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The Canadian Government’s Curious Cannabis Slang

Wax, errl, purp, keef, rosin, boom, doobie, and budder. These are the words identified as “cannabis slang” in a recent social-media campaign by Health Canada. In the campaign, the government tweeted an image of a chalkboard covered with the terms, adding that “some words may not mean what you think.” The explicit moral: “Learn the slang terms for cannabis.”

If the campaign means to help parents decipher their kids’ lingo, it may not work if the terms aren’t widely used in the first place.

Ostensibly part of the government’s $10 million multimedia educational push before adult-use recreational cannabis becomes legal in 2018, the post faced scrutiny on  Canadian Twitter, with many commenters characterizing the featured words as uncommon, or at least not be as widely used as Health Canada suggests. If the campaign means to help parents decipher their kids’ lingo, it may not work if the terms aren’t widely used by Canadians in the first place.

First, “doobie.” This is indeed slang for cannabis, so the government got it right. However, whether it’s actually widely used by Canadians is up for debate, as is its status as a word that “may not mean what you think.” Almost everyone already knows that a doobie refers to cannabis. But maybe that’s just in my universe.

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“Purp” ostensibly refers to the “purple strains of cannabis”: purple kush, purple haze, purple dragon, etc. But outside of referring to these particular strains, one would be hard-pressed to hear the term among Canadian tokers.

Keef is actually spelled “keif,” and denotes the resin-packed trichomes that collect within cannabis grinders. So this time the government got the word right but the spelling wrong.

‘I’ve never heard of any of these terms before,’ said one Twitter user.

As for some of the other terms, many commentators on Twitter were stumped.

“I’ve never heard of any of these terms before,” said one Twitter user.

Personally, I’ve never heard the alleged cannabis euphemisms “errl” and “boom”—and I’m not the only one. “Errl, boom… new to me,” wrote one Twitter user. And so I sought to find the basis of the Canadian government’s insistence that errl and boom are totally widely-used slang for cannabis in the Great White North.

It appears that “boom” comes from a 2003 United States Office of Drug Policy list of drug slang terms, which is no longer posted on the official government website but remains archived by a third-party site. Otherwise, there’s not much mention of this term online.

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I was, however, able to find the mention of errl in a few different places, including Urban Dictionary and the Cannabist, which classify the word as slang for “hash oil.” Maybe it’s just not used in my neck of the woods.

By reaching for uncommon if not outrageous synonyms for cannabis, and putting them in the forefront of its public education campaign, Health Canada risks making itself a laughingstock within the established cannabis community. But if their goal was to get people talking, mission accomplished.

And it looks like the government may be listening. A new Twitter post from Health Canada on January 3 refers to blunts, pipes, and spliffs, terms that are much more familiar to the lexicon of cannabis consumers.

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Harrison Jordan

Harrison Jordan is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and enjoys reading and writing about the regulatory affairs of cannabis in Canada and around the world.

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