Where Does the Slang “Mary Jane” Come From?


To say that cannabis is one of the most, if not the only, controversial plants around would be an understatement. What seems like an innocent looking herb has long been a subject of a polarizing debate. And it has been heavily regulated, prohibited, or made legal to some extent depending on which part of the world you live. In the midst of all these, many people remain divided between those who are for and against legalizing it.

cannabisBut for some people, cannabis may be an unfamiliar name despite the many arguments surrounding it. It goes by several street names and nicknames with marijuana and “Mary Jane” just two of best-known and widely-used slangs out there.

So how did Mary Jane became one of the top words closely associated with cannabis? Why do some people who grow it for medicinal or recreational use and go to great lengths of providing them with the right lighting and care call it by that name? There have been a lot of speculations about this. But one of the most common explanations being offered points to a connection with the “marijuana” coined by Mexicans who were already using it long before cannabis first landed on the pages of the Time magazine in the early 1930s.

In 1943, TIME published its first full feature story about cannabis entitled Music: The Weed.

To its users, the drug has many names—many of them evasive. Marijuana may be called muggles, mooter, Mary Warner, Mary Jane, Indian hay, loco weed, love weed, bambalacha, mohasky, mu, moocah, grass, tea or blue sage. Cigarets made from it are killers, goof-butts, joy-smokes, giggle-smokes or reefers. The word marijuana is of Mexican origin and means “the weed that intoxicates.” It is made from the Indian hemp plant, a spreading green bush resembling sumac. Known to the pharmacopoeia as Cannabis sativa, it is a source of important paint ingredients and rope fiber as well as narcotics. It can be grown easily almost anywhere, hence tends to be inexpensive, as drugs go.

In the article, Mary Jane was one of the many names identified to be one of the most commonly used to refer to the drug. Many believe that it is rooted from marijuana which is a Mexican Spanish word. It is said that the word was introduced in the US when legal immigrants from Mexico came and introduced not just their culture but also their language including the word marijuana often used in reference to cannabis. Broken into two words, marijuana becomes Mari + Juana which is quite similar to traditional Spanish Names Maria and Juana. Mary Jane is said to be the English version of those two names.

While there are no definitive answers to the mystery surrounding cannabis’ many names including Mary Jane, the marijuana root word connection seems like one of the most plausible explanations out there.