Don’t Hold Your Breath

Author: Heather Allman

Don’t hold it in! 

The idea that holding in your smoke hit makes you higher is probably the biggest misconception in cannabis culture. It has been proven that absorption of THC in the lungs occurs within milliseconds of inhalation. It was most likely was orginally a stoner’s idea. 

To start out debunking the myth and setting the record straight on not holding your breath in as long as you can after hitting an inhaled cannabis product, I read my first agreement article in Debunking The Myth Of Holding A Hit Of Marijuana from January 2018:

Surely you have witnessed this numerous times. Maybe you even do it yourself. Firing up a joint, taking a few hits, you proceed to pass the joint along to your friends while holding the hit in.

It is the standard no-cost approach to getting higher, right? Hold the smoke in for longer, and the body will have extra time to absorb more THC through the lung’s alveoli. Unfortunately, despite the apparent logical reasoning behind this notion, this theory does not hold up.

If you still think you get higher by holding your cannabis hit longer, try holding your breath just as long and see how you feel.

If you hold your breath, you will feel light headed and  slightly dizzy after you hold smoke in for as long as you can. It might feel like a head rush like you get from standing up too quickly, but what is really going on is you are depriving oxygen content to your brain, making you feel more lightheaded and heady.

Add carbon monoxide and toxins from combustion to the mix, or decarboxylation, and your brain headiness is prolonged and more intense. 

To explain the science behind the debunking of this theory, I turned to its second agreement article on Do you get higher when holding hits longer? from June 2019:

Inhale normally, wait three seconds, then exhale. That’s all you need, and here’s why:


How your lungs workYour lungs contain little air sacs called alveoli. When you inhale, the alveoli immediately grab oxygen, THC and other chemicals (CBD, CBN, other cannabinoids) out the incoming air and transfer them to your bloodstream. From there, these tiny molecules travel throughout your body and to your brain. That’s how you get high. Nicotine from cigarettes works the same way.

Because your lungs start to absorb any available THC instantly, there’s no delay in chemical transfer. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that even the healthiest lungs aren’t all that efficient.

These organs were designed to take oxygen in and let carbon dioxide out – not get you high. For that reason, they only exchange about 5% of the oxygen and other gases your body can hold during a single inhale/exhale cycle.

That means no matter how much smoke you breathe in and how long you hold it, your body’s only going to absorb a limited amount from a single toke.

This opinion —to not hold smoke in— has its third agreement article from August 23, 2019 in Does Holding in Smoke Get You Higher?: “The reality is your lungs can only hold so much — 5-6 ml of oxygen per minute. And studies indicate the majority (95%) of the  THC in cannabis is absorbed within the first few seconds after inhaling.

So, whether you hold your hits for three or thirteen seconds, whether you breathe super deep or not, there’s only so much your lungs can take. The limit does actually exist.”

A 1997 study determined that our lungs can only take in 5-6 ml oxygen per minute, to be exact.

In addition, Australian studies indicate that nearly 95% of the THC in cannabis is absorbed within the first few seconds of inhaling. So, no matter how deep you breathe or how long you hold, there is a scientific, biological limit.

Final agreement opinion can be found in Does holding in smoke make you higher? from Sensi Seeds on March 11, 2020. This insightful piece tackles this popular, heated debate among cannabis consumers. 

What will get you higher? According to the Canna, the following advice is offered: 

Getting higher isn’t rocket science. It’s simple. Here are a few ways you can get a stronger buzz:

  1. Take more total puffs but don’t try to breathe so deep you bust a lung. And, don’t hold your breath. This way, you’ll pass more total smoke and more THC through your system in the same amount of time.
  2. Smoke something stronger. Either lace your regular weed with kief or try dabbing. Concentrates have way more THC per hit than dried flowers.
  3. Eat a mango. That’s right – a mango. This tropical fruit contains myrcene, a terpene that’s also found in some strains of marijuana. This aromatic chemical enhances THC and helps it get you higher. Plus, they’re delicious!

Your natural impulse is to breathe out and back in after every inhalation of a cannabis product. Don’t fight that impulse and protect your lungs and brain. 

Inhale your cannabis product as usual, hold 2-3 seconds –or a normal breath cycle. Exhale. Breath in fresh oxygen. Don’t hold your breath.

The formula is quite simple in actuality. The more hits you take of your desired cannabis product, the higher you will get. Holding your breath has nothing to do with anandamide, the “bliss molecule” that makes you feel euphoric, so again: don’t hold your THC breath.


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