Why you shouldn't hold in your hits for too long

Published Feb 14, 2020 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Juan Jose Napuri

Smoking weed is not an exact science, and everyone has their own favorite way of doing things, but there are some tricks that many of us are taught that are useless and sometimes even detrimental. Upon taking the first haul from a joint or bong, what’s the next thing that you try to do? We’re guessing, like most stoners, you are trying your best to hold that smoke inside of your lungs for as long as possible.

Why we think it works

The idea behind this commonly believed myth is that holding the smoke in your lungs will give your body the best chance at extracting all of the delightful cannabinoids within, delivering them into your bloodstream rather than the air as you exhale. This theory is widely reiterated and believed, and that’s likely because those who have tried it feel something from doing it, but that extra bout of sensation isn’t from a higher dose of THC. It’s actually most often caused by an increase in blood pressure and or a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream.

Whenever a long haul is taken from a vaporizer, bong, or joint, and the smoke travels down into the depth of your lungs, you are no longer breathing in fresh air to keep your blood oxygenated. The longer you hold it, the more intense of a light-headed or rush sensation it might cause. Now at that same time, THC is naturally increasing your blood pressure by a minute amount, and that effect is exacerbated once you exhale and begin coughing uncontrollably.

At this point, your eyes are probably watering, and you are likely struggling a bit to catch your breath, and that’s when the rushing sensation that feels like a warm wave going over you kicks in. Sometimes it can make you feel dizzy or leave the room in a bit of a blur for a moment, but it’s an awfully uncomfortable sensation to experience, so is it really worth it to endure it all?

How we know that it doesn’t work

The extra feelings and sensations that you feel after holding onto a lung full of smoke aren’t caused by the THC. It is actually the body's response to a foreign substance like smoke and a lack of oxygen which isn’t a good thing. This can increase the blood pressure substantially, resulting in issues that might arise from underlying health conditions, and that’s not a situation that anyone wants to be in.

Now, we’re sure there are some perfectly healthy people out there thinking that there is no way that this could impact them right now, but the truth is that you won’t absorb any more THC through the lungs from holding it than you will from just taking a deep inhale and then exhaling immediately. This is because the majority of the THC is absorbed through microscopic capillaries that line the lungs within just a second of their grand entrance. All the lingering smoke does is induce adverse health effects, and it isn’t even going to give you a better buzz.

So how do we know this for sure? Well, there have been more than a few researchers who set out to answer that very question, and they did so by measuring the amount of THC that was released upon exhale both with and without holding it in. The difference between the two was negligible, which means that they didn’t benefit at all from holding the smoke in their lungs, even if they might have believed that they did, due to the side effects of low oxygen levels and an increased heart rate.

Is holding cannabis smoke damaging to the lungs?

For some, this news can be slightly annoying, especially after spending decades doing the opposite for an intensified effect, and it can be hard to change old habits. This article is not intended to convince anyone that they are smoking weed the wrong way, it is only information-filled base to help you in making well-informed decisions going forward.

Since cannabis research is heavily lacking in this department, we have absolutely no idea if by holding cannabis smoke for a bit longer can cause any damage, but we do know that it can exacerbate other health conditions, and cause further irritation to the lungs, so it’s probably not in the best interest of anyone to continue with this practice.

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