Does Coughing After a Cannabis Hit Get You Higher?
Thursday August 22, 2019
A common cannabis culture urban legend states that coughing after consuming a hit of cannabis will help you get more high. It stands to reason, right? After all, it feels like a cough induces great gulps of air, which must push all that THC more quickly and potently into the alveoli – those little lung sacs that absorb oxygen, and when inhaling cannabis, THC – into the bloodstream. Or, if you are in the “coughing isn’t cool” camp, and you choose to keep that cough in, maybe all that cannabis smoke full of THC and other cannabinoids hanging out in your lungs can up your high, right? Well, the answer to both questions is, not exactly. Let’s take a look at what happens when you combine coughing, or in some instances not coughing, and THC.
Cannabis and Coughing: An Overview
The act of coughing in and of itself is a rapid inhalation of oxygen followed by rapidly expelling the air from the lungs. In other words, when taking a hit, the air goes quickly in, then with a cough, quickly back out. This essentially reduces the concentration of smoke, which in turn reduces the concentration of THC. When coughing, less THC reaches the alveoli, responsible for sending THC via oxygen into your bloodstream.
Others assume that by taking a large enough hit to induce a cough that you’re consuming more herb, which would also increase the high. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve inhaled more THC. It most likely means that you just inhaled more smoke, which of course, makes you cough. Coughing after all, is the body’s way of clearing out particles like microbes, fluids, mucus, and other irritants like smoke. If anything, the short inhalation ahead of a cough may have more to do with the feeling of being more high, since that sharp intake of air may reach a little further into your lungs. But it’s doubtful that it would make any actual, meaningful difference.
So, if coughing doesn’t get you higher, maybe holding in your hit does? Not so fast on that stoner trope, either. A study from 1997 determined that human lungs are only capable of taking in so much oxygen, about five-to-six milliliters per minute. And a study from Australia showed that 95 percent of THC is absorbed in the first few seconds of taking a hit.
Oxygen Deprivation is a More Likely Explanation
As an experiment, take in a big gulp of air and hold it for at least as long as you would hold in your hit, around 15-30 seconds. Has your heart rate increased a bit, or are you feeling a little dizzy or lightheaded? That is a direct effect of depriving your brain of oxygen. Combined with cannabis, it could definitely give a sensation of being higher. But it doesn’t mean that you are.
Even when coughing the brain is briefly deprived of oxygen, leading to a feeling of lightheadedness, just as it does when holding your breath.
A cannabis consumption device that actually could deliver more THC to the lungs, potentially intensifying your high, is an inhaler. These work for asthmatics and others with pulmonary symptoms by expanding the airways and delivering medicine to the alveoli. However, there is no research on whether a cannabis inhaler could get you higher, so this is total speculation. There are a couple of cannabis inhalers on the market, intended for medicinal cannabis consumers. The Santana Smooth, named for the song collaboration between Santana and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas, is specifically designed for medical patients and delivers a precise hit. Another is the Aeroinhaler, a cannabis concentrate inhaler that adds resin and terpenes back after the extraction process. Both are available in many Colorado dispensaries.
Do you think coughing after taking a hit makes you higher? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
Erin Hiatt is a New York City-based writer who has been covering the cannabis industry for more than six years. Her work – which has appeared in Hemp Connoisseur Magazine, PotGuide, Civilized, Vice, Freedom Leaf, MERRY JANE, Alternet, and CannaInvestor – covers a broad range of topics, including cannabis policy and law, CBD, hemp law and applications, science and technology, beauty, and psychedelics.
A common cannabis culture urban legend states that coughing after consuming a hit of cannabis will help you get more high, however, this might not exactly be the case. Let’s take a look at what happens when you combine coughing, or in some instances not coughing, and THC.
Why Does Weed Make You Cough?
If you’ve experienced a coughing fit after smoking cannabis, you’re not alone. It’s a common, natural response to smoke inhalation.
Sometimes, though, coughing can occur even when you’re not smoking. This is more likely to happen if you regularly smoke cannabis.
To learn why smoking cannabis can make you cough, read on. We’ll also explore how smoking cannabis might affect lung health, along with the risk of lung cancer.
Your throat and lungs are lined with sensory nerves. They work to detect irritating substances, like smoke, in your airways.
If you inhale an irritant, the nerves send signals throughout your respiratory tract. This produces a cough reflex, which helps you get rid of the irritating substance. The goal is to protect your respiratory tract, and ultimately, your lungs.
This is what happens when you smoke cannabis. The smoke irritates your airways, causing your nerves to trigger a cough reflex. It’s a normal reaction to inhaling any kind of smoke.
Research suggests that coughing related to cannabis smoking is usually due to short-term effects, rather than long-term damage. Let’s take a look at the research.
According to a 2013 review, smoking cannabis causes tiny injuries to the large airways, or bronchi. Your bronchi are the passages that connect your trachea (windpipe) to your lungs.
This increases your risk for chronic bronchitis, or inflamed bronchi, which causes frequent coughing. Chronic bronchitis typically goes away when you stop regularly smoking.
Defense against infection
Habitual smoking also decreases cilia in the airways. Cilia are small hairs that filter out particles and germs. And though habitual smoking reduces your lungs’ defense against infection, it isn’t associated with long-term damage, according to the 2013 review.
Long-term lung function
A 2012 study specifically examined the link between smoking cannabis and long-term lung function over a 20-year period. The researchers found that occasional smoking wasn’t linked to adverse lung function.
Though they speculated that heavy smoking can cause lasting damage, they weren’t able to make a solid conclusion. The study lacked enough participants who heavily smoked cannabis.
It’s worth noting that smoking cannabis is associated with lasting lung damage if you also smoke tobacco. In a 2016 study , people who smoked cannabis and tobacco were more likely to have impaired lung function than those who only smoked tobacco.
Despite these findings, scientists are still learning how smoking cannabis affects lung health over time. More long-term studies are necessary.
According to a 2020 study , cannabis smoke contains 110 compounds with potentially toxic properties. Sixty-nine of these compounds are also found in tobacco smoke. As a result, many people wonder if smoking cannabis can cause lung cancer.
The research is mixed. A 2015 meta-analysis found a weak link between long-term cannabis smoking and lung cancer risk. An older 2006 study also found no association between long-term smoking and lung cancer.
However, a 2013 study , which spanned over 40 years, found that frequently smoking cannabis doubles the risk of lung cancer. The association persisted after the researchers adjusted their data for tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and respiratory disease.
Similarly, an older 2008 study found a connection between cannabis smoking and lung cancer after adjusting for cigarette smoking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that it’s difficult to confirm a solid link. That’s because cannabis use often occurs alongside other behaviors that increase lung cancer risk, including cigarette smoking.
Therefore, more studies are needed involving people who smoke cannabis and not cigarettes.
It’s also possible for lung cancer to cause coughing. In this case, the coughing will be persistent or get worse over time. Other common symptoms of lung cancer include:
- coughing blood
- chest pain
- poor appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- new wheezing
- shortness of breath
Keep in mind that coughing has many potential causes. If you’re concerned about your coughing, visit your doctor.
As mentioned earlier, regularly smoking cannabis can lead to chronic bronchitis. Bronchitis is considered chronic if you have coughing and mucus for at least 3 months for 2 consecutive years.
Since chronic bronchitis causes persistent coughing, you’ll likely cough even when you’re not smoking. The cough might come and go, and it might get worse on some days. You may also have wheezing.
If you have chronic bronchitis due to smoking cannabis, quitting will decrease your symptoms.
Smoke can produce a cough reflex, which is your body’s way of getting rid of irritants. Researchers are still studying the long-term effects of smoking cannabis.