why is marijuana called pot

Cannabis slang: why is marijuana called “pot”?

There are more than 1,200 nicknames for cannabis, some more familiar than others. Ganga, weed, reefer and bud are some of the most-used and familiar, while alfalfa, Green Goddess and muggle —a 1920’s term for a pot smoker and not a non-magical person — are less well-known.

According to slang scholar Jonathon Green, drugs like cannabis are slang’s “best sellers” because slang consists of words and phrases, think codewords or inside jokes, intended to stand in for an actual thing or topic considered too taboo for conversations in polite society.

Of course, one of cannabis’ best-known nicknames is pot, but of all of the dozens and dozens of nicknames, the word “pot” standing in for cannabis seems a bit odd. Marijuana doesn’t remotely resemble the shape of a cooking pot, nor is it the color of one. So where did this odd-ish term come from?

Origins and history of cannabis slang terms

Green keeps an online database that lists slang grouped by what inspired the term, like “history,” “meaning” or “usage.” For example, the common cannabis nickname, “bud,” is grouped with other plant-derived marijuana nicknames like green, grass and herb. More slang names like chronic and dank are grouped under the “quality” category.

The word “marijuana” is itself a slang term categorized under “language.” However, despite its common use, advocates and others in the cannabis industry are working to familiarize consumers with the term cannabis instead of marijuana (which is the Spanish word for the plant) because of its racist history and affiliation with illicit markets.

The etymological argument on the slang term “pot” is far from settled, but one hypothesis of the nickname’s origin reaches back to the Mexican Revolution (1910—1924). The theory goes that Mexican immigrants in the crosshairs of revolution fled their country to make lives in the U.S., many of whom brought cannabis with them.

With that in mind, the term pot, which like marijuana is categorized “because of language,” may derive from the Spanish word potiguaya, meaning marijuana leaves.

From literature to pop culture

How the term “pot” came into general usage is not very clear, but a prevailing speculation is that the term was popularized by author Chester Himes, who wrote in the short story “The Way We Live Now,” in 1938, “She made him smoke pot and when he got jagged [high]. she put him on the street.”

But these are all just theories, and no one really knows with certainty how “pot” came to be. However, Green told Time Magazine that with any slang, as soon as “adults or authorities become wise to what a term means, then it’s time for a new one.” So, eventually, maybe the term will eventually go to pot.

Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

One of cannabis' best-known nicknames is pot, but of all of the dozens and dozens of nicknames, the word “pot” standing in for cannabis seems a bit odd.

Why Is Cannabis Called “Pot”?

Juicy Network by JuicyFields
May 23, 2020 · 3 min read

Most people know what “pot” refers to. But for those who didn’t get that education, Pot is cannabis. Specifically, marijuana.

Don’t make the mistake of calling industrial-grade hemp, pot. It’s not. And there may be a few people pretty upset if you were to confuse the two.

Cannabis is the general name. It was first used by the botanist Carolus Linneaus in 1753 in his drawing of the plant he called Cannabis sativa. He derived the name from the Greek word for hemp, kannabis. The Greeks got their name from the sanskrit word for hemp, cana.

Neit h er of these root ancient words looks anything like the slang word pot, even though they describe the same plant.

“Pot” is the most well-known modern alias for marijuana. Ask someone about “pot” and most likely they’ll know what you’re referring to.

But where did the name “pot” come from?

While there are no official records showing when and where the name “pot” came from, historians believe it may have come from one of two places.


As early as 1938 “pot” became an accepted slang for marijuana. But its linguistic origin is still a matter for debate between cannabis historians. According to the author of the book “Cannabis: A History” One possibility for where the word came from is the Mexican Indian/ Spanish word Portiguaya.

Potiguaya is a slang word for marijuana.

And man, oh man did they need the relief in Mexico during the 1930s.

The United States was going through the Great Depression and the hardships of the great depression spread to Mexico. The Mexican people, like people today, likely sought relief from the potiguaya. But instead of saying the entire word, Potiguaya, people shortened it to “pot.”

It became easier to say, “Hey man, pass the pot” instead of “Hey man pass the portiguaya.”

Potiguaya as the extended version of the word seems logical. We shorten words all the time to suit our needs.Think of nicknames. But another origin seems equally likely. The word “pot” may have its origins in Arabic.

From Kif to Pot

Kif comes from Arabic speaking north-west regions of Africa. Africans used dried tobacco leaves mixed with powdered marijuana to make a kif. According to the author, John Rosevear, elderly men in Morocco sat around smoking pipes filled with kif.

These elderly men kept their marijuana in a pot. So, when these men wanted to partake in a kif, someone would say, “Please pass the pipe and the pot.”

And so the saying “pass the pot” could have caught on.

Either way, the slang word for marijuana caught on and has been used ever since.

Weed vs. Pot

Another well-known slang word for marijuana is “weed.” The word came from exactly where you’d think it would…the plant itself. Cannabis’ ability to grow in the wild without being tended led to people calling the plant the “weed”.

The name caught on. But “weed” makes more sense for a plant whose flower induces a feeling of one with nature.

People still call marijuana pot. Ask anyone what pot is and they’re likely to tell you with accuracy. In fact, the word is seen in cannabis culture with some endearment.

When friends get together to smoke pot the focus is on relief and fun. Hear “pot” in a movie and you know things are going to get a bit silly. It’s the way the word is used.

There’s other lingo for marijuana. Mary Jane, reefer, ganja, even dope, but none of them seem to sound the same to the listener.

One thing is for certain, pot was here at the time of the Greeks, in the Vedic texts, in Carolus Linneaus’ time and now. It has made it through history, hiding itself under various names in different languages around the world. Used for medicine, spirituality, and fun.

Most people know what “pot” refers to. But for those who didn’t get that education, Pot is cannabis. Specifically, marijuana. Don’t make the mistake of calling industrial-grade hemp, pot. It’s not…