As is tradition, my first time smoking from a bong gave rise to a series of deafening coughs. When the smoke finally cleared, my red-eyed comrades turned to me and said, “That’ll make you, like, super high, man.” I then ate three Crunchwrap Supremes and sat in the shower.
Since that day, I’ve always wondered: Was it the coughing that heightened my high, or something else? After all, the belief that hacking up a lung makes you more stoned is one of the more prominent pieces of stoner lore. Interestingly enough, Adie Rae, an assistant scientist at the Legacy Research Institute in Portland, Oregon, and cofounder of Smart Cannabis, a company dedicated to identifying the world’s best cannabis flower, says it’s not lore at all — it’s a fact.
To understand how a cough enhances a high, we need to look at the mechanism behind it. As a 2018 report explains, a cough begins with a large inhale. Then, your vocal chords shut, and the muscles in your chest and abdomen contract. This generates loads of pressure throughout your respiratory system, which escapes as a cough when your vocal chords open back up.
This contributes to a higher high in two ways: 1) The substantial inhales that precede a cough ensure that you take in more smoke; and 2) as Rae explains, the additional pressure throughout your respiratory system pushes more THC through the lining of your lungs than your average inhale would.
There are a couple other factors, too. For example, coughs are often induced by larger than normal hits, which contain higher levels of THC. Likewise, coughing can momentarily lower your oxygen levels, causing dizziness. This can exacerbate the effects of weed.
Once you’re done, I’ll see you in the shower.