Why Is Marijuana Called Pot? Where Cannabis Nicknames Come From

One of the interesting aspects of marijuana is that no one calls it “marijuana.” How many times have you heard someway say: “Let’s go smoke some marijuana”? Instead, they use slang terms, which in turn has led to many people asking. “Why is marijuana called pot?”

Much like the history of 420, many myths have built up around the use of marijuana slang. Although this one is true: the DEA once listed all the nicknames for marijuana they had picked up during arrests. They included The Devil’s Lettuce, Burritos Verdes and Smoochy Moochy Poochy.

But, while memorable, they hardly rank as common. Here’s a look at the facts behind why marijuana is called pot and other common slang terms.

Where Does The Term Marijuana Come From?

Before getting into nicknames, it’s worthwhile to know why marijuana is called marijuana. The term marijuana didn’t enter the American vocabulary until the anti-marijuana movement sought to associate cannabis with “locoweed” from Mexico in the 1930s, according to NPR. While the word entered the U.S. vocabulary from Mexico, the word’s origin remains cloaked in mystery. NPR listed the most popular theories as:

  • Chinese immigrants to Mexico may have used the term “ma ren hua” to describe the plant, which became “Spanishized” into marijuana
  • Marijuana could be a colloquial Spanish way of saying mejorana – “Chinese oregano”
  • It could be a portmanteau of the Spanish girl’s names Maria and Juana
  • It’s a version of the Bantu word for cannabis used by Angolan slaves brought to Brazil by the Portuguese: “ma-kaña.”

Why Is Marijuana Called Pot?

Marijuana is called pot because “pot” is a shortened version of “potación de guava,” which may have been a Mexican beverage made from seeping  cannabis leaves in wine or brandy. Accent on the “may” – no one is 100% for sure. According to Civilized, the first use of the term “pot” comes from a 1938 short story called “The Way We Live Now” by African-American author Chester Himes. He wrote: “She made him smoke pot and when he got jagged [high]…she put him on the street.”

Why Is Marijuana Called Weed?

Cannabis is actually a flowering plant, but it can grow in the wild, like a weed. Where people started using the term is unclear. However, American Speech mentioned the term weed in 1929, defining it as a “marijuana cigarette,” according to Slate. In 1932, The Chicago Defender also used the term, as well as mentioning “reefer.” Which brings us to the next question.

Why Is Marijuana Called Reefer?

On ships, a “reefer” is a sailor who rolls the canvas, called “reefing a sail.” A reefed sail looks a lot like a joint. That, most believe, is where this particular slang word originated.

Why Is Marijuana Called Mary Jane?

Now, this is the easy one. Mary Jane is simply the English version of Maria and Juana, which (as we learned above) could be the original source of the term marijuana.


European continued to wrongly refer to Native Americans as Indians long after they knew they were not in India. In that same spirit, many people refer to ganja as the Jamaican word for marijuana. This just in: They speak English in Jamaica (or Jamaican Patois, a form of English). Yes, the term is widely used in Jamaica, but was likely brought there by 40,000 indentured servants from India that the British Empire forced into labor on the island. Ganja is the Hindi word for marijuana.

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