History Lesson: What Is a Head Shop and Are They Still Being Used?

History Lesson: What Is a Head Shop and Are They Still Being Used?

Have you ever heard someone talk about buying marijuana accessories and wondered "What is a headshop?" You're not alone.

With over half of the states in the nation allowing some form of legal marijuana use, it's now commonplace to see pipes, rolling papers, and other smoking accessories for sale in gas stations, at the mall, and in retail shops. However, this wasn't always the case.

Here's a brief history of marijuana use in the United States and how "head shops" have evolved. 

What Is a Head Shop?

In simplest terms, a head shop is a retail store that sells drug paraphernalia and smoking accessories. In most cases, the store will also sell items like incense, crystals, psychedelic art, clothing, and jewelry. 

Where Did the Term Come From?

There is some controversy about where the term "head shop" originated. The most common theory is that it started in the '60s when the word "head" was tacked on to describe any drug user. For example, marijuana users were called a "pot heads" and a Grateful Dead fans were known as "Dead Heads."

Some say the term "head" stands for "He Eats Acid Every Day." Others claim the band Jefferson Airplane's song "White Rabbit," which repeatedly says "feed your head" was a call to indulge in drugs that alter your consciousness. Some even suggest that the first head shops originated all the way back in 1910.

The History of Headshops

In the late 1960s, headshops took on a new role as centers for the counterculture revolution. They became a safe haven for the distribution of underground flyers. Head shop owners were often more concerned with promoting subculture ideals than with turning a profit.


Headshops continued in much the same way throughout the '70s when the Vietnam war and a strong distrust for American politics spurred on more rebellion. As more people started smoking marijuana and purchasing smoking accessories, headshops began recognizing larger profits. The owners started moving away from counterculture support and focusing more on product sales.

1980's and 1990's

The 1980s brought "The War on Drugs," and head shops started to come under greater scrutiny. Laws banning the sale of drug paraphernalia caused many of these retail stores to go out of business. Other business owners decided it wasn't worth the legal hassle and shut down on their own.

By the 1990's you could easily find the types of things head shops carried, like incense and tie-dyed shirts, at your local mall. Eventually, head shops started to fade away.

Skirting the Law

Although drugs themselves were never actually a part of a head shop's industry, back in the '60s and '70s, owners often found creative ways to supply them anyway. As the government started to crack down, this became less commonplace. In fact, many head shops skirted the law by declaring that their products were absolutely not for drug use.

To support this argument, any reference to drug slang was strictly prohibited inside the establishment. The word "bowl" was replaced with "pipe," "bong" with "water pipe," and so on. Anyone who failed to abide by this unspoken rule would likely be asked to leave.

Modern-Day Evolution

With over 62 percent of the American population in favor of legalizing marijuana, it's no surprise that head shops are becoming popular once again. In states where recreational and medical marijuana are legal, these shops are very open and public. 

In states like Texas, where possession of marijuana can still land you 180 days in jail, head shops are still mostly underground. Here, you can expect the terminology band to remain in full effect until the laws finally change.

Today's Head Shop Experience

Although you may still find clothing and jewelry in modern-day headshops, the biggest sellers by far are pipes, scales, and grinders. Vaporizers, e-Juice, and dab tools are also popular. One of the things shoppers like best about today's head shops is the access to hand-made glass pipes blown by local artists.

The wide acceptance of cannabis use and the number of people using medical marijuana has created a far different atmosphere in today's head shops. No longer are they a center for counterculture rebellion. Instead, they're now frequented by Baby Boomers who are using cannabis to treat ailments like arthritis.

Understanding Marijuana Retail Terminology

If you're not in the scene, the terminology surrounding marijuana retailers can be confusing. Understanding the difference between terms like head shop, dispensary, and coffee shop will keep you out of trouble.

Head Shop vs. Dispensary

First and foremost, a head shop is not a place where you can buy or consume marijuana or other drugs. If you want to legally buy marijuana in the United States, you'll need to do it at a dispensary. Dispensaries are retail shops that sell marijuana products but do not allow you to use them on the premises.

Dispensary vs. Coffeeshop

In Amsterdam, a "coffeeshop" is the term used for a public place where you can buy and smoke marijuana. Although buying and selling marijuana is legal in some U.S. states, consuming it in public is not.  

The state of Colorado is the first in the nation to pass a law allowing use in restaurants and cafes. However, the law came with so many restrictions that the practice has still not yet caught on.

The New Normal: Shopping Online for the Best Marijuana Accessories

Now that you know the answer to the burning question: 'What is a head shop," you're probably nodding your head and thinking: "That's the same thing as a smoke shop!" You'll still find almost all of the same types of products in today's smoke shops and an even better selection online.

At Little Red Lunchbox, we have a huge selection of unique glass pipes, water pipes, vaporizers, and dab tools. Check us out today. You won't be disappointed!

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