The Evolution of Cannabis Slang: From Reefer to Sticky Icky

Pass the chronic, pack the kush, and take a hit of that top-shelf sticky icky. We all have our favorite names for cannabis, and what you call it depends on where you live and your generation. If you’re not careful, calling marijuana something like reefer is an easy way to date yourself. But where do all these names come from, and who started them?

If you haven’t recently brushed up on your cannabis etymology, don’t sweat it. There are over 1,200 names for pot, and we’re going to walk you through how the most ubiquitous names came to be. From ancient Sanskrit to racist propaganda, the evolution of cannabis slang sure ain’t what you think it is.

It Must Be the Ganja

The first known slang name in the West was none other than Ganja. When the British brought indentured labor from India–slaves, more or less–the workers came stocked with a curious plant. They referred to it as gañjā, an ancient Sanskrit word referring to a powerful preparation of cannabis.

Ganja became so widely used that the British adopted it when putting a tax on the Ganga Trade in 1856. From there, it spread like wildfire and made its way to mainland North America. A hundred-odd years later, Eminem’s song, “It Must Be the Ganja,” further cemented the name’s place in stoner terminology.

Weed and Marijuana

By the 20th century, cannabis was primarily referred to as Cannabis, the plant’s scientific name. But new names were coming out of the woodwork, like Weed and Marijuana. The spread of both words is tied to racist agendas. Rumor has it that America wanted to link cannabis and anti-immigration sentiments by making the newly outlawed plant seem more Mexican.

South of the border, the people called cannabis Locoweed (do we need to explain why?) and Marihuana, possibly deriving from the Mexican Spanish word Mejorana, which means Chinese Oregano. And just like that, the two most widely used names for cannabis officially entered the chat.

Reefer Madness

The racist origins of cannabis slang don’t stop at Weed and Marijuana, unfortunately. The word Reefer is believed to innocently derive from the Mexican slang word Grifa or the sailor slang Reefer, referring to the person who rolls up the sails. But innocence turned into malevolence when Reefer was used in the anti-drug film Reefer Madness in 1936.

Reefer Madness, originally titled Tell Your Children, depicted bizarre and exaggerated scenes of young kids going mad from smoking weed. The film touched on racial fears, linking the use of this psychosis-inducing drug to African Americans and Hispanics. No one, except maybe your grandmother, takes the film seriously anymore, but it etched the name Reefer into cannabis history.

Champagne and reefer, anyone?

Hippies, Flower, and Kush

Peace, love, and marijuana might as well have been the slogan for the 1960s and 70s. The hippy movement took the country by storm, and those long-haired, tie-dye-wearing love children cooked up a slew of new slang for weed–a lot of LSD was cooked, too. Suddenly, names like Herb, Flower, and Grass were used, giving cannabis a natural, holistic identity.

The hippies also popularized the name Kush. When young travelers adventured on the Hippie Trail, spanning from Iran to India to Afghanistan, they came across Hindu Kush and brought seeds back to America. The hippies may be long gone, but their cannabis slang is here to stay.


Hippies whipped up some new names, but rappers have completely revamped the weed terminology menu. Thanks to the lyricists from the 80s to the present day, boring ol’ cannabis is now referred to as Loud, Gas, Chronic, Broccoli, Fire, Blizzy, Extendo, and a million other variations.

Famously, the term Chronic came about when Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre misheard the word hydroponic for hydrochronic in 1991. Snoop Dogg also popularized the term Sticky Icky in the song “Still D.R.E.”–thanks, Snoop. Rap’s influence on the evolution of cannabis slang has transformed weed culture, and the love affair between the genre and that sticky icky ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Final Thoughts

Ganja, Marijuana, Kush, the evolution of cannabis slang tells the story of the plant’s turbulent ride through history. From the early days in the Caribbean to the lyrical flair of today’s rap music, the cannabis community has developed its own language to describe the sacred plant. So here’s to all the colorful names of cannabis slang and the names that have yet to be invented!