Totally Dope: The Etymology of Drug Slang

In some ways, drugs create their own subculture, replete with the attendant slang that typically accompanies such associations. While drug slang is constantly evolving — at times veering into intentionally nebulous or contradictory meaning — there are certain words that have managed to work their way into a more permanent lexicon. Here are the origins and evolution of five drug-related slang words!


One of the most versatile words on this list, “dope” has had a long and varied career. It first appeared in the early 1800’s, when it meant a sweet syrup. In the 1850’s, it became slang meaning “a foolish person.” In the 1880’s was the first use of “dope fiend,” meaning a drug user. The connection lies in the original syrup definition: the thick substance associated with opium smoking lead people to refer to it as “dope.” As the 20th century progressed, dope was considered to be a term that could refer to any kind of drug, until the 1950’s, when it specifically referred to marijuana. Today, the definition has been broadened, including drug use related to improvement of athletic performance.

“Dope” came to mean a good thing thanks to the hip hop of the 1980’s. The process occurred as a result of two etymological mutations: in the first, dope went from being a noun to being an adjective; in the second, dope when from a negative connotation to a positive connotation. The latter mutation is thanks to a phenomena known as “inversion,” in which a marginalized group appropriates a word and, by inverting its meaning, subverts the denotation assigned to it by the majority.


Commonly used these days to indicate an extreme desire, “jones” has its origins in drug-related slang. In the 1950’s, the Beats began to use “Mr. Jones” as a code word for heroin. Those who were new to an area could ask after “Mr. Jones” without fear of reprisal. Soon, “jonesing” had come to describe the behavior of an individual who was visibly discomfited by their need for a fix. By the 1970’s, the meaning of the word had expanded to encompass any extreme desire, such as having a “jones” for a particular pair of shoes.


Although “smack” may refer to drugs generally, it is most closely associated with heroin. The word is derived from the Yiddish word “schmeck,” which means “a whiff.” Some people believe the Yiddish “schmeck” derives from the German “smecken,” which means “taste” or “tasty.”


You’ve almost certainly heard the word “bummer” — in fact, you’ve probably used it yourself. However, the word was popularized during the 1960’s, when a bummer was generally considered to be a bad reaction to a drug trip, especially when the drug in questions was a hallucinogenic.Today, bummer is a common slang word, used by many non-drug using individuals, which means something that is disappointing or obnoxious.


“Junkie” indicates anyone with an addiction, and specifically denotes a heroin user. The word has its origins in the early 1920’s, when it became common for individuals in New York City to finance their drug habit by collecting scrap metal off the street, or “junk.” This scrap could then be sold, and the money was spent on heroin. Soon, these individuals began to be referred to as “junkies,” and soon, the term was used to describe anyone who was addicted to heroin. Eventually, the word came to indicate anyone who was addicted to any type of drug.

Get The Help You Need

If you’re suffering from dependency on drugs or alcohol, your best chance at recovery is enrollment in a suitable substance abuse recovery program. At one of the drug rehab centers in American’s network of providers, you will receive all the tools you need to get you moving down the road to recovery. Don’t wait another day — contact American Drug Testing Centers and start to overcome your addiction right away!

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