Popeye was a pothead

Popeye was a pothead
Max Sargent

Spinach was a code word for marijuana around the 20s, the same time the classic cartoon about Popeye came to life. So what was actually in Popeye's pipe?

Those who grew up watching the old-school cartoon Popeye the Sailor must remember the hero of the story, who literally draws strength from a trusty can of spinach. Once he gulps down the entire can, he turns into a superhuman who is able to conquer any obstacle. In many scenarios, that obstacle comes in the form of the story’s antagonist, Bluto.

As children watching these cartoons, you likely perceived the message to be as simple as the ABC's: eat your vegetables, and you will grow up to be as strong and powerful as Popeye. But as the show aged and its viewers became adults, a few fan theories popped up about everyone’s favorite sailor man, including those involving his use of cannabis.

Come to think about it, what really was in Popeye’s pipe?


“spinach” as the cannabis code word

Popeye the Sailor came into existence as a character in the late-1920s, back when marijuana prohibition was about to completely take over. Society vilified the herb mainly due to misconceptions about its mind-altering qualities. By the time the first Popeye animated features were produced in the mid-1930s, the Reefer Madness era had ushered itself in.

Because of the social situation at the time, people had many different code words for cannabis and apparently “spinach” was one of them. Using code words was of course also a perfect way for cannabis-loving artists to incorporate their favorite plant into their creations. One of the best examples is the classic hit “The Spinach Song” by late blues artist Julia Lee.

But as far as marijuana references in Popeye go, it was also believed that the main character being a sailor must have made him familiar with exotic herbs from distant locales. The idea was anchored on the notion that sailors were the first to introduce the concept of ingesting cannabis to American culture, since they would bring home weed from their voyages in different countries.


One of the more blatant cannabis references from Popeye was during one episode when Popeye and Bluto were cowboys trying to impress Olive Oyl, the damsel in distress. Since Bluto felt he was being edged out by his rival, he switched up Popeye’s spinach stash with some “Locoweed.”

As soon as Popeye swallows the Locoweed, he is thrust into a woozy, psychedelic state where his brain literally explodes and he walks in a square on thin air. After this, his hallucinations cause him to perceive a charging bull as a woman, causing the two to start dancing.

Just like with many other classic cartoons that seem innocent but clearly make some kind of reference to marijuana, it probably was simply entertaining for children watching this, but some adults at the time must have been very well familiar with what Popeye was experiencing.


When in times of need it might sound tempting, but smoking spinach really will not get you high.

There are some stories about prisoners smoking spinach or people “accidentally” smoking spinach thinking it is weed, but even a long internet search doesn’t come up with some secret recipe for getting high on spinach. Probably it is even potentially harmful to smoke it.

To be fair, Popeye was originally also not getting his super strength from spinach. When first created in 1929 by Elzie Segar, Popeye was getting strength from touching a magical creature called a “whiffle hen”. It wasn’t until much later when this changed to spinach.

So before you go out and fill up your pipe with spinach, think again and stick to regular weed. But don’t forget to eat your spinach!

Max Sargent
Max Sargent

Max has been writing about cannabis and psychedelics for several years now. With a strong belief that an open, honest attitude toward drugs and drug policy can improve the lives of many, he seeks to offer insightful and developed opinions on the subject.