April 20th each year marks the unofficial “high” holiday of those who use and celebrate cannabis. There’s no better time to review the history behind “420” and other popular terminology that have crept into our lexicon. 

If you’re new to the culture of cannabis, you might find it helpful to study up on some of these terms that are used today to describe this once-taboo plant: 


Cannabis celebrations on April 20th each year often include dispensary promotions, special events, contests, and more. The term “420” has been used as code for marijuana for decades. 

It is believed to have originated at San Rafael High School in Marin County, California In 1971. Five students would meet by the school’s statue of chemist Louis Pasteur to partake in smoking marijuana together at 4:20 p.m. They chose the time to avoid suspicion because extracurricular activities had usually ended by this time. 

The group became known as the “Waldos” because they met at a wall. One of the Waldos scored a job working with the Grateful Dead as a roadie, so the band is credited with popularizing the term “420.” 


The earliest appearance of a form of the word in English is in an 1873 book, The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America. It’s thought that the word “marijuana” along with “mariguan” (1894),”marihuma” (1905), “marihuano” (1912), and “marahuana” (1914) originally were misidentified as a species of wild tobacco called Nicotiana glauca

The term “cannabis” was established in the 1700s as the scientific name of the hemp plant, from which marijuana is derived. The word “marihuana” was popularized by opponents of the plant, most notably United States government official and early proponent of the war on drugs, Harry Anslinger. In the 1930s, Anslinger and others promoted the foreign-sounding name to stigmatize the plant by negatively associating it with the Latino community. 

Today, most advocates prefer to call it by its scientific name “cannabis”, but many states still use “marijuana” or “marihuana” in its legal language. A lead sponsor of the 2013 Illinois cannabis bill said lawmakers were uncomfortable using the word marijuana, and wanted to stick to the scientific name because of the plant’s controversial history. As more and more states legalize, there’s been more recent efforts to remove the word “marijuana” from the legal language. 


Despite its scarcity due to prohibition, the cannabis plant grows tall, strong, sturdy, and known in horticulture to grow “like a weed”. Outside, the plant sprouts up wherever it can find warmth and moisture.

The term “weed” showed up as a term for marijuana in the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century. Records show that “weed” was used as a term for an undesirable plant as far back as the 1400s, and as a term for tobacco dating back to the 1600s.

According to Isaac Campos, a historian at the University of Cincinnati, the term “weed” could be a shortened version of the word “locoweed,” which referred to a species of plant that grows in southwest and northern Mexico. This word was sometimes used interchangeably with marijuana in late 19th century Mexico, so when stories about marijuana started to make their way to the U.S. the two plants got confused.


The term ganja was derived from the Sanskrit term for hemp. Ganja gained popularity in the late 19th century when the British brought Indians to various plantations in the Caribbean. Eventually, the term was adopted by Rastafarians during the 20th century. Rastafarians say ganja is used in accordance with the Bible. Psalms 104:14 says, “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth.” Rastafarians also say ganja was found growing at the grave of King Solomon in the Bible.

Interestingly, though, the use of “ganja” in Jamaica is not unique to Rastafarians. Before Rastafari, cannabis was used by herbalists in Jamaica as a medicine in teas and mixed with tobacco for smoking.


“Bud” is the slang term for the flower of the cannabis plant that contains the cannabinoids and terpenes that offer medicinal benefits. You’ll see dispensary menus refer to it as flower, but colloquially, you’ll hear staff (who are often called “budtenders”) call it bud. 

In cannabis cultivation,”bud” is sometimes used to refer to the actual flower as well as developing growth. According to Maximum Yield, the main region of cannabis bud development is known as the cola. The first part of the bud that develops on the cola is referred to as the calyx.


If you weren’t familiar with the term “dank”, you might at first be turned off when someone describes their cannabis this way if you’re thinking of a dank, musty basement. But “dank” actually refers to high-grade cannabis that’s sticky, has a potent smell with beautiful trichomes, and produces powerful effects. “Dank” has entered mainstream slang as a way to describe anything that is great, awesome, or cool. To achieve  “dank” status, cannabis must be grown under the right environmental conditions from reputable seed or clone stock, and then be harvested, dried, and cured properly. 

“Hit” or “Toke”

A hit or a toke means taking one inhaled dose of cannabis. Vaporization and smoking devices are often manufactured with metered doses so that you know exactly how much cannabis is being inhaled at a time. 


An “eighth” is one of the standard measurements for purchasing cannabis flower. An eighth refers to one-eighth of an ounce (3.5 grams). Pricing for an eighth tends to vary depending on the dispensary and quality, but typically ranges from $25 to $70. Cannabis is measured by weight, so don’t be alarmed if you receive only two or three dense flowers as an eighth.  Typically, states sell 3.5 grams as a 1-day dose. In Ohio, however, the standard measurement for a 1-day dose is 2.83 grams, or a tenth of an ounce. Beyond tenth and eighth, cannabis is packaged by the quarter, half, and ounce. An ounce is sometimes colloquially referred to as a “zip”, a term that traces to the legacy market.

Check out these far more comprehensive glossary resources: Ganjaprener Weed Slang and Wiki List of Slang Names for Cannabis.

Have more questions about cannabis terminology that you’re unfamiliar with? Contact us at medicateOH@gmail.com.


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  • Gabrielle Dion

    Medicate OH's Founder and Publisher is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in public administration, both from Northern Kentucky University. She has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries, including positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop.