We’ve all been there before, you take a big hit on a bong and within seconds you’re coughing uncontrollably. For some of us, this is just an annoyance, but many people believe that coughing while you smoke weed actually intensifies your high. Let’s explore if there is any truth behind this rumor about the cannabis cough, or is it just another stoner myth?
First let’s look at why smoking weed makes you cough
Before we can understand the science behind this let’s take a look at why we cough in the first place. Coughing while smoking marijuana can be caused by a number of reasons.
- Inhaling big hits
- Inhaling smoke
- Inhaling anything hot
Firstly, inhaling anything, particularly something hot, can cause a shock reaction in your throat or lungs that induces coughing, hot smoke will certainly do this. You also need to think about what you are inhaling, smoking pure weed in a bong can make you cough, but mixing it with tobacco is likely to make you cough even more. This is because of the other harmful chemicals that are found in tobacco. Inhaling anything that acts as an irritant, causes our nerves to send a signal to the respiratory tract. This triggers us to cough and flush out whatever has caused the irritation. The aim of this function is to protect the lungs and prevent us from fully inhaling anything harmful into them.
Do big hits make you cough more?
The bigger the hit the more smoke will enter your throat. If you inhale a small amount this may only irritate your respiratory tract slightly and not cause you to cough. Take the biggest draw ever on a bong and most likely you will be coughing up your lungs within seconds.
However, inhaling larger amounts and holding your breath may not make you much higher. When you inhale weed the majority of the THC is enters our system within the first few seconds of inhaling. Therefore, a big hit may allow you to absorb slightly more THC, but holding your breath is unlikely to make much any difference at all.
When people take a big hit, they usually breathe in as much weed as possible and hold it in. As well as inhaling loads of hot smoke this also causes a lack of oxygen which makes the coughing worsen. The lack of oxygen felt from this can cause a slight light-headedness which makes the high feel more intense, giving us the impression that it is the coughing makes you higher.
How does heat make us cough?
Any irritant that is inhaled will make you cough, particularly smoke that is incredibly hot. When you light a joint or a bong you have very little control over how hot it becomes. The temperature that your bud burns at can reach up to 2000° F meaning the smoke inhaled will be incredibly hot too. This is enough to act as an irritant to your throat and trigger you to begin coughing, especially if it is mixed with tobacco which will contain other burning chemicals.
Should you hold in a cough?
Coughing is your body’s way of getting rid of something from your throat that should not be there. If you are coughing while smoking it is most likely a reaction to the intensely hot smoke that you have inhaled. Holding in a cough is not recommended because if you have inhaled something such as a tiny particle of ash your throat will want to remove it to avoid it being breathed into your lungs.
How can you stop yourself coughing while smoking
Technique – When you smoke a bong, joint or vape you can often prevent coughing by learning the best way to inhale. To inhale properly you should breath in slowly and steadily, once you inhale don’t hold your breath for more than 1-2 seconds, avoid taking huge lugs and breath out slowly and steadily making sure all of the smoke has left your lungs.
Vaping – Instead of smoking a joint try vaporizing weed instead. With no tobacco or rolling paper it is a much cleaner way to smoke and you can also inhale it at a lower temperature which reduces irritation to your throat.
Try edibles – Edibles are the healthiest way to consume cannabis and it’s a great way to enjoy eating and consuming weed at the same time. For anyone that suffers from a bad smokers cough, edibles could be the way forward. Try making one of our simple cannabis cookies recipes for a great way to get high without harming your throat.
Cough Drops – According to Penn State University cough drops containing methanol and sucrose were able reduce coughing by up to 45%, this is because the methanol and sucrose were able to sooth the throat by numbing it slightly which reduced the irritation.
Drink water – A cough caused by smoking dries the throat making the cough even worse. Drinking water will rehydrate your throat and reduce the amount you cough.
Is vaping weed better than smoking a joint?
So, if smoking a joint makes us cough why not try a vaporizer instead? Surely this won’t make you cough too…
Wrong. Even smoking pure bud in a vaporizer that contains almost no contaminants can still make you cough. It is all down to the heat at which it is burned and the temperature of the smoke that you inhale.
One of the major advantages of vaping weed instead of a joint or bong is that you can choose the temperature at which you burn it. If you buy a good quality vaporizer, adjust the temperature to a lower setting to avoid coughing. The best temperature for vaping weed is 325°F – 360°F. This is enough to combust your weed, but it is much less likely to make you cough.
Burning weed at a lower temperature has a number of benefits. Not only is it healthier for you and less likely to make you cough, it also retains more of the cannabinoids and terpenes from your weed which contribute to the taste, smell and effects that you feel.
So, does coughing actually make us higher?
When you inhale weed, almost at once your heartrate increases by around 20 to 50 beats per minute. The increased heart rate is what sometimes amplifies the high that many people feel often giving us a headrush. Together with the effects of the cannabis this can intensify the high.
The myth behind coughing stems from the idea that it forces the lungs to momentarily expand, thus allowing you absorb more THC. However, we know that when you smoke weed, 95% of the THC is inhaled within the first 1-3 seconds, so coughing after the inhale will not have any impact whatsoever on this. What could cause people to feel higher is when people hold their breath after inhaling, this creates a feeling of light-headedness, and partnered with the effects of the THC and then coughing, it gives the sensation of a more intense high.
To sum up, there is very little science backing up the idea that coughing makes you higher. So, to save your lungs any extra stress, I wouldn’t encourage forcing a cough, as this could do more harm than good. Instead there are lots of ways you can intensify your highs such as using a vaporizer, consuming edibles, or simply smoking a more potent cannabis strain.
https://www.facebook.com/WebMD (2012). Why You Cough. [online] WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/overview.
Anon, (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.cannabis-med.org/data/pdf/2001-03-04-8.pdf.
sites.psu.edu. (n.d.). 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/ [Accessed 30 Dec. 2022].