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Up in Smoke: 4 Common Myths About 4/20

April is finally here, and that means 4/20—the unofficial high holiday for marijuana and THC lovers everywhere—is just around the corner. Soon it will be time for stoners and casual users alike to gather, partake and, inevitably, get into a half-baked debate about where the term 420 comes from. With so many different stories surrounding the origins of this hazy day, we did some research to separate fact from fiction, so you can be in-the-know however you plan to celebrate.

MYTH #1: THE TERM 420 COMES FROM POLICE CODE.

Although the theory that 420 is the police radio code for smoking weed (or, alternatively, the section of the California penal code related to marijuana-related offenses) is one of the most common rumors about where the name of the holiday came from, it’s not actually based in fact.

MYTH #2: THE TERM 420 COMES FROM THE NUMBER OF ACTIVE CHEMICALS IN MARIJUANA.

While marijuana does contain somewhere between 400 and 500 active chemicals (learn more about cannabis plants here), there’s no science suggesting that the exact number is 420, and this is not where the term 420 or the name of the day originated.

MYTH #3: THE TERM 420 WAS COINED BY THE GRATEFUL DEAD.

The Grateful Dead didn’t create 420, but they are connected to its beginnings—so here’s the real story.

According to most sources, the term 420 originated with a group of California high schoolers in the early 1970s. The friends, who called themselves The Waldos, would get together every day after school to smoke pot and search the nearby woods for an abandoned marijuana plant they had been given a “treasure map” to find. They always met near a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20pm and would remind each other of the plan by saying “4:20 Louis” to each other in the halls. They eventually dropped the “Louis” portion of the code, but 420 stuck—and that’s where the Grateful Dead comes in. 

Several members of the Waldos had connections to the Grateful Dead through family members, and the Waldos were often present at Grateful Dead shows in California—talking about 420, of course. Use of the term started to spread rapidly throughout the band’s fans and community, eventually making it into an issue of High Times magazine and leading it to become a permanent part of the weed lexicon.

MYTH #4: CELEBRATING 4/20 IS JUST ABOUT SMOKING WEED.

Originally a small counterculture celebration, 4/20 was once about using smoking marijuana as a way to protest and rebel against larger societal issues like capitalist greed, overseas wars and traditional lifestyle expectations. Although the holiday has now grown so popular as to be considered mainstream, many people still use the day to advocate for causes such as marijuana legalization and decriminalization, among other issues. And as for the “smoking” part, now that they’re more informed on all the harmful side effects, many participants in 4/20 celebrations are now choosing to consume THC in alternative forms, such as THC edibles and drinks.

However you plan to celebrate, all of us at Verist wish you a happy 4/20 and a joyful spring too.

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