Head Shop

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A head shop is a retail outlet specializing in drug paraphernalia, as well as counterculture art, magazines, music, clothing, and home decor.

Products available in these outlets typically include pipes; pipe screens; bongs (often called water pipes in countries with drug paraphernalia laws); roach clips; vaporizers; rolling papers; rolling machines; scales or balances; blacklight-responsive posters; incense; cigarette lighters; legal drugs such as whipped-cream chargers (which contain nitrous oxide) and Salvia divinorum (illegal in some countries and US states); and products such as the Whizzinator claiming to give false negative results for drug urinalysis tests.

American head shops originated in the 1960s in cities with high concentrations of college-age youth, often growing out of independently owned poster or candle stores. Historically, US head shops proliferated on St. Mark’s Place in New York City’s East Village, in West Los Angeles, and in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Sources cite the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street in San Francisco as the first head shop in the United States. Operated by Army veteran Ron Thelin and his younger brother Jay, it opened in January 1966. Four months later Jeff Glick opened ‘Head Shop’ on East Ninth Street in New York City.

The oldest surviving head shop in Britain is ‘Head In The Clouds,’ which was opened in 1971 by Martin Wyatt and strives to continue its original layout and ‘love and peace’ ethos. Head shops served as an important outlet for underground newspapers and the underground comix of Robert Crumb and other counterculture cartoonists, which had little access to the established channels of newsstand distribution. The shops’ popularity eventually waned with the aging of that era’s baby boomer generation, and with the retail mainstream discovering and co-opting aspects of that market niche, such as acid rock and eco-friendly products.

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