Why Is Weed Named the “Devil’s Lettuce”?


No dictionaries are expected for this lesson on the lexicon of cannabis, but the history of this slang has some unfortunate and downright oppressive roots.

The lexicon of cannabis slang is as wealthy as the history of the plant itself.

Back in the 1800s, cannabis was nonetheless normally integrated in tinctures, tonics, and much more, sold as “miracle cures” by aggressive salesmen in the US. If the solution in their possession truly did include any cannabinoids like THC or CBD, it produced their concoction the uncommon exception to other, completely worthless snake oils becoming hawked at town squares across the nation.

In the late 19th century, no one particular in America definitely had an opinion on cannabis — even though that would quickly adjust. (Outdoors the West, on the other hand, cannabis consumption was prevalent and conventional.) As this pivot was underway, these with influence realized that one particular of the most helpful strategies to convince persons that one thing is terrible was to just adjust its name.

Exactly where Did the Term “Devil’s Lettuce” Come From? 

There is no definitive supply to cite when it comes to the origins of this term, even though there are clues. What we can appear at is the culture at the time that the phrase came into vogue — the 1930s, when “Reefer Madness” very first started. There are also references to “devil’s lettuce” and other unholy labels for cannabis on anti-weed film posters from the ‘30s and 1940s. False claims and smear campaigns against cannabis, generally instigated by government institutions as an indirect signifies of enacting racist policy, are the actual cause terms like “devil’s lettuce” and “marijuana” became such commonplace synonyms for cannabis.

An off-shoot of devil’s lettuce, “jazz cabbage,” much more clearly highlights the nefarious, prejudiced intentions of the phrases popularized to describe cannabis as prohibition was burgeoning. By connecting pot — which, as a sidebar, is arguably the most neutral slang term for cannabis — to jazz, not only was the thought to insinuate that the plant was common amongst the black musicians at the heart of the genre, but also to recommend that the music itself may be the outcome of “sinful” drug indulgences.

As history tells us, iconic trumpet player Louis Armstrong was one particular of the largest stoners to stroll the planet. The outcome? He is now spoken of as one particular of the most brilliant musical artists to ever reside. Regardless of any strong proof to recommend that cannabis will derail a promising profession or turn a sane thoughts deranged, the lexicon to describe the plant continues to waver in between progress and ignorance.

What About Other Slang Terms for Cannabis

A swift survey of a number of of the most common slang terms for cannabis reveals that racism and prohibition had been each at the heart of a lot of the plant’s early lexicon. (“Bogarting,” on the other hand, is straight tied to the actor Humphrey Bogart.) For instance, the term “marijuana” was popularized domestically in hopes that by providing cannabis an “exotic” name (study: a Spanish term), it would inspire xenophobia and push citizens to view the plant as hazardous. 

According to the New York Occasions, “marijuana” was introduced to the English language as lately as 1874 — roughly thirty years following the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. That is either one particular mighty coincidence or an clear precursor to a selection to hyperlink cannabis to one particular of America’s most current enemies. The answer was produced abundantly apparent when the US passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (spelled with an “H”), and proficiently instigating the very first step towards complete prohibition. 


And what was the messaging surrounding the Marihuana Tax Act? To quote Whitney Mallet’s 2017 short article for MERRY JANE, titled “Pothead Paranoia: Will Anti-Government Drug Conspiracies Survive Legalization?”:

Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, authored the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which imposed a tax on the sale of hemp and marijuana, and propelled a racist campaign against the drug, linking it to homicidal mania, suggesting its principal customers had been black persons and Latino immigrants, and insinuating its effects integrated minorities forgetting their location in American society. Anslinger warned of what takes place when black male college students share joints with white female students. Following “smoking and obtaining their sympathy with stories of racial persecution,” he concluded the outcome would be “pregnancy.” William Randolph Hearst helped subsequently spread worry-mongering anti-marijuana propaganda in his newspapers.

Racist worry-mongering — possibly tied to a government conspiracy — led to particular cannabis rhetoric getting into the American zeitgeist. This goes for “Devil’s Lettuce” and “Devil’s Harvest.”

Do Words Actually Matter This A great deal?

Yes! Even “weed” has an arguably unfavorable connotation, as it implies that cannabis is an invasive species stealing space and sources from other, much more worthy plants. Conversely, some now see weed as an virtually ironic way to describe a plant that is clearly the antithesis of an undesirable crop. In a sense, taking back a term and defining new ownership of it is a pivotal facet of the cannabis industry’s assimilation to the mainstream. That mentioned, the use of the term “stoner” is nonetheless a hot-button subject. 

It is arguably very best to leave terms like “marijuana” and “devil’s lettuce” to the dust of history, offered they had been popularized as a kind of malice and oppression. On the other hand, yet another term that was meant to recommend evil has been reclaimed, as nicely. 

We will most likely normally consider of the PSA series informally recognized as  Reefer Madness when we hear the term “reefer,” but some corporations have decided to have a bit of entertaining with the phrase, offered it is so straight tied to one particular of the government’s most ridiculous, inefficient efforts to defame cannabis (and that is saying one thing).  

As is the case with practically every thing, we can normally appear to words to present a parallel history to our topic of concentrate. When it comes to pot, the story could honestly be condensed to how we got from devil’s lettuce to cannabis as the default term. At the quite least, delving into the etymology of pot gives an immensely precious survey of the plant’s evolution from pariah to panacea. 


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