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
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.
Lung with smoke
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.
How Your Body Coughs Could Get You Higher
Lots of people think that coughing does get you higher. And they cite one particular reason. A cough, they say, causes the lungs to expand more than taking a deep breath does.
More expanded lungs mean THC and other cannabinoids can reach more of your alveoli. It’s a plausible theory, but it turns out to not be exactly correct.
It turns out, it’s not coughing per se that can get you higher when you smoke up. Instead, it’s what your body has to do to get a cough ready, so to speak.
A common cough caused by inhaling cannabis smoke begins with a short, sharp, but deep breath. After that, the lungs rapidly compress, sending a cracking burst of air out of the lungs and throat in fractions of a second.
Coughing, then, is technically a compression that forces air out and away from your lungs. And that’s exactly its purpose: protection. It’s supposed to blast irritating and harmful particles out of your body.
So it doesn’t get you higher, but the sharp inhale you take before it might. And that’s because that short, deep breath exposes more of your lungs to THC.
Oxygen Deprivation is a More Likely Explanation
When you cough, your lungs are gasping for air, its an instinct which has stuck with us from our time as reptiles millions of years ago. When you cough, your lungs expand, and certain areas of your lung are exposed to smoke that wouldn’t have been had you not coughed.
So, you might not get as high taking a hit from a joint that makes you cough as you would from a hit from a bong. But, the best way to utilize any given hit is to maximize the amount THC that you absorb. This can be easily achieved by coughing and increasing the surface area in your lungs that can absorb the THC, or by holding in the hit.
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.
Contrary To Popular Belief, Coughing Does Not Increase Your Thc High
No, coughing is not necessary to get high on cannabis. The stars you see and the light headed feeling is due to the lack of oxygen circulation to your brain (this happens when you cough, with or without weed). Let’s talk about what’s really happening.
Coughing speeds up the “getting high” process – THC and other goodies are absorbed through the walls of your lungs. When you cough, the surface area of your lungs expands and increases… letting more smoke make contact and absorb with each cough as opposed to letting the smoke process at it’s normal, comfortable speed.
Fortunately there are many remedies to avoid having a huge coughing fit when you want to enjoy a smooth easy hit. If you’re smoking out of a pipe or a joint be sure to suck the air into your mouth and then continue inhaling fresh air deeper. This serves as a cushion or smoke-chaser.
When you’re in the middle of coughing, focus on what your body is doing. Where did the cough come from? Chances are that your lungs, diaphragm, or throat is spasming. Remedy this by breathing deeply to relax the spasms.
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