What 420 Means in Pot Smoking Culture

Couple smoking marijuana

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The term 420 is used to reference pot smoking. While the term was historically used as a "code" to designate someone's activities or beliefs, such as describing something as "420 friendly," it is no longer a secret. Most people are now aware of its association with marijuana, and parents and teens alike are likely to come across it on social media or in pop culture.

Known 420 Myths

Despite the popularity of the term, most people have no idea how or why 420 became associated with marijuana. That's why there are a lot of myths, rumors, and stories floating around about its origins and how it came to be used. Here are some of the most popular myths.

Myth: Police dispatch code for smoking pot is 420

The number 420 is not actually a NYPD or California police radio code for anything.

​Myth: It's related to California's penal code

Some people say that 420 was drawn from the California criminal code to punish the use or distribution of marijuana but that's incorrect. The code 420 in the penal code actually refers to obstructing entry on public land.

Myth: There are 420 active chemicals in marijuana

There are actually more than 500 active ingredients in marijuana though the exact number goes up and down depending on the make-up of the marijuana.

Myth: April 20th is Hitler's birthday

Although that was Hitler's birth date, the symbolism of "420" developed separately from that fact. It is just a coincidence.

Myth: April 20th is the date of the Columbine school shootings

Although the Columbine shooting occurred on April 20th, 1999, the term was already in use long before the tragedy.

The Real Origin of 420

According to Steve Bloom, an editor at High Times magazine, the term 420 originated at San Rafael High School in 1971.

A group of about a dozen people who called themselves the Waldos met up to smoke marijuana at 4:20 pm every day. Rather than announce they were going to get high, they used the code "420."

Apparently, the term spread, and it became a way for restaurants and businesses to let customers know that they were "420 friendly." Over the years, its origins were lost, but the "code" stuck. April 20th (aka 4/20) eventually became known as Weed Day or Pot Smokers Day, and people all over frequently gather and smoke marijuana together to celebrate the day.

What 420 Means to Today's Teens

Kids may not realize that 420 is a term that's been around for a while, so they might use it in front of adults thinking they're being secretive.

Today, the term 420 and references to marijuana are all over the social media, games, music, and websites that teens are using every day. This can make it seem cool or that "everyone is doing it," and research has shown that if kids are frequently exposed to marijuana use, they are more likely to try it themselves. They might also feel peer pressure to try it, especially if they think it is a "typical" teenage experience.

In addition, because marijuana is legal in several states, kids might think that it is safe to use. But this is not true, which is why it is not legal for anyone under 21 in any state.

Marijuana can cause harm to children and adolescents' brains by affecting their ability to learn and remember information. It also poses a risk of bronchitis, dropping out of school, engaging in risky sexual behavior, and car accidents. Teens are also more likely to become addicted to it if they begin using it before the age of 18, and they are at a greater risk for mental health impacts, including panic attacks or even acute psychosis.

While some might use the term 420 and never actually use marijuana, that's not true for all kids. So if you hear your child refer to it, you might still want to talk to them about it, figure out if they are using, and address it if they are.

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