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Does Hotboxing Actually Get You Higher?

And is it really a good idea to smoke in a confined space during the coronavirus?

Ah, the hotbox. 

Maybe it was your mom’s car — maybe it was your tiny college dorm with a towel shoved under the door. Wherever you were, there was always the sound of coughs so violent you wondered if it was possible for someone to actually spit out one of their lungs, and the guy in the backseat or corner with eyes so bloodshot you could see them even through the dense gray smoke filling every cubic inch of space.

In the years since, you probably thought those were the days and they’re never coming back. You’re simply too old or too responsible to recreate the atmosphere of your smoke-filled stoner’s dojo. But then, the coronavirus pandemic hit. Sometime later, the government asks that you stay at home to avoid contracting the virus. Which is scary shit until you realize that you’ve got a joint — better yet, you’ve got a lot of joints stashed away somewhere in your desk behind the stapler. So you light one up in your living room where the virus can’t touch you. (Or maybe you’ve got kids, so you have to go to your garage, slip into your car and spark up in the mini-van.) And there you are again, back in high school, back in your hotbox.

For the uninitiated, “a hotbox is an air-tight room or vehicle that contains one or more pot-smokers smoking one or more joints,” according to Urban Dictionary. The point is to treat smoke the way you might treat an $18 cocktail and not waste an ounce. That way, as things get worse, maybe you won’t even remember that there’s a pandemic on the loose.

If by this point you’re on the verge of sparking a joint inside your shower, well, it should be noted that the coronavirus is a respiratory disease. As such, smoking isn’t exactly the best thing to do at the moment. In fact, according to Rolling Stone, one small study conducted on 78 coronavirus-impacted patients in China found that smokers tended to have more severe symptoms than non-smokers. “While no studies exist directly linking cannabis combustion (or cannabis consumption in general) to coronavirus symptoms, COVID-19 causes respiratory illness, an issue smoking only exacerbates,” reports the magazine. “Because smoking and vaping have been linked with lung inflammation, suppressed immunity and increased risk of influenza and respiratory infections, some medical professionals suspect those who choose these methods of consumption could experience more severe symptoms of coronavirus.”

In other words, now is not the best time to be smoking anything, let alone hotboxing. 

But in fairness, you didn’t come here for someone to tell you that you shouldn’t lock yourself in the closet and chief your way to perceived nirvana: You just want to know if it’s a good way to conserve some weed at a time when getting more is trickier than it used to be.

So, does it work? Does the hotbox get you higher than you otherwise would be if you smoked outside? 

The science seems to suggest that hotboxing definitely helps make sure that the people in your “hotbox” will feel your same buzz. A 2015 study conducted at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that secondhand cannabis smoke can intoxicate nonsmokers under “extreme conditions.” “We built a plexiglass chamber inside of a room that had a negative air pressure and an airflow system going through it,” says Ryan Vandrey, a senior author on the study. “So we had an input from the HVAC system and an active exhaust out the other end and dampers on both of those so that we could have the airflow moving through, or we could close it off completely.” 

Vandrey tells me that while none of the nonsmokers in the ventilated room tested positive for THC, all six of those exposed to the smoke had THC in their blood and urine. They also felt stoned. “These guys wore swimming goggles to keep their eyes from burning,” he says.

But again, this relates to feeling the effects of a joint you’re not smoking — Vandrey can’t tell me for certain whether the smokers themselves felt “higher” in the “extreme” setting of a plexiglass chamber. “The drug effects of the people who were smoking, we didn’t have the statistical power to compare how high they got from one session to the next,” he says. Yet the very fact that those who weren’t smoking in the hotbox did feel the effects, it seems safe to assume that being trapped in a bubble of weed smoke while smoking weed is going to add that little extra.

Not everyone agrees, of course: “The times I’ve done it, it didn’t do shit for me,” writes one redditor. “The idea of just inhaling constant smoke that isn’t even getting me high seems stupid.” Others, however, did notice the effects. “When I hotbox it, I smoke blunts because it is constantly letting off smoke that I haven’t inhale [sic] yet … I personally think that I get much higher,” another redditor responded. 

Perhaps, though, it’s not even about the “getting higher” part that really matters, as another stoner seems to suggest. “I like to think so, but if not, fuck it. I love seeing the smoke come pouring out of the car after a good hotboxing.”

And who can argue with that?