxed by the British due to the increasing popularity of smoking hashish. It’s fascinating that over the years there have been so many thousands of words all over the world for cannabis and one of the first used is still one of the most popular. 




Then we move to 1910 when the word ‘weed’ was first used to refer to cannabis plants. Before this cannabis was referred to by its scientific names such as ‘cannabis’ or ‘hemp’. Weed didn’t actually become an officially recognised term until the late 20s when it was listed as the official term in ‘American Speech’. This was also around the time that the American government started the war on drugs and created the far more popular and racist term ‘marijuana’. 

I have previously written an entire article on the word ‘marijuana’ so I won’t go overboard but basically it is not a Mexican term as the American public were led to believe. It was created to sound foreign because the American government wanted to crack down on the jazz scene where a decent amount of weed was being smoked. In fact it happened to be popular in many POC scenes which meant it was prime for being made illegal, it just needed what was considered a scary name. I could talk about this forever but if you’re interested either look for my article ‘The Racist Origins of the Term Marijuana’ on this blog or have yourself a research. 

One fascinating word that was used in the jazz scene was ‘muggles’. Of course, these days it makes us think of the work of a certain interestingly opinionated writer but back then it was used to mean joints essentially, or just weed in general. We see a few notable instances of this such as the Louis Armstrong song ‘Muggles’ or character Philip Marlowe in the book ‘little sister’ who calls a clerk a “muggle smoker”. 


1930s – 1950s


For a long time cannabis just wasn’t talked about publicly because of the way that the media and the government demonised it. However, there were still slang words used in the communities where cannabis was popular despite the racist attack on its legality. The hatred of cannabis at this time actually gave rise to one of the more popular words which was ‘reefer’. 1936 saw the bizarre public announcement film “Reefer Madness”. If you haven’t watched it I seriously recommend that you do it is insane. ‘Reefer’ was actually a sailing term used when talking about rolling up the sail, which was sort of what rolling a joint looked like. Others say it comes from the shell of a snail which is otherwise known as a reef. There was another etymological origin but I can’t remember what it was and I can’t find the page anymore. The term itself is first recorded in the 20s but became popular due to the massively dramatic film about the dangers of cannabis for young bubbly teens. 

There were a few other terms that were popular with the people who actually smoked in this time rather than the fear mongers. ‘Giggle smoke’ is a particular favourite of mine and its origins are pretty obvious. In the 40s an interesting term was used, ‘salt and pepper’. This one was used by the jazz community because of famous musician Mezz Mezzrow’s memoir. In the book he referred to the drug as ‘salt and pepper’ and he was so famous as a smoker that some joint styles were even named for him.  Finally another favourite of mine which is simply ‘jive’ named such because it ‘took away your blues’. I love the happy and upbeat feel that these slang names have for cannabis rather than those that are laced with fear and racism. 


1960s- 1980s (a bit)


This was a pretty rich slang period so we won’t be able to finish it in this article. I also won’t get to the funny ones in this article but at the end of the next one. I guess that’s still incentive although I fully understand if this has affected your trust in me. Where was I? Ah yes the 1960s when we first saw terms such as “herb” and “grass” because a revolution had started. The hippies were coming and they were done with the terrible name that the American government was giving to the magical plant. So join me next time for everything from the 60s till the modern day and some really funny slang terms. I’ll give you one good one that I’ll explain in detail next time, goof butt. See? Funny stuff.


Written by Tasha Porritt


Newsletter Sign Up


Make sure you never miss another Vault promo – sign up for our newsletter at


Remember: It is illegal to germinate cannabis seeds in many countries including the UK.  It is our duty to inform you of this fact and to urge you to obey all of your local laws to the letter.  The Vault only ever sells or sends out seeds for souvenir, collection or novelty purposes.


Photo by Dad Grass on Unsplash

One thought on “Cannabis Slang Throughout History: Part 1

  1. I was once stopped by a policeman who said I bet you like a bit of Narbis! What??? Cannarbis he says! Oh how we laughed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *