Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 16, 2023

Cannabis has been used for thousands of years, ever since the times of the ancient civilizations. Due to the anti-inflammatory, sedative, psychoactive, analgesic, and other properties which are a result of the cannabinoid content in weed (a mix of THC, CBD, CNG, and other cannabinoids), recreational and medical marijuana have become even more popular in recent years. 

As the use and popularity of cannabis increases, people have been coming up with different names for the cannabis plant, and the most commonly used one is pot. But have you ever wondered where the word pot comes from? We’ll discuss that and more in this article.

Cannabis and Its Many Names

Ever since the cannabis plant was first being used in religious ceremonies, for medical treatments, and as a recreational drug, until today, cannabis has had a lot of names. Whatever slang term you use – pot, ganja, weed, bhang, leaf, cannabis, reefer, skunk, marihuana, mary jane, marijuana, dope, grass, cheeba, mota, tea – marijuana is here to stay as legalization increases all over the worlds and new slang terms will probably come up in the future. But, for the purpose of this article, we’ll dive into why people use the word pot when talking about marijuana.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910

The Mexican Revolution was a sequence of armed regional conflicts that aimed to transform Mexican culture and the government and lasted for almost 10 years. But you must be wondering how this has anything to do with cannabis. Well, the Mexican Revolution is the reason for the introduction of cannabis in the US.

Cannabis first came to the US after the Mexican revolution during which a lot of Mexican immigrants fled from Mexico to the US and introduced Americans to the culture of using marijuana recreationally. Naturally, the drug became associated with the immigrants which is how the negative connotations for cannabis started. So, let’s get into how the term pot was coined.

Why Is Marijuana Called Pot?

A lot of weed users use the word pot in reference to the versatile cannabis plant, but have you ever wondered about the etymology of the word pot? While many of the slang terms referring to marijuana are derived from a combination of the plant’s appearance and the geographic location where it grows in nature, the term pot has a different origin.

The term pot has nothing to do with the English language and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, pot is derived from the Mexican Spanish word Potaguaya or Potiguaya which means marijuana leaves. This term is a shortening of the Latin term which is an alcoholic drink made by steeping dried leaves and cannabis buds in brandy or wine. The literal translation of “potacion de guaya” is “the drink of grief” which was used as a traditional remedy in medicine for years. Around the 1930’s the term “potiguaya” was shortened to “pot” and its popularity only increased since then as a lot of authors began to write about smoking pot, including popular author Chester Himes who wrote about smoking this plant back in 1938.

Other Popular Slang Terms for Cannabis

The word cannabis has a lot of synonyms apart from pot, and we’ll go over the most common ones below.


The word marijuana is even better known than the word cannabis, and we’ll explain why. As more Mexican immigrants fled to the US and brought their habits of cannabis consumption with them, Americans started to associate the plant with the immigrants and created another term for it. Marijuana was supposed to signify “loco weed” or a plant that had significant effects on your head due to its psychoactive effects. Other sources claim that its name could be related to the Spanish word for the spice called marjoram. 


Another popular word that originated in nearly the same period is reefer. During the late 1930s, a propaganda film against cannabis called Reefer Madness came out. It was intended to cast a bad light on the cannabis plant and convince people to stop smoking it. The term “reefer” comes from sailing terminology. Rolling one edge of the canvas of the sails reduces the area of the sails and that act is called reefing the sail, hence the term “reefer” refers to the sailor who rolls the sails. If you think about it, a reefed sail looks very similar to a rolled joint. 


The term ganja is related to Jamaica even though the roots of the word come from the Hindi term for cannabis. The term came to Jamaica through the British slavery ships that carried a lot of laborers from India to Jamaica between 1845 and 1917, causing the cultures to merge and leading to the use of the word ganja as a slang term for cannabis. Nowadays, the slang word ganja is still popular in Jamaica and is widely used as a central part of the Rastafari movement.


During the 1960s and 1970s, another slang term for cannabis became very popular – “grass.” This term likely came from ancient Hindu texts which referred to cannabis as one of the five sacred plants of India or “sacred grass.” They used it medicinally, recreationally, and as a ritual offering to Shiva, the god of destruction. The appearance of cannabis can also be associated with this slang term as clippings from cannabis plants resemble lawn clippings.


Another term that is very popular in modern history and relates to cannabis is “weed.” Weeds are wild plants that grow on their own and compete with cultivated plants. The term weed is used in reference to cannabis as a complete opposite to that as cannabis has become one of the most valuable crops which can be used to make a huge variety of products. The industrial hemp plant is used to make ropes, clothes, food, and other products, while the cannabis plant is used for both recreational and medical purposes.

​Final Thoughts

It’s no wonder that the cannabis plant has a massive number of slang terms when we take its long history into consideration. Moreover, when we look in the near past, we see that cannabis was an illegal drug all over the world before the increase in legalization laws in the past 30 to 40 years, so it isn’t unusual that people would use alternative words to refer to the cannabis plant. 

Regardless, the term pot is here to stay and we can only expect that its use will only increase in the following years. And, who knows, maybe in the next 50 years it will become legal all over the world. We just have to wait and see.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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