Cannabis by any other name would smell as sweet (or skunky, rather), and it’s definitely had its fair share of creative sobriquets over the years. From giggle smoke to Nixon, here are 11 old-fashioned terms to describe the ever-popular psychoactive plant.
1. Giggle Smoke
For American law enforcement in the 1930s, giggle smoke was no laughing matter. The jazz age had birthed a marijuana movement among the nation’s youth, and state officials pushed to ban what they considered a highly dangerous narcotic. “[Smokers] refer to the cigarettes as ‘muggles,’ and to the effect as a ‘giggle,’ a local Alabama newspaper explained gravely in 1937. “One cigarette of pure marihuana [sic] is usually good for a three-hour giggle.”
2. Goof Butts
Another term that gained prominence in the 1930s and 1940s was goof butts, which described marijuana cigarettes. The smoking fad wasn’t specific to teenagers—Hollywood stars like The Night of the Hunter’s Robert Mitchum enjoyed cannabis just as much, if not more. “Hollywood people are jaded,” one psychiatrist from the area claimed in a 1948 newspaper interview. “They’ve tried everything. The only way they can get any stimulation is to indulge in reefers.”
These days, the word muggle makes most people think of non-magical folk in the Harry Potter series. But beginning in the 1920s, people used it to describe marijuana or marijuana cigarettes. Louis Armstrong—a cannabis fan himself—titled a composition “Muggles” in 1928, and the term’s popularity continued into the mid-20th century. Raymond Chandler even mentioned it in his 1949 novel The Little Sister: protagonist Philip Marlowe refers to a desk clerk as a “muggle smoker.”
4. Salt and Pepper
Though it’s unclear exactly how these two dining table fixtures relate to cannabis, salt and pepper became an expression for marijuana at least as early as the 1940s. In jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow’s 1946 memoir Really the Blues, one character mentions “blowin’ salt and pepper till my hair hurts.” In fact, Mezzrow himself was such an avid smoker that his contemporaries started referring to his special joints as “mezzroles.”
5. Mary Warner
Mary Jane may be the most widely recognized personification of the Spanish word marijuana these days, but it’s not the only cheeky pseudo-translation; the drug also answered to “Mary Warner” as early as 1923. By the late 1960s, the moniker had fallen out of fashion. “It wasn’t always called ‘pot,’” Long Branch, New Jersey’s The Daily Record explained in 1968. “Thirty years ago here that weed was called ‘Mary Warner.’ Today that name is just a footnote of marijuana history, but it’s still interesting.”
In 1936, Stuff Smith and His Onyx Club Boys released a jaunty swing track called “Here Comes the Man With the Jive,” about a man who “takes away your blues” whenever he shows up with marijuana to share. Jive was common slang for that particular drug at the time, but people had started using it to reference heroin—or just drugs in general—by the 1950s.
7. Alice B. Toklas Brownies
In 1954, writer (and Gertrude Stein’s longtime partner) Alice B. Toklas published a cookbook in England with a recipe for “Haschich Fudge,” which “might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR.” Toklas had gotten the recipe from painter Brion Gysin, and hadn’t realized the cannabis-laced confection would seem so controversial to an American audience. The recipe was actually omitted from the first U.S. edition of the book, though the publisher added it back in for a reprint in the 1960s. The legacy of Toklas’s “entertaining refreshment” was further cemented in the 1968 movie I Love You Alice B. Toklas, which features a batch of weed brownies. If you were offered an “Alice B. Toklas brownie” during that era, it probably wasn't drug-free.
If you got “catnipped” in the 1960s, someone sold you some marijuana that was actually a mixture of catnip—the minty herb that drives cats crazy—and cannabis. Or, if you were really gullible, it might only be catnip. As William S. Burroughs wrote in his 1959 novel Naked Lunch, catnip was “frequently passed on the incautious or uninstructed,” since it looked and smelled similar enough to the drug.
9. Rainy Day Woman
At face value, the repetition of “They’ll stone you” in Bob Dylan’s 1966 song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” seems to symbolize the inevitability of societal punishment no matter what you do. But some listeners latched onto the line “Everybody must get stoned” as a ringing endorsement for marijuana. “In the shifting, multi-level jargon of teenagers, to ‘get stoned’ does not mean to get drunk, but to get high on drugs,” TIME wrote in July 1966. “A ‘rainy-day woman’ … is a marijuana cigarette.” For what it’s worth, Dylan had rejected the association earlier that year: “I never have and never will write a ‘drug song,’" he said at a London concert.
Around the same time rainy day woman entered the lexicon, Hunter S. Thompson popularized a new meaning for the number 13. In his 1967 book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Thompson observed that some bikers had sewn patches with the number 13 on their jackets. “It is reported to represent the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, ‘M,’ which in turn stands for marijuana and indicates the wearer thereof is a user of the drug,” he wrote.
According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, people started using Nixon to describe “inferior marijuana sold fraudulently as being of high quality” during Richard Nixon’s presidential tenure. The somewhat derogatory term may have originated as a response to Nixon’s hard line on marijuana, a key part of what became known as the “War on Drugs.” His issue with the substance was chiefly who smoked it—namely, hippies who protested the Vietnam War. By criminalizing marijuana, Nixon could tacitly convince the public to view hippies as a societal blight and therefore discredit the anti-war movement. He formed a commission to study marijuana, hoping their findings would justify its classification in Schedule I—the most dangerous class of drugs. Though the commission actually advised Nixon’s administration to remove it from that list, attorney general (and Watergate co-conspirator) John Mitchell chose to leave it, and it’s still considered a Schedule I substance today.
This article was originally published in 2021; it has been updated for 2023.
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