It’s 4/20 – A Look At Marijuana Slang & The History Behind ‘420’

In case you didn’t know, today, April 20th – is a day that is celebrated by weed-smokers. This comes from the use of ‘420’ as a slang term for marijuana smoking, but where did the term first come from? Why is ‘420’ associated with cannabis?

There are many stories including one which says that ‘420’ was a police code for ‘Marijuana Smoking in Progress.’ The story says that the code was being used by police in San Rafael, California in the 1970s when it was picked up by locals who would say ‘Let’s go 420.’ However, this story is only partly right, and in fact, has nothing to do with a police code – although San Rafael was the right place.

In fact, 420 all dates back to a group of five friends from San Rafael High School in 1971.  The friends, who called themselves the Waldos since they all used to hang out together by a wall outside the school, actually came up with the term themselves after hearing about an plot of marijuana plants that a Coast Guard had but could no longer tend to.

With a treasure map in hand, the Waldos set off to find the free marijuana crop, meeting at the statue of Loius Pasteur outside the school at 4:20 after athletics practice. One of the Waldos, Steve, explained:

“We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis and we eventually dropped the Louis. We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ‘66 Chevy Impala and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Pt. Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week. We never actually found the patch.”

This ended up creating a slang term, as Steve went on:

“I could say to one of my friends, I’d go, 420, and it was telepathic. He would know if I was saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?’ Or, ‘Do you have any?’ Or, ‘Are you stoned right now?’ It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it. Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”

Of course, slang has been used by different groups around the world to hide what is really being said. When it comes to things like smoking weed, the need for slang is pretty clear – hiding the activity from parents, teachers, and of course, the law!

However, as soon as one term becomes mainstream a new secret slang word is needed to replace, which is perhaps why marijuana has some 1,200 terms associated with it!

As for 420, the term spread through the local Marin County scene – helped by the Waldos connections to the band the Grateful Dead. Before long the term had been picked up by people such as High Times Magazine, who pushed it even further. The rest, as they say, is history…

Here are a selection of cannabis slang terms and what they mean:

Because of the effects:

airplane – because it gets one “high.” Also see “parachute” and “pocket rocket”

amnesia – because it can make one forgetful

climb – might be a play on getting “high,” might be a play on “climbing the walls”

doobie – may be related to another slang meaning of doobie: a dull, stupid person

good giggles – because it makes people laugh

Houdini – because the user “escapes” reality

reefer — a Spanish derived word. “Grifo” is Mexican slang to describe someone under the influence of marijuana, because “grifo” can refer to tangled, frizzy hair and therefore a similar mental state. That became “greefo,” which then became abbreviated as reefer

spliff — this likely comes from the verb splificate, which may be fanciful and may be a combination of the words stifle and suffocate. Whatever its origins, the word describes confusing or confounding someone


Because people like it:

ace – slang for something superior

baby – a term of affection for the drug

green goddess – green for the color, goddess for the experience


Because it is a (green) plant:

alfalfa – also slang for beard, money and tobacco

asparagus – also broccoli, parsley, sassafras and turnip greens

bud – the name for the part of the cannabis plant that is smoked

Christmas tree – also fir. “Lumber” can refer to unwanted twigs in the bud

grass – also bush and weed

green – for the color, the same reason it is slang for money. Similar slang terms are green stuff, greenery and green tea

herb — among Rastafarians, who use the substance religiously, this term has been used to emphasize that it is “natural” like other herbs. With a similar flare, the substance has been called “mother” and “mother nature,” as well as the “noble weed” and “righteous bush”


Because of language:

Aunt Mary – a pun on marijuana, just like Mary Jane, Mary Warner, Mary Weaver, and Mary and Johnny

da kine – this Hawaiian surf slang can refer to anything for which one forgets the precise name

dona Juanita – “lady Jane” in Spanish, a play on marijuana

ganja – derives from a Hindi word for the hemp plant

marijuana – the Spanish name for the plant. Many in legal U.S. markets have tried to move away from this term, because of its association with the illegal drug trade, and instead use cannabis

muggle – unknown origin but the use of “muggle-head” to mean marijuana-smoker dates to the 1920s

pot — derives from the Spanish word for marijuana leaves, potiguaya

rainy day woman — this may come from the Bob Dylan song with the chorus line “Everybody must get stoned”

thirteen — the first letter of marijuana is the 13th in the alphabet


Because of the way a joint is shaped:

alligator cigarette –may also be related to an alligator’s general lack of speed

bag of bones – multiple marijuana cigarettes

blunt – though the wrapper of any cigar can be used today, early users of the term used the brand Phillies Blunt

stogie – this slang term for an over-sized marijuana cigarette comes from a slang word for a cigar. That term, in turn, comes from an abbreviation of a large heavy horse breed, Conestoga, because the men who drove them were associated with smoking those products


Because of quality:

cabbage – poor quality bud, perhaps resembling the vegetable

catnip – inferior or fake marijuana

chronic – the word meaning extreme or severe came to describe marijuana with strong effects

dank – this term started out describing unpleasant, swamp-like things and, like “bad” itself, then came to describe good things, like marijuana of the best quality

Nixon — named after the president, refers to poor quality bud being sold as high quality bud





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