A head shop is a retail store that sells merchandise related to cannabis, cannabis culture, and other relevant countercultures.

Not to be confused with smoke shops, which focus on tobacco products and paraphernalia, head shops carry cannabis tools, supplies, and accessories, including hookahs, water pipes, bongs, one-hitters, rolling papers, and glass pipes. Despite this seemingly clear distinction, cannabis' status as a federally illegal substance means many head shops continue to operate under the guise that their tools and accessories are meant for tobacco consumption.

Shop for weed gear

smoking crumble Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

A brief history of head shops

Head shops first cropped up in the 1960s in large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. The birth of the head shop arguably began with the legendary Psychedelic Shop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, which the Thelin brothers opened on January 3, 1966.

Historically, these shops have had close ties to many counterculture movements and served as important outlets for underground newspapers, comics, and other publications. Today, many head shops continue to carry books and magazines, records, posters, apparel, and incense, among other things that might enhance one's experience with cannabis and other substances.

The origins of the name "head shop" remain unclear. Some attribute the name to enthusiastic fans of the band Grateful Dead, who are called “dead heads," while it was also rumored that the name came from an acronym for “he eats acid daily." Still others claim that the name was inspired by the song “White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane. The line “feed your head" is repeated at the song's closing as a challenge to the listener to expand their mind, and head shops became a way to help clientele feed their heads.

Most agree that the name has its ties to the first association of the word head with someone who used a substance to excess, which dates back to the early 20th century. By the 1960s, “potheads" and “acid heads" had become popular slang.

Throughout the 1970s, head shops proliferated across the country with an estimated 30,000 shops nationwide by the end of the decade. As their popularity and commercial success grew, many shops de-emphasized radical politics and counterculture movements.

Today, as efforts to legalize cannabis, psilocybin, and other drugs continue to succeed across the country, the role and importance of head shops are on an upswing. There are an increasing number of online head shops opening alongside traditional brick and mortar stores.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on May 10, 2022.