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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.

Bronchitis

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.

Why does marijuana make me cough and how do I stop it?

It’s real and it can be annoying: Here’s how to combat toker’s cough

While smoking cannabis isn’t entirely without health risks, observable adverse effects are far milder than those associated with tobacco use. Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images

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    I don’t think there is a person living in the world who can honestly claim they have never coughed after toking on cannabis. It seems to be part of the experience for some folks. But why does it happen? How can you minimize it? And is this a sign that it’s harmful?

    Let’s address the last question first. Hacking up a lung can’t be healthy, right? Right. Incessant coughing means that your lungs are being irritated and it is reacting to the irritant. But is it causing long-term damage to my lungs? Probably not. At least when it comes to the potential of lung cancer.

    Why does marijuana make me cough and how do I stop it? Back to video

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    A landmark 2006 UCLA study conducted by Donald Tashkin, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years, found no connection between cannabis use and lung cancer, even with heavy use. “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” Taskin said. “What we found instead was no association at all and even a suggestion of some protective effect.”

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    Taskin’s research suggests that the coughing fits are a short-term issue that does not appear to have a lasting health impact. “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. The precise amount of time before symptoms resolve after marijuana use is discontinued has not been carefully studied.”

    Another UCLA study, this one from 2013, concludes that “regular smoking of marijuana by itself causes visible and microscopic injury to the large airways that is consistently associated with an increased likelihood of symptoms of chronic bronchitis that subside after cessation of use.”

    What the science tells us at this point is that, yes, many cannabis consumers will cough after a session. And lung irritation will be a side effect for some. But once you quit — or take a hiatus from the herb — your long-term lung function should not be affected. Lungs are highly adaptive organs. More experienced tokers appear to be able to “train” their lungs to hold the smoke better than beginners. For some of us lucky ones, the dreaded toker’s cough is not an issue. But if you suffer from this malady, here are some ways to improve the experience:

    Stop Smoking

    Wait, don’t stop reading! I mean give the bong or pipe a rest and eat your cannabis. Edible marijuana is an option if you just can’t handle the coughing jags. It will take longer to feel the effect and it will stay in your system longer, but your lungs will be happier.

    Take Smaller Hits

    When you cough, your lungs are telling you to back off. Your lungs can only take so much smoke at one time. If you feel your lung capacity is smaller than simply take mini-puffs. Don’t worry: You will still get your dose of THC. It will just be a slower, milder and more enjoyable experience.

    Don’t Hold The Smoke

    I see this a lot. Some smokers feel that holding the smoke in your lungs for long periods of time will get you more high. Wrong. All you are doing is damaging your lungs. The tars present in the combusted plant matter absorb at a slower rate than cannabinoids, so all you are doing is allowing the tar to irritate your lungs.

    Try Vaping

    If smoking is too harsh on your lungs, give vaporization a try. Vaporizers do not combust the plant material, instead gently warming it to a temperature that creates water vapor. It’s a lot easier on your lungs. There are some people who also suffer from bouts of coughing using vaporizers. Once again, try smaller tokes.

    TheFreshToast.com, a US lifestyle site, that contributes lifestyle content and, with their partnership with 600,000 physicians via Skipta, medical marijuana information to The GrowthOp.

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    It’s real and it can be annoying: Here’s how to combat toker’s cough