Amongst the densely rich landscape of cannabis culture, the blunt, an enduring symbol of cannabis, has entranced and enveloped many smokers young and old.
The weighted delivery of rolling a blunt and lighting it up. The camaraderie of passing it around. The deep high accented by the buzz of tobacco. The many songs to play while burning. The essence of what a blunt truly means is vibrant, layered, colorful, and deserves an origin story to match the mosaic.
From the Silk Road to the Caribbean
We must trace the origin of cannabis to understand the blunt. Although archaeological studies have found that cannabis plants had been cultivated for thousands of years before this, around the fifth century B.C. is when cultures in Central Asia began burning cannabis as incense.
As the world grew more connected and as cannabis proved itself to be an incredibly useful (and enjoyable) plant, it became a commodity. Travelers spread it via the Silk Road and other trade routes to other parts of Asia, Europe and the rest of the world.
Eastern India was notable among these trade destination. It was home to many indentured servants that were eventually sent to the Caribbean as workers. According to Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana, servants brought cannabis with them to the Caribbean in the 1800s. People in the Caribbean adopted the Hindi term “ganja,” which is english for “hemp,” which eventually became part of cannabis vernacular.
The Emergence of the Blunt
It is here in the Caribbean islands among farmers, laborers, and indentured servants where the blunt truly comes into its own. Although there is no definitive explanation for the surge in its popularity, three main theories stand out.
The first theory suggests that blunts were not a paragon method for smoking, but rather a hero of necessity. Among the many crops grown in the Caribbean, tobacco was one of the most prevalent. Thus tobacco leaves were easier and cheaper to get a hold of than pipes or rolling papers.
The second theory holds that blunts were masked vigilantes in a system that came down heavily on cannabis use. Due to its questionable legality, some speculated that tobacco wraps masked the smell of cannabis, and protected those smoking it.
The third theory is quite simple. Blunts allow for users to smoke more weed, and they blend the sensations of tobacco for an added experience. Plain and simple.
These formative years for the blunt were foundational for what the blunt would become. But it still lacked the iconic imagery and popular impact.
During the late 80s and early 90s, there was an influx of people immigrating from the Caribbean to the U.S., particularly to New York City, bringing with them Caribbean cannabis culture and customs, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Around the same time in the U.S. was the rise of rap and hip hop music. Rap and hip hop surged with references to the blunt, and grew the popularity and influence of blunts immensely.
The first recorded evidence of the blunt’s impact in the music world was during an interview with the legendarily blunt-loving Snoop Dogg by Youtuber Nardwar in which Snoop attributes fellow Bushwick Bill with introducing him to his first ever blunt.
Influential artists such as Big Daddy Kane, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Dogg himself not only lyrically, but literally, shared the blunt (Snoop even hired a guy who’s full time employment consists only of rolling blunts, reports Complex). The blunt inundated all a manner of media exposure, from lyrics, to posters, album covers, and interviews.
As rap and hip hop grew to become associated with the blunt, so too did the ideas and messages that the music embodied, writes rapper Zachary Schwartz. It also symbolized clashes with authority and willful excess, as the essence of rap and hip hop music.
From Fatty to Roach
Despite the undeniable impact of blunts in pop culture, their popularity is declining as more efficient ways to smoke emerge (gutting a cigar and rolling it back up is a hassle).
For example, a study by the ScienceDirect Journal done in 2015 found that blunts were not as popular as other methods of smoking. In fact, only 20% of subjects that used cannabis reported using blunts. The majority of the subjects that smoked blunts were between 25—35 years old, and teenagers during the 80s and 90s.
As the blunt’s popularity fades into novelty, it remains a classical symbol of cannabis and of different cultures. But perhaps its story is not yet over, not yet old or obsolete. Like mom jeans, polaroids, and Marvel comics — perhaps the blunt is simply suiting up for a retro renaissance.