When it comes to cannabis slang, "pot" may be the first word that comes to mind, but "weed" is older, edgier, and all-American.
Weed originally meant the way of smoking cannabis, not the plant itself. The word first appeared as a synonym for "marijuana cigarette" around 1929, when more Americans started smoking "weed" as people looked for ways to feel uplifted at the twilight of The Roaring Twenties and the onset of The Great Depression.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term first appeared in print in 1932, when The Chicago Defender - a weekly newspaper that was once dubbed "the most dangerous of all Negro journals" - commented on the migration of cannabis in New York City from the slums to high society: "The humble 'reefer,' 'the weed,' the marijuana, or [whatever you call] a doped cigarette, has moved to Park Ave. from Harlem."
The term spread to the U.K. by way of Melody Maker. In 1932, the landmark music magazine wrote that "Song of the Weed" and "Reefer Man" were both worth the reader's money.
Sadly, we haven't been able to find an online recording of "Song of the Weed." But we did stumble upon a great rendition of "Reefer Man" by Cab Calloway, who was a regular performer at Harlem's Cotton Club.
Listen carefully to the intro, where Calloway jokingly reams out his bass player for smoking weed.