how to cough less when smoking weed

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
  • hoarseness
  • poor appetite
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fatigue
  • 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.

7 Ways To Cough Less And Still Get High

Contrary to the old saying, you don’t have to cough to get off: in fact, holding in marijuana smoke until you’re forced to talk in a weird, super-quick cadence, then bust your lungs hacking for 20 minutes, is doing you more harm than good.

While cannabis smoke is way better than, say, tobacco smoke, excessive, prolonged coughing is still a sign you’re irritating the delicate mucous membranes in your lungs. As UCLA professor of medicine Dr. Donald Tashkin tells the Cannabist:

” Chronic cough (often accompanied by increased production of phlegm and wheezing, but not shortness of breath) occurs in over approximately 25 percent of habitual smokers of marijuana and resolves soon after cessation of marijuana use, provided that the marijuana smoker does not also smoke tobacco.”

If this describes you, here are six ways to mitigate the harshness when you get mellow.

1. Cultivate some distance

Generally speaking, the smaller the distance between your mouth and the burning cherry, the more hot and cough-inducing the smoke. Bongs cool down the smoke, and filter particles out through water, making the smoke less harsh and dry; in addition, according to research conducted by MAPS, “water filtration can be effective in removing components from marijuana smoke that are known toxicants, while allowing the THC to pass through relatively intact.” For an extra-soothing experience, try using warm water in the chamber.

2. Let it percolate

Some water pipes include a percolator – a subchamber in the shaft of the bong that provides extra heat diffusion and exposes more smoke to the surface of the water, cooling it and removing particles. While there’s a dizzying array of percolator designs – dome, pedestal, tree, helix, honeycomb and fritted disc among them – all of them provide extra filtration, while helping to reduce coughing.

3. Think outside the box

Edibles, tinctures, and vaporizers all get you high minus the need to inhale any smoke whatsoever. Edibles, unlike smoked cannabis, also introduce THC to the body through the gastrointestinal tract, where it is processed by the liver before entering the bloodstream. According to Patty Javier Gomez, R.H.N, “The liver changes the cannabinoid THC into the more potent 11- hydroxi -THC which tends to have a stronger, more sedative effect.” Note: although some people still cough while vaping, it’s due to the hot, dry quality of the vapour , rather than the inhalation of carcinogenic burning plant matter.

4. Stay hydrated

Keep an ice-cold glass of H2O on hand to sip before, during, and after your session. When your throat is already scratchy and irritated, you’ll have more difficulty handling a bong rip. In addition to sipping water, some people swear sucking on a mint or candy that promotes the production of saliva, like an Altoid or cough drop, can help. According to Harbourside Health Centre, staying hydrated is also key to ameliorating the symptoms if you accidentally ingest too much.

5. Pace yourself

You can always smoke more; it’s substantially harder to smoke less. To avoid unattractive, uncontrollable coughing, take a small hit, wait, then hit it again. Who wants to torch the entire bowl in a single sitting, anyway? As the Gentleman’s Guide to cannabis decrees, “it’s better to take multiple small tokes, than one huge toke putting you on your ass.” Inhale evenly and steadily until you feel the slightest pressure in your lungs, then, after a few seconds maximum, release. Ahhh.

6. Quality over quantity

As The Cannabist sensibly advises, it’s wise to “avoid smoking anything with visible mold or mildew — and consider asking your supplier about any possible pesticides used in its cultivation.” Chemicals and mildew – like improperly cured schwag – produce harsher, more cough-inducing smoke. If better-quality, pesticide-free buds are available in your area, go for those: you’ll also require less in order to feel the effects, which, by any estimate, is a good thing.

Coughing is a sign your lungs are being irritated. When smoking cannabis, you want to cough less. Here are seven strategies for getting high but coughing less. ]]>