Coughing seems to go hand-in-hand with cannabis even though it can be an annoying part of the smoking experience. In this article we’re going to see what health professionals say about why it makes you cough and what can be done about it.
Why does cannabis make you cough?
According to Dr. Debra Rose Wilson, a professor, researcher, and holistic healthcare practitioner, “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.”
Basically when you smoke cannabis, the smoke temporarily irritates your airway which produces a cough reflex.
Coughing is a totally natural way for your body to handle harmful materials that might have made it into your lungs. So a light cough is no reason to panic, however if it persists over time then you might want to think about taking a break. However this does not mean you need to stop using cannabis, but rather just find an alternative delivery system for the time being like edibles, topical creams or extracts.
Does coughing more make you feel higher?
There is an old myth about the harder you cough the more intense your high ends up. However Dr. Wilson indicates these two things two are not related, “Some people think they are taking in more psychoactive THC by holding the hit longer. But THC is absorbed very quickly by the lungs, in as little as a few seconds after inhalation. If you do feel a bit different or lightheaded from holding your drag, it is more likely that your brain is not receiving enough oxygen. This temporary decrease in oxygen does not correlate with a high but with a need to exhale and breathe normally.”
Plus, most people don’t realize that when you hold for an extended time you’re getting more smoke than cannabinoids. And when you inhale more smoke then you have a much greater chance of experiencing coughing fits. This means if you want to avoid coughing you should consider holding in the smoke for less time.
How can you avoid coughing when smoking?
We asked fellow cannabis users for any tips or tricks they know of that can reduce or stop coughing after smoking. Here are the tips in no particular order:
- Drink fluids. Maybe the easiest and most obvious, even health care professionals recommend drinking water before, during, and after smoking. This helps ease irritation in your throat and prevents dehydration.
- Take smaller hits. Smaller breaths will reduce the amount of smoke that enters your airways and lungs to reduce the chances of you coughing.
- Deep and gentle inhales. This makes sure all the smoke is removed from your throat, this leftover smoke can cause coughing, burning and discomfort.
- Inhale and exhale softly. You should not forcefully inhale or exhale. Take nice slow and gentle inhales which cause less irritation in your throat.
How to soothe your throat after smoking
If your throat is already sore from smoking then here are some simple tips you can use for relief:
- Gargle with salt water. A saltwater gargle can be an ideal way of dealing with discomfort and throat pain. You can make your own by mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of basic table salt with 4 to 8 oz of warm water.
- Sip cold water. Drinking fluids (especially cold) will help decrease dryness in your throat and soothe.
- Drink warm fluids. You can also drink warm liquids, like broth or caffeine-free tea which relieves throat soreness.
- Eat hard candies. Sucking on hard candy can increase saliva production which lubricates your throat and helps decrease coughing.
- Eat cold foods. Consuming ice pops or ice cream may help because it slightly numbs out your throat.
The bottom line on cannabis and coughing
When cannabis smoke is inhaled the sensory nerves in your airways trigger a cough reflex. This natural process is your body’s way of protecting itself from harmful materials. Scientists are still learning exactly how cannabis smoke affects our lungs but as of now, research has not found any connection between smoking cannabis and long-term lung damage.
If you’re goal is to completely stop coughing, then your best option is to consider a different way of consuming cannabis that might be a little easier on your lungs and throat such as tinctures, capsules, edibles or vapes (here are some great tips about how to hit a cart without coughing). Otherwise, you just need to accept that the occasional cough is just part of smoking weed so just grab some tea or water before you light up.
References and additional reading
- “Why Does Smoking Weed Make You Cough?” by Healthline
- “The Science of Cannabis Coughing: Understanding and Preventing Coughing” by Science Direct
- “Cannabis and Coughing: Understanding the Connection” by Herb
- “Cannabis Smoking and Cough: A Guide to Understanding the Link” by Royal Queen Seeds
- “The Relationship between Cannabis and Coughing” by American Lung Association
- “Why Does Cannabis Make You Cough and How to Prevent It” by Leafly
- “Cannabis Smoking and Respiratory Health: A Guide to Understanding the Risks” by Mayo Clinic
These resources can provide information about the causes of coughing when smoking cannabis, such as irritants in smoke and the respiratory system’s response to inhaling smoke, as well as tips for reducing coughing and minimizing respiratory health risks, and can be helpful for those who want to learn more about this topic.