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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.

Is It Safe to Smoke Weed If You Have a Cold or the Flu?

The safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products still aren’t well known. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes and other vaping products . We’re closely monitoring the situation and will update our content as soon as more information is available.

There isn’t any evidence that smoking weed while you have a cough, cold, or the flu is inherently unsafe. But does it make sense?

If your throat and lungs are already irritated, smoking may exacerbate your discomfort. Smoking weed has short- and long-term effects on lung and respiratory function.

You may also find that your body responds differently to weed when you’re sick. Both smoking weed and common illnesses such as the flu can cause fatigue, chills, and headaches. You may feel these effects more intensely when you’re sick.

If you already smoke weed on a regular basis, doing so while you’re sick probably won’t have a drastic impact on your symptoms. Still, you should proceed with caution. This probably isn’t the time to experiment with new dosages and strains.

You should also keep in mind that you can spread your illness to others by sharing a joint, bowl, or bong.

Read on to learn more.

At this time, there isn’t any available research on smoking weed while sick with the cold or flu. Research exploring the use of weed for medicinal purposes is still extremely limited.

Although there may be benefits to smoking weed while sick, it’s unclear if they outweigh the potential negative effects.

Anti-inflammatory

According to a comprehensive 2017 review , there’s evidence that weed smoke has anti-inflammatory properties.

Inflammation plays a role in a number of cold and flu symptoms, including:

  • sore throat
  • swollen nasal passageways
  • fever

Weed’s anti-inflammatory properties might help relieve some of these symptoms, but more research needs to be done to understand the exact benefits.

Pain relief

The same 2017 review concludes that weed is an effective treatment for chronic pain among adults.

Chronic pain is ongoing. It’s different than the acute aches and pains caused by a cold or the flu.

Still, it’s possible that smoking weed could help relieve pain associated with short-term illnesses such as a cold or the flu.

Sleep aid

A 2017 review of research on cannabis and sleep indicates that weed’s active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), may help sleep in the short term.

Given this, smoking weed might help you sleep, but when you’re sick with a cold or the flu your sleep cycle might already be altered.

However, long-term weed use is associated with tolerance to the drug’s sleep-inducing effects. In other words, if you’re a regular user, weed might not be as effective in helping you sleep.

Although there’s no serious risk, combining weed with OTC cold and flu medications that have sedative effects, such as NyQuil, can intensify drowsiness and affect cognitive function. You may find it more difficult to concentrate or make decisions.

Can smoking or ingesting marijuana while taking OTC medications for cold and flu result in any adverse effects?

Marijuana should be used with caution while taking OTC medications for cold and flu. Some OTC remedies alter how the body processes the psychoactive components of marijuana, which may lead to an accumulation of excess effects.

Additionally, many OTC options have dry mouth, sedation, confusion, blurry vision, heart rate alterations, and loss of balance as typical side effects in susceptible users; marijuana consumption may lead to worsening of these effects.

To avoid risk of adverse effect, wait to use marijuana (if an occasional or rare user) or do not increase your typical dose consumed (if a routine user) if you require OTC cold or flu medications.

Daniel Murrell, MD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Remember, there hasn’t been any research on weed use while sick with a cough, cold, or flu. In addition, studies on the use of weed for medicinal purposes are limited.

There’s moderate evidence that smoking weed can lead to the following side effects, but this list may not be complete due to the lack of research.

Worsened cough

According to a 2017 review , smoking weed in the long term is associated with a chronic cough and excess phlegm production.

If you’re sick with a cough, cold, or flu, smoking weed could make your respiratory symptoms worse. This is because weed smoke irritates the throat and airways.

Other routes of administration, such as vaping, generally don’t have the same effect on the respiratory system.

Dizziness

Dizziness is a common side effect of both inhaling and ingesting cannabis. Cannabis use can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure that may leave you feeling faint or light-headed.

If you already feel weak or dizzy while sick with a cough, cold, or flu, weed could make it worse.

If you’re a regular user, you may be able to minimize dizziness by decreasing your dosage.

Stomach pain

Inhaling or ingesting cannabis activates cannabinoid receptors in the gastrointestinal system. This can cause a variety of effects, including stomach pain and inflammation.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a rare condition linked to long-term cannabis use, causes severe stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.

Weed use could exacerbate stomach symptoms caused by a cold or the flu, especially if you tend to experience stomach pain when you use weed. You may be able to minimize these effects by decreasing your dosage.

There isn't any evidence that smoking weed while you have a cough, cold, or the flu is inherently unsafe. But if your throat is already irritated, smoking may feel uncomfortable. Your body may also respond differently to weed while you’re sick. Here's what you should know about toking, vaping, edibles, and more.