A man coughing while smoking weed

Anyone that has ever taken a huge hit on a bong knows that it almost always results in you coughing. While some of us try to hold it in and prevent a coughing fit, others claim that it intensifies the effects of smoking weed, but is there any science at all behind the idea that coughing makes us higher?

What makes us cough?

If you have been smoking weed and started coughing, you will notice that it is usually at once after you have taken a big inhale. This is because coughing is your body’s natural reaction to protect our lungs.

Our lungs are a very important part of our body which is why our wind pipes, which are the tunnel leading into the lungs have a built-in mechanism to protect them. The throat is lined with sensory nerves and the moment it detects anything that should not be in our body, such as hot smoke or a tiny particle of ash, it triggers us to cough. The aim of this reaction is to expel anything harmful from the throat before it is inhaled into the lungs.

How do we get high after inhaling weed?

As soon as you breath in a mouthful of cannabis smoke within 2-3 seconds the smoke has made its way through the throat and into the lungs. The THC and other cannabinoids contained within the smoke pass directly into the bloodstream where they are quickly transported to the brain.

Once in the brain the cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid system (ECS) and cause the psychoactive and cognitive effects that make us feel high.

Why do people think coughing makes you higher?

There are lots of stoner myths from eating mangoes will get you high, to smoking weed isn’t bad for your lungs. The idea that coughing gets you higher comes from the theory that, because coughing causes the lungs to expand, it allows you to absorb more THC into the blood stream and therefore intensifies your high. Is this just another urban legend that people getting high have concocted, or is there any science behind it?

Well, according to science, the exchange of THC into the blood stream does happen in the lungs, however there is no evidence to suggest that coughing allows you to absorb any more of it. In fact, it is possible that coughing could reduce the amount of THC you take in, that is if you begin coughing before you have managed to inhale all of the smoke into your lungs.

Does holding your breath make you higher?

Another theory is that holding your breath after you inhale smoke into your lungs gets you higher. This idea seems to make a lot more sense, however, because the exchange of cannabinoids into the bloodstream through the lungs all occurs within the first 1-3 seconds of breathing it in, holding smoke down for more than a few seconds will not have any impact on how high you get. You see there is a limit to how much can be transferred into our bloodstream at each inhale, and it appears that limit is always reached within just a few seconds.

With that in mind you could probably get higher from taking big hits, but from not holding in your smoke for more than a few seconds. Holding in any longer than this could just make you cough unnecessarily.

How can you prevent coughing while smoking weed?

Coughing is caused by irritation or a foreign body in the throat. Some of us have more nerves in our throats that makes them more sensitive and more likely to cough. If this sounds like you, here are a few things you can do that will help to avoid or prevent coughing.

Take smaller hits

The simplest way to avoid coughing when smoking weed is to take smaller hits and don’t hold the smoke in your lungs. If you take regular small hits and don’t hold your breath, according to science you will get just as high.

Use a vaporizer

Part of the reason that we cough when smoking is the irritation that it causes in the throat. When you smoke a joint, the cherry of it can burn at around 1000 °C – 1500 °C. This means that the smoke we inhale is often excessively hot, this causes irritation to the throat and induces coughing.

Vaporizers allow you to choose the temperature at which you burn your weed at. Burning at a lower temperature is not only healthier but could get you higher because less cannabinoids and terpenes are destroyed by the excessive heat.

Drink plenty of water

If you have ever smoked weed for long periods without having a drink nearby you will know what I mean by intense dry mouth that cannabis causes. Applying constant heat to your throat causes it to dry out and it becomes more sensitive. Drinking regular sips of water will prevent this from happening and reduce the amount you cough.

Use throat sweets

If you suffer from fits of coughing, try sucking on a menthol throat sweet. They prevent your throat from drying, and the combination of sugar and menthol together acts as a numbing agent in the throat that can reduce coughing by up to 45%.

Try edibles instead of smoking

Give your lungs a break and try edibles. They are by far the healthiest way of consuming cannabis and the most surefire way of stopping the smoking cough. Just be careful you don’t over do it. It is a lot more common for people to overdose on edibles because of the delayed effects which sometimes take 1-3 hours before they take effect. If you feel like getting experimental with some edibles why not use our recipes on baking some tasty cannabis cookies, weed brownies or space cake.

So, does coughing actually make you higher?

Sorry to disappoint you but this myth has been busted. Coughing while you smoke weed does not make you any higher. Although the act of coughing does cause the lungs to expand, it doesn’t allow you to absorb any additional THC into the blood stream, and while we’re at it, neither does excessive breath holding.

The reason that many users may think they feel higher after a coughing fit is because they have just taken a large hit on their bong, held their breath and then coughed. The THC from the big hit will make you high, the breath holding, and coughing will most likely cause a feeling of light headedness as oxygen in-take is limited. Together at the same time as inhaling a lungful of THC this intensifies the high.


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Onaivi ES, Ishiguro H, Gong JP, Patel S, Perchuk A, Meozzi PA, et al. Discovery of the presence and functional expression of cannabinoid CB2 receptors in brain. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006;1074:514–536.

Onaivi ES. Neuropsychobiological evidence for the functional presence and expression of cannabinoid CB2 receptors in the brain. Neuropsychobiology. 2006;54:231–246.

Kristen et al. Do Cough Drops Actually Work? | SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy. [online] Available at: https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/12/04/do-cough-drops-actually-work/.

Iris Sideris

Meet Iris, the ultimate cannabis connoisseur! With her green thumbs and a puff puff pass mentality, Iris loves sharing her stash of knowledge on all things cannabis. Whether you're a seasoned smoker or a newbie to the ganja game, Iris is the go-to source for all things 420.

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