Growing up in the 90’s, our earliest weed smoking experiences where often soundtracked by Cypress Hill and Snoop Dogg CDs, all heavily laced with blatant references to cannabis. Hell, you remember The Chronic by Dr. Dre, the CD itself had a full vibrant green weed leaf set against a stark black background. Or the iconic Nate Dogg’s “Smoke weeeed everydaaaaay”…
Back then, as up front about weed as these trail blazing artists were, they were definitely in the minority in the music world and their lyrics created plenty of controversy. Also, as loved as they were by our crew, songs like Hits From the Bong never cracked the Billboard Top 40
But music – good music at least - has always been a reflection of our society and our culture.
Art, as they say, imitates life. But music is such a fundamental form of entertainment for us that, quite often, life and art begin to imitate one another and push each other to new places.
In 1995, for example, California was still at least a year away from forming its groundbreaking medical marijuana program under Prop215/SB420. So weed was not legal in any way, shape, or form in Cali. But we were still smoking it!
That year, roughly 12% of the Billboard Top 40 songs had any reference to cannabis.
Interestingly, by comparison, alcohol, opiates, and tobacco all had a much lower number of references in the most popular tracks of ’95.
This data is part of a study recently published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Wayne State closely examined the lyrics of every Billboard Top 40 song dating all the way back to 1986 seeking any link between popular music and drug trends in the U.S.
Sorting the data into four categories – cannabis, alcohol, opiates, tobacco – the study found that all categories except tobacco gained popularity in song lyrics, but that marijuana references have grown like… well, like a weed.
In California, even though they legalized MMJ in 1996, it took nearly a decade for the program to really hit its stride, and the Billboard charts reflect this trend almost perfectly with references to cannabis in popular music suddenly doubling.
There has been some movement in that stat over the past ten years, but overall cannabis has held down its own spot on the Billboard charts to the point that today it is not uncommon to find that 3/4s of the songs on the Billboard Top 40 chart have at least one line about bud.
So is the cannabis movement fueling the music industry? Or is the music industry fueling the cannabis movement?
The answer is: Both
The study was aimed more at opioid references in popular music, and like weed, mentions of opioids on the Billboard Top 40 is higher than ever with roughly 12% of songs containing painkiller related lyrics.
So even the researchers involved in the study warn that popular music may be harmful to society.
“If this demonstrated ‘acceptability’ trend is mirrored through a similar rise in the mention of opioid narcotics in Top 40’s music,” the study reads, “America’s epidemic of overdose fatality may continue to escalate.”
Luckily, nobody has fatally overdosed on weed in 50,000+ years…
The data shows that references to opioids in popular music were nonexistent in 1995.
Fast forward to the mid-2000’s and you see songs begin to feature lyrics about sizzurp and the like.
It’s no coincidence that at that same time, pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma began a multimillion dollar campaign to push prescription pain pills to patients by greasing the pockets of their trusted physicians.
That doctor-patient bond was exploited so that society began to accept codeine cough syrup and Vicodin as staples of any medicine cabinet. That normalization found its way into mainstream music.
The same is happening with cannabis, just on a much more organic and grassroots level that doesn’t require greedy pharma labs or shady doctors.
We’ve been rapping about weed for decades, it’s cool people are finally listening.