420 (drug culture)

From Academic Kids

The number 420 is a euphemism for cannabis and its associated culture. The exact origin of the term is unknown, although there is much speculation and many urban legends about its origin. Smoking marijuana at 4:20 or on April 20 has special meaning to some.

Origin theories, High Times Magazine, and The Straight Dope claim that in the early 1970s the Waldos, a group of teenagers at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California used to meet every day to smoke marijuana after school at 4:20 PM. The time became a code word for the drug, and usage spread. 4:20 PM has since become a popular time to "smoke up". (It's also worth noting that 4:20 PM is the time of LSD creator Albert Hofmann's first deliberate ingestion of the substance, in 1943 on what was later dubbed Bicycle Day; perhaps this is where the San Rafael teenagers picked up the idea.)

Another possible origin of the term can be found in the works of H. P. Lovecraft. A short story of his, entitled "In the Walls of Eryx" and first published in Weird Tales [34, No. 4 (October 1939), pp 50-68], contains this passage:

I had encountered at least one of those curious mirage-plants about which so many of our men told stories. Anderson had warned me of them, and described their appearance very closely—the shaggy stalk, the spiky leaves, and the mottled blossoms whose gaseous dream-breeding exhalations penetrate every existing make of mask...Although everything was spinning perilously, I tried to start in the right direction and hack my way ahead. My route must have been far from straight, for it seemed hours before I was free of the mirage-plant's pervasive influence. Gradually the dancing lights began to disappear, and the shimmering spectral scenery began to assume the aspect of solidity. When I did get wholly clear I looked at my watch and was astonished to find that the time was only 4:20. Though eternities had seemed to pass, the whole experience could have consumed little more than a half-hour.

One piece of evidence supporting an origin of the term from the time 4:20 is the fact that the number is almost always said "four twenty" and not "four hundred and twenty".

In 1955, Raj Kapoor directed a film entitled Shree 420 (Mr. 420), a reference to someone who has a reputation for theft and deception, since apprehensions for such crimes are usually section 420 of the Indian Penal Code.

Other theories include the following:

  • Urban legend claims, incorrectly, that 420 is or was a police code for a drug bust.
  • It was, at one time, believed that there were 420 chemicals in marijuana.
  • Many mistake April 20 as being the day Bob Marley, a notorious marijuana smoker, died. The actual date he died is May 11.
  • April 20 is the last day on which one is supposed to plant cannabis seeds.
  • April 20 is the birthday of Adolf Hitler.
  • The Beatles song "Come Together" is 4:20 in length.
  • "D" and "T" are the 4th and 20th letters of the alphabet, respectively, and thus "DT" stands for "doobie time" ("doobie" being a slang term for a marijuana cigarette).


  • The number 420 is common in classified ads describing housing or individuals which permit or encourage marijuana use ("420 OK"). This practice is common in socially progressive communities such as Craigslist. One such "Housing to share" listing, from the Santa Cruz Sentinel in 1994, read:
Rm avail Veggie household. 420. No pets M pref
  • Many of the clocks in the movie Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20. (It is often erroneously claimed that all of them are.)
  • In an episode of the show Futurama called "The Farnsworth Parabox", an alternate universe where everyone is a hippie is numbered as Universe 420.
  • The Lovecraft theory for the origin of 4:20 was first postulated on the official web-site for the rock band Tool.
  • The California law that authorizes and regulates medical uses of marijuana was Senate Bill 420 (Chapter 875/2003, John Vasconcellos).
  • The Bob Dylan song "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" is informally known as "Everybody must get stoned" since the chorus repeats that line. 12×35=420.
  • The first downbeat of the drums in the Led Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven" falls at 4:20.
  • The second verse in the children's nursery rhyme 'Sing a Song of Sixpence' goes "Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie". ('Baked' is a common euphemism for being under the influence of cannabis.)
  • The song "Smokin" by the 70's rock band Boston is 4 minutes and 20 seconds long.
  • The Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) song "4+20" on their 1970 Déjà Vu album has the numbers in the title and begins, "Four and twenty years ago ..."

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