International Cannabis Day and the origin of 420

Vancouver, April 20, 2012 (Jeremiah Vandermeer)

Never mind me, Obama just claimed to have smoked weed.

Of course, not everyone has smoked weed, the popular word for marijuana. However, if only everyone had smoked weed once in life, April 20 at 4:20 p.m., it would probably be the time.

According to research conducted by the University of British Columbia and published in JAMA Internal Medicine, April 20 each year, especially after 4:20 p.m., is a terrible time. In that study, if there were vehicle accidents that occurred in that time span, 12 percent of the victims were likely to die tragically.

John A. Staples, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, revealed, "The risk of a fatal crash was significantly higher on April 20."

Why did accidents increase on April 20? The answer is, that is the day celebrated as International Cannabis Day.

In her report in Time, Olivia B. Waxman revealed there was confusion about why April 20 was designated as the International Cannabis Day. Some believe April 20, AKA 420 (the date system in the US ranks month-day), is the police code for "the target is smoking marijuana."

Another speculation is that April 20 is the birthday of Adolf Hitler. However, there is also a link between the determination of April 20 as the marijuana day with Bob Dylan's song "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35" because 12 times 35 is equal to 420.

Waxman believes the story of establishing April 20 as the International Cannabis Day refers to the behavior of five teenagers in California: Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich, known as the Waldos gang at school. The five teenagers who attended San Rafael High School in the 1970s used the code "420" as an invitation to smoking marijuana.

Usually, after tired of studying and doing various extracurricular activities, members of the Waldos gang gathered around the statue of legendary chemist Louis Pasteur that was built in the school. The gathering while smoking weed was held after 4:20 p.m. The reason is, that is when almost all activities at school end. Gradually, they then echoed the code "420" as an invitation to gather while smoking weed.

After graduating, one of the Waldos gang members, Reddix, then often hung out with a band called Grateful Dead. The band then joined in using the 420 code for the invitation to smoking weed. Its fans, the Deadheads, joined in and even printed special leaflets to invite fans to smoking weed on April 20 at 4:20. High Times, in 1991, sold 420 as a marijuana code through one of its editions.

Trade ad for Grateful Dead's album American Beauty (Warner Bros. Records)

Long story short, today, April 20, 2020, we celebrate International Cannabis Day.

Marijuana: the controversy that is hard to end

Marijuana is in the "Schedule I" according to the Controlled Substances Act signed by Richard Nixon, the 37th President.

There are many reasons why cannabis is labeled as bad and illegally consumed. As David Downs wrote for Scientific American, one reason is the notion that marijuana "made white women and black men have sex."

Besides the racist reason, there are also scientific reasons. Raphael Mechoulam, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, found marijuana containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These two substances, as Hampton Sides wrote for National Geographic, have "its mind-altering essence - the stuff that makes you high."

An example of beverages claiming to contain CBD in a Los Angeles grocery (Deceptitom)

In 1992, Mechoulam investigated cannabis using Israeli confiscated goods. He extracted and injected cannabis extract into rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Every day, rhesus macaques behave aggressively. However, its behavior changed after being injected with cannabis extract. The monkey calmed down like a hermit.

According to Judith Grisel in her report in The Washington Post, when someone smokes marijuana, a substance called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol appears in the brain. The substance acts like an endocannabinoid that exists naturally in the brain and mimics its effect: changing the rate at which the brain works. According to her, when delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol enters, people will feel the effects of slowing down, calmness, and the worst is, cannabis can make everything, including the most boring activities, become fun.

Because of that, cannabis is illegal to consume. However, in reality, there are many countries in the world that legalize cannabis. Canada, for example, legalizes cannabis. In fact, in many states, cannabis is legal to consume.


Donald Abrams, a researcher at the University of California, as he revealed to Scientific American, stressed that cannabis had medical benefits. "It's pretty clear from anthropological and archaeological evidence that cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years -  and it was a medicine in the U.S. until 1942," he wrote.

A medical marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado (O'Dea)

Referring again to Sides, archaeologists say cannabis seeds were found buried in burial mounds in Siberia, which is 3000 BC. The Chinese also have used cannabis for health thousands of years ago.

The problem is, since the early 1970s when cannabis began to be associated with death and crime, in-depth studies of cannabis ended.

On the other hand, Manuel Guzmán, a biochemist from the Complutense University of Madrid, stressed that cannabis certainly had benefits. In one study, he injected cannabis extract into mice that had tumors. Substances from cannabis succeded not only in shrinking tumors but also in eliminating them.