Just like with any other drug, there are many slang terms for cannabis. Some of them are accurately rooted in the plant’s etymology and some are not. If you’ve ever wondered about cannabis etymology and some of its various slang terms, you’ve come to the right place.
As widespread legalization and social acceptance of cannabis use as medication or recreation rises, so does curiosity surrounding its near-century illegality and odd, twisted history of terms associated with the plant/ medicine. Etymology is just a fancy word that basically refers to the history of words or phrases.
Like many words in the English language, terms for the flowers of the cannabis plant like marijuana, pot, and dope have a bit of a bastardized past. The word “dope” obviously comes from the old school insult akin to calling someone an idiot or a moron. The now debunked thought process that cannabis makes you stupid fueled this one. This kind of changed around the mid to late 1980’s, when the word “dope” started to be used to describe more positive things.
The word “pot” is more shrouded in mystery. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a pot for cooking. The Oxford English Dictionary seems to concur that “pot” comes from the Latin term “potación de guayaya,” which means, “drink of grief”. This traditional Mexican beverage is prepared by steeping cannabis buds in wine. Sounds like a good time to me.
This brings us to the word marijuana. Many cannabis enthusiasts and professionals have dropped the use of the word marijuana entirely. The fact is, more people know the word marijuana than cannabis. There’s a good reason for that. There’s been a massive storm of propaganda hurled in people’s general direction over the past near-century regarding the cannabis plant, so it’s not surprising that most people are unaware of cannabis etymology. People know what the term marijuana means than cannabis.
Even NPR has confirmed that before circa 1910, marijuana wasn’t even a word. Before that, everyone just called it cannabis. While industrial hemp and cannabis tinctures were widely used and accepted, smoking the cannabis plant was not. Around that time, close to a million Mexicans legally immigrated to the U.S. to escape their civil war. This caused hatred towards Mexicans and their cannabis smoking. In turn, this led racially charged politicians to create the term marijuana, which was supposed to mean, “loco weed”. This rearranging of language and understanding of the cannabis was a precursor to its ultimate prohibition and demonization of the Reefer Madness late 1930’s.