Why Does Marijuana Make You Cough?

Reasons Smoking Cannabis May Cause Coughing and Ways To Avoid It

Coughing after smoking any substance, whether cannabis or tobacco, is a common physiological response which protects the lungs from irritation. However, not everybody coughs after smoking cannabis and if you do, there are steps you can take to minimize or avoid coughing. There are also some misconceptions about smoking cannabis which I will dispel in this article. I will also explain the steps you can take to avoid coughing and will cite studies about smoking cannabis and coughing. Finally, I will list the different theories from cannabis consumers on why smoking cannabis can cause coughing.  

Coughing As Lung Protection

The introduction of smoke of any sort into your lungs is an irritant and contains carcinogens.  The act of coughing is a protective mechanism which rids the bronchial tubes and the lungs of harmful substances. 

According to cannabis specialist, Dr. Melanie Bone, a small amount of coughing should cause no alarm. However, if you develop a persistent cough, this may be an indication that it is time to stop smoking cannabis and choose a different delivery method.

Misconception #1: Coughing Intensifies the Psychotropic Effects

Does coughing make you higher when smoking marijuana? There is absolutely no relationship between the intensity of your cannabis high and coughing.

Misconception #2: Holding The Smoke Deep Within the Lungs Intensifies Its Effects

Does holding in marijuana smoke get you higher? THC is absorbed by the lungs in as little as a few seconds after inhalation.  There is no difference in the effects it has on your body whether you inhale and exhale normally or inhale, hold it in your lungs for several seconds, and exhale. That lightheaded feeling you may experience from holding the smoke in your lungs is due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. When you return to a normal breathing pattern of inhalation and exhalation, that lightheadedness goes away. It has nothing to do with increased intoxication.

In fact, by holding the inhalation for a period of time, you may be ingesting more smoke instead of more cannabinoids which may almost certainly lead to more coughing.

How to Not Cough When Smoking Cannabis

  • Take Smaller Hits
    If you take too big a hit, your body’s physiological response will be to cough.  Also, if you know you have a small lung capacity or reduced lung capacity due to illness or injury, inhale smaller amounts
  • Consume Healthy Cannabis Products
    Dried out cannabis is more likely to make you cough. Also, make sure you avoid products that contain added ingredients. Some of the worst offenders are blunt wraps and solvents in vape cartridges as well as synthetic terpenes used to intensify the odor and the effects.
  • Drink Fluids
    Water or herbal tea will help flush residual particles from the throat to the stomach. Sucking on lozenges or hard candies will accomplish the same result.
  • Don’t Hold The Smoke in Your Lungs
    The less amount of time the smoke comes in contact with your throat and lungs, the less likely you are to cough
  • Other Delivery Methods
    Try using a water pipe or bong, vaporizers, edibles, topicals, capsules, tinctures, transdermal patches or suppositories 
  • How You Pack Your Bowls or Joints
    Don’t pack them too tightly or with too much space
  • Inhale and Exhale Smoothly and Gently
  • Inhale First into the Mouth and Then Into The Lungs With Fresh Air
    The influx of extra oxygen should result in a smoother smoking experience with less coughing
  • Take A Hiatus From Smoking
    If you develop a chronic cough, it is highly recommended that you stop smoking and use another delivery method

By the way, many seasoned cannabis smokers do not cough and that may be a result of the ability to “train” your lungs to process the smoke better than new smokers.

Consumer Theories on What Causes Coughing

Why do you cough when you smoke marijuana? Like everything in the cannabis universe, there are always many different theories put forward by consumers on any given subject. I thought you might find them to be interesting.

  • Smoking aged cannabis 
  • Swallowing a lot of saliva while smoking 
  • Smoking while in a hurry 
  • Smoking while laughing
  • The resin content in a strain is directly proportional to how much you cough and you can tell this by looking at the smoke…more smoke, more resin. 
  • The more THC a strain contains, the more it will make you cough due to expansion of the THC smoke in the lungs. Pure resin is the worst.
  • Certain strains make you cough more than others. Certain terpenes, especially caryophyllene, will also make you cough a bit more or tickle your throat
  • Cannabis that is not properly cured will make you cough
  • Smoking cannabis full of pesticides and chemicals

Cannabis Research Studies

Pulmonologist, Dr. Donald Tashkin, has studied cannabis for 30 years. According to his findings in a 2006 study conducted at UCLA, fits of coughing are a short-term problem which do not seem to cause any long lasting health concerns. Over approximately 25% of regular consumers experience a chronic cough. It is often accompanied by an increase in the production of wheezing and phlegm but without shortness of breath. As long as the user does not also consume tobacco, the chronic cough resolves very quickly once cannabis smoking is stopped.  However, Dr. Tashkin’s research team has not studied how long it takes for the symptoms to resolve once cannabis use has ceased.

A later study in 2013, also conducted at UCLA by Dr. Tashkin and his team, found that habitual cannabis smoking causes visible microscopic injury to the bronchial tubes, associated with an increase in the likelihood of symptoms of chronic bronchitis. However, once cannabis smoking is stopped, the injury and the symptoms resolve and your long-term lung function remains unaffected.


weedmaps.com, Why Does Weed Make You Cough
thegrowthop.com, Why Does Marijuana Make Me Cough and How Do I Stop It? Al Olson, Dec. 13, 2019
wayofleaf.com, 5 Creative Ways To Cough Less When Smoking Weed, Dylan Baker, updated Ja. 17, 2020