We’ve all heard terms like “dope,” “smack,” “speed” and “nose candy” to describe illegal drugs on television, in the schoolyard and in recovery meetings and addiction treatment programs. Drug dealers and users have used drug slang, also known as drug street names, for decades, and it’s an integral part of the drug culture both in the United States and abroad.
Why Does Drug Slang Exist?
Like all types of jargon, drug slang primarily evolved as a way for those involved in the illegal drug trade to avoid detection by the authorities. Giving specific drugs unique names makes communication easier between people in the drug culture while keeping the true nature of their conversation relatively confidential.
It’s unclear when slang terms for illicit drugs became the norm, but it’s likely that the military practice of assigning code names to covert missions to mislead the enemy inspired the practice of developing secret names for drugs.
Drug slang also serves as a way for drug users and dealers to identify those who are considered to be within the inner circle of the drug culture and keep law enforcement officials from penetrating drug circles. In fact, drug slang often serves as a type of password that’s used to access illegal drugs. People who don’t know the latest slang terms are quickly labeled as untrustworthy and kept out of the loop.
Is There State-Specific Drug Slang?
Drug slang is often specific to a certain city, state or region. For example, cocaine can be called “flake” in California, “nose candy” in Washington, and “coca” in Texas. MDMA is coined “roll” in New York, “vitamin E” in Montana, Arizona and Michigan, and “moon rock” in California, Oregon and Idaho.
Some street drug terms are relatively universal, such as “speed” which refers to methamphetamine.
Drug Slang in Popular Music
Drug slang is often present in song lyrics. The “yellow diamonds” in Rihanna’s hit song “We Found Love” are widely rumored to be a reference to methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, better known as ecstasy, E, MDMA or Adam.
When the Beatles ruled the radio, the group penned “Got To Get You Into My Life,” a song that Paul McCartney says, “[is] actually an ode to pot, like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret.” More obviously, a year later they penned [L]ucy in the [S]ky with [D]iamonds a fairly blatant reference in name, and in the song’s context, to LSD.
The Rolling Stones have recorded numerous songs with drug slang in the lyrics, the most notable ones being “Mother’s Little Helper” (Valium or diazepam) and “Brown Sugar,” also known as “smack,” “junk” and “skag:” a cheap, semi-synthetic opioid created from extracted morphine cut with a filler like chalk powder or zinc oxide.
Countless Names for Marijuana
Slang terms for marijuana have been around since FDR signed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively criminalized cannabis possession in the United States.
Early slang terms included Mary Jane, which is believed to be the English translation of the Spanish names “Mari” and “Juana.” Today, marijuana goes by countless names on the street, including pot, weed and tea, and it’s common to hear marijuana referred to as the actual strain of the cannabis plant. Bubba Kush, AK-47, Pineapple Express and Green Crack are all among the most popular varieties of marijuana.
How Has Drug Slang Changed Over the Years?
Many terms used to describe illegal drugs have evolved, and in some cases, this has simply been because the previous drug terms had become too well-known.
Active drug users make a point of knowing what the latest slang names are for their drugs of choice for two reasons: They need to know what to ask their dealer for, and they need to know what drugs they are taking to reduce the risk of accidentally overdosing.
For example, heroin was once commonly called “China White” or “China Red” because most heroin came from Asia. Today, those same terms are rarely, if ever, used on the street, and heroin now goes by a completely different name.
“Dope” – It Doesn’t Mean Weed Anymore
One of the clearest examples of how drug slang evolves is the term “dope.” Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, dope was synonymous with marijuana. Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, better known as Cheech & Chong, often used the term in their comedy routine, and their final adult humor audio album released in 1980 was aptly titled “Let’s Make a New Dope Deal.” In re-runs of “That 70’s Show,” you may catch the iconic father figure, Red Foreman, referring to the kids’ usage of ‘dope’ even though it was clearly marijuana the gang was using.
Over the past few decades, as cannabis gains acceptance as a medicinal and legal recreational drug in many states, the slang word “dope” has evolved. Today, the term “dope” is mostly used in reference to heroin rather than weed, although “dope” can also mean crystal meth.
What Is The Most Popular Drug Slang Today?
What drug is dope? Well, the answer is a little complex. The term was originally used just for marijuana, but it can now refer to a number of street drugs and prescription medications. Here are some common names for drug dealers’ wares and often-abused prescription drugs.
Amphetamines are stimulants used in a clinical setting to treat conditions like ADD and obesity. When abused, they can produce a powerful high that speeds up messages between the brain and the body. Commonly used slang terms include speed, sweeties, addys, zoomers, pixies, jelly babies, beans, chunk, cartwheels, French blues, horse heads and black mollies.
These drugs are synthetically made in a lab and act as depressants, meaning they slow down the body’s functions to produce a calming sensation. They’ve been called downers, yellow jackets, yellows, reds, blues, barbs and bluebirds.
The street drug cocaine is a stimulant and tropane alkaloid that produces a strong high when snorted. It’s very addictive and has been called by many names, including coke, blow, dust, nose candy, white, gold dust and Florida snow. When the drug is mixed with heroin, it’s known by the street names speedball and Belushi.
Crack is a smokable form of cocaine that’s also highly addictive but offers a shorter, more intense high. It’s called rock, applejack, ice, candy, dime special, chemical, bomb and bump.
Cough medicine is often abused by teens and young adults and can create psychoactive effects when abused. Common street names for cough medicine include robo, triple C, purple and red devil.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can cause effects similar to morphine but much more powerful. It comes with a high risk of addiction and dependence and can cause respiratory distress. Common slang for drug dealers includes fenty, fent, jacket, butter, white, apache and China.
Sometimes called “dope,” heroin is a highly addictive, illegal drug that can be sniffed, snorted, inhaled or injected. Common names for this street drug include black tar, black, Capital H, Big H, antifreeze, salt, smack, wings, dope, black olives and tootsie roll.
LSD is a synthetic hallucinogen that produces strong psychedelic effects. Street slang for LSD includes acid, purple haze, sunshine, zen, Lucy in the sky with diamonds, white dust, coffee and dots.
Marijuana is a drug that doesn’t fit neatly into any one category but acts as a hallucinogen, stimulant and depressant. It’s most often smoked or ingested by users. Some of its common slang names include dope, weed, Mary Jane, leaf, hash, catnip, blue crush and broccoli.
MDMA is a synthetic club drug that can be very dangerous because of its addictive properties. It’s been called E, ecstasy, molly, bean drug, love drug and love potion.
Methamphetamine acts as central nervous system stimulant and is used legally as a medication for ADHD and related disorders. As an illegal street drug, it’s known as meth, crank, chalk, zip, bump, aqua and fizz.
Xanax is a prescription drug that’s commonly used to treat depression and anxiety. It can be very addictive when abused. Common slang terms include zannies, xanies, school bus, z-bars and bars.
The terms used on the street to describe illegal drugs are constantly changing and evolving, and to help law enforcement officials keep up with drug trends, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released a publication titled “Slang Terms and Code Words” in July 2018.
Another emerging trend in street drug linguistics is slang that describes drug combinations. For example, “love flip” refers to ingesting both mescaline and ecstasy while “speedball” is heroin mixed with cocaine. Other drug combinations include “Anestesia de Caballo,” heroin mixed with the large animal anesthetic xylazine, and “Goofball,” heroin mixed with methamphetamine.
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