marijuana tar myth

Debunking The Myth Of Holding A Hit Of Marijuana

The age-old myth of holding in a hit of weed smoke is said to make you feel higher. But does science back up these claims? Read on to find out what holding a hit does to your body.

Surely you have witnessed this numerous times. Maybe you even do it yourself. Firing up a joint, taking a few hits, and holding it in stronger than the vaults at Fort Knox. You proceed to pass the joint along to your friends while holding the hit in, mimicking Houdini’s underwater escape.

It is the standard no-cost approach to getting higher, right? Hold the smoke in for longer, and the body will have extra time to absorb more THC through the lung’s alveoli. Unfortunately, despite the apparent logical reasoning behind this notion, this theory does not hold up.

Air contains approximately 20% oxygen. Our lungs on average can hold 6 litres of air in one breath. When we exhale, the air that escapes our body holds approximately 15% oxygen. We are not all that efficient at absorbing oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide, and that is why we breathe rhythmically and do not hold 6 litres of air for several minutes to absorb as much oxygen as we can in one go.

The same principle applies to smoking weed.


Regrettably, that is not what is going on. The lungs can transfer gas in very small quantities at the nanosecond level. It occurs almost instantly. According to some sources, 95% of all possible THC is absorbed near instantly upon inhale.

If you hold in your toke, you may feel it hits you stronger, but what is really going on is you are depriving oxygen content to your brain, making you feel a little lightheaded. If you add carbon monoxide and toxins from combustion to the mix, this lightheadedness is intensified.


You can quickly test this for yourself. If you smoke tobacco, consider taking a joint-like hit and holding it in as long as you can. You will feel the same tingling or slight dizziness happen, even though there is no weed in the mix.

If you don’t smoke cigarettes, sit on a chair, legs parallel. Grab your legs and put your head between your knees, looking down. Take a few good deep breaths, then exhale as much as you can and hold it for as long as you can. Right before releasing, pull yourself back into normal sitting position as you let yourself breathe. If you do this intensely enough, not only will you feel dizzy, you may even faint! So make sure to do this under the watch of a friend and take it easy.

There is a game where kids induce fainting from oxygen deprivation. Same principal as the chair exercise, they stand back against a wall, exhale, then another kid puts their hand on the victim’s chest, applying slight pressure. In as little as 30 seconds, kids would go lights out, just like when you get a whitey from smoking cannabis.


The more you hold your breath, the more elevated the heart rate gets. Blood is pumped faster to compensate for the low oxygen levels. This has a compounding effect as you hold your breath, since there is no oxygen available. The body starts reacting to this new emergency warning sign. Adrenaline starts getting released to prepare for a flight-or-fight response, which only increases the overall “high” sensation.

Another symptom of oxygen deprivation is the tingling sensation of your skin and face – often also falsely associated with getting extra-blazed.


If you want to get extra high, the answer is pretty straightforward. Smoke more weed. Or smoke stronger strains, or even consider concentrates. If you really want to achieve new levels of psychotropic euphoria, try edibles. But be aware; they will hit you in different ways, and are often quite strong.

Consider vaping and dabbing concentrates. These are the least harmful methods of inhaling THC and other cannabinoids. As there is no combustion happening, you will not breathe in carbon monoxide, tar, and other toxins. With a vape, you will be able to smoke a much larger quantity of weed without the harmful oxygen depriving interception caused by carbon monoxide.

Being that concentrates have very high levels of THC, the same volume of inhaled toke will also contain a much higher concentration of THC, resulting in a bigger and stronger hit.

The old saying “less is more” applies perfectly here. The less you hold the smoke in, the more chances you have to take another toke.

The formula is quite simple. The more hits you take, the higher you will get.

Will holding a hit increase how high you get? We look into what exactly is happening when you hold in cannabis smoke.

Marijuana and Your Risk of Lung Cancer

In this Article

In this Article
In this Article
  • Why It Might Be Harmful
  • Questions Remain
  • The Future

Marijuana, both for recreation and medical use, is becoming legal in more states. Even as more people use it, health experts aren’t sure whether smoking pot raises your odds of getting lung cancer. Here’s what researchers know — and don’t know — about the connection.

Why It Might Be Harmful

The link between tobacco smoke and lung cancer is well-known. Studies show that marijuana smoke has many of the same harmful substances as tobacco, and often more of them. Among the hazards are:

  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Benz(a)anthracene
  • Phenols
  • Vinyl chlorides
  • Nitrosamines
  • Reactive oxygen species

People also smoke marijuana in a different way than tobacco, possibly posing greater danger to the lungs:

  • You usually inhale marijuana smoke deeply and hold it in, which gives the toxins more contact with your lung tissue and more chance to stick there.
  • You generally a smoke a joint all the way to the end. Tar, the sticky stuff left after burning, has high levels of harmful substances, and it’s concentrated at the end of a joint.

When scientists looked at lung tissue of some people who smoked weed regularly, they found changes that are known to signal the future growth of cancer.

Questions Remain

Given what scientists already know, why is it so hard to say how smoking pot affects your chances of getting lung cancer?

Studies that have looked for a direct link between the two have conflicting results — some found evidence that ties marijuana to lung cancer, while other data show little to no connection.

The topic is also tough to investigate. Scientists say a few factors limit how reliable the research is.

Most of the research on marijuana dates to when it was still widely illegal. It’s hard to gather information about behavior that’s against the law. Most studies have asked people to report how often they smoked marijuana, and researchers know that these kinds of surveys, called “self-reported,” aren’t as reliable as when they collect data in other ways. That’s because people don’t remember their behavior perfectly or might underestimate or conceal how often they do something that others think is wrong.


Illegal marijuana, unlike tobacco, doesn’t have any controls on its strength or quality. People don’t use the same amount in one “dose.” That makes it hard for researchers to set standards to measure its effects.

Another problem is that many people who smoke marijuana also smoke tobacco, sometimes mixed in the same cigarette. So if they get lung cancer, it’s impossible to sort out what substance caused it.

Some marijuana smokers in the studies have been fairly young, which could skew the results. Cancers can take time to grow.

On the other hand, most people who use weed don’t smoke as much as a tobacco user, which could lower their odds for a problem.

Animal research suggests that some chemicals in marijuana work against tumor growth, which could explain why lung cancer isn’t showing up as often as scientists might expect in people who smoke it. The studies on this are in their early days, and researchers need to take a deeper look into this theory.

The Future

Now that marijuana is legal in more places, growers are making the product more standard and stronger. More people are smoking pot, too.

Any link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer isn’t clear now, but researchers have a chance to move beyond some of the problems that have made studies unclear in the past.


National Conference of State Legislatures: “State Medical Marijuana Laws.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Marijuana.”

American Cancer Society: “Small Cell Lung Cancer Risk Factors.”

University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute: “Learn About Marijuana.”

Chest: “Cannabis Smoking in 2015.”

NPJ Primary Care Respiratory Medicine: “Effect of cannabis smoking on lung function and respiratory symptoms: a structured literature review.”

Scientists aren’t sure if smoking pot makes you more likely to get lung cancer, but they do know some things about the link.