Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 13, 2023

Smoking weed is a great way to enjoy the fruits of the cannabis plant, but marijuana smokers are all too familiar with the throat irritation that comes with it. As a primary way of weed consumption, most people get acquainted with the cannabis plant through toking, and stick with it. It’s not just the flavor and the skunky aroma, it’s also the ritual of it.

However, we need to talk about the coughing caused by smoking weed as it’s a very common occurrence among tokers. Why exactly weed makes you cough and what you can do about it are the main topics of today’s article.

Is Smoking Cannabis Bad for the Respiratory System?

Cannabis is known for both its recreational and health effects, thanks to the cannabinoids and terpenes found in its chemical structure, but users often wonder if smoking cannabis can undermine all the benefits.

There have been many questions and debates about the effects of cannabis smoke on the respiratory system (lung health, especially) but even after many decades, there still isn’t a consensus.

And while we do know that tobacco smoke is a well-known irritant to throat and lung health because there are so many studies that confirm it, there are still mixed results about marijuana smoke. 

What We Know About Marijuana Smoke and Respiratory Health

Even though the effects of marijuana smoke on the respiratory system have been studied (though not enough), the results have been mixed. However, we have gained some overall insight into how it affects the throat and lungs.

Marijuana smoke isn’t completely harmless. It contains many of the same irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke, including tar and carbon monoxide that could increase the risk of developing lung disease. But how big is this risk?

Different studies have come back with different results. So far, we know that the risk of developing COPD, a common complication of cigarette smoking, is low with cannabis smoking

On the other hand, smoking marijuana is very commonly associated with microscopic injuries to the large airways, chronic cough and increased phlegm production, and chronic bronchitis. (Owen et al, 2014) Some of these symptoms may resolve with ceasing to smoke weed.

However, so far it hasn’t been found that smoking weed increases the risk of developing lung cancer. (Tashkin, 2013)

All in all, there is still a lot left to discover, but for now, let’s focus on one common occurrence due to smoking weed, and that is coughing.

Why Does Smoking Weed Make You Cough?

It’s not fun when your smoking sesh is being constantly interrupted by a coughing fit, but it happens. Coughing is, in fact, the body’s own way of expelling irritants. It’s a protective and defensive mechanism for the bronchial tubes to get rid of the potential source of discomfort.

For some users it happens more often than others, depending on their sensitivity to cannabis smoke. This is one reason why someone may cough when they toke.

The other reason is an obvious one. You might think that weed makes you cough because of some of the active ingredients, but in reality, it’s simply because you’re inhaling the smoke of burning herbs.

When you smoke, weed burns at very high temperatures, which also produces very hot smoke. Add to that the fact that the smoke contains irritants, and it’s obvious why it would make you cough. However, as we said, some people are more sensitive than others, while some may develop sensitivity with time and/or increased use.

Finally, there is one more factor to add to the mix, and that is strain quality. In general, low-quality strains may contain pesticides that are not only irritating but also harmful to inhale. Dank and organically grown weed is always much smoother in comparison. You don’t need to break the bank for the dank, though. Mids can be just as good, or any weed that looks and smells fresh.

Tips on How to Reduce Coughing When Smoking Marijuana 

There are some tips worth trying to stop coughing (or cough less) when you smoke weed. 

Let’s see what you can do.

Take a Break From Smoking Weed

Sometimes, all you need might be taking a break from smoking weed. But we don’t mean taking a break from cannabis use, just from smoking. Opt for other ways to consume weed, whichever you prefer, and give it at least two weeks so your symptoms can improve. Many times, the issue can be resolved by itself, but in cases when it doesn’t, you can try a different approach.

Avoid Smoking Reggie Weed or Dry Weed

We already touched on this, but we’ll reiterate again – if you’re prone to coughing when toking, avoid reggie. Even though it has its own charm, reggie is by default low-quality weed and it’s often dry as a bone. On that note, skip using dry weed too, and either rehydrate it or bake it instead of smoking it.

Sip on Water

Sipping on water during your toking sessions is always recommended to combat dry mouth, but even more so when you tend to cough. When your throat is moist enough it’ll prevent the smoke from drying it out too much, making the tokes much less irritating.

Don’t Hold the Smoke

The belief that the longer you hold the smoke the higher you’ll get is totally wrong. Keeping that hot smoke inside is incredibly irritating and it doesn’t influence THC’s abilities to get you high at all. Don’t force your unique lung capacity to perform beyond its limits as it’ll only make you cough and ruin your toking session.

Inhale and Exhale Gently

Now, you may underestimate the toking technique but don’t, because it’s important. Not forcing the smoke into your lungs will make it much easier on the throat. Just inhale and exhale gently and let the smoke graze your throat to avoid irritation. 

Take Smaller Hits

Taking smaller hits may be a more effective technique because you’re lessening the burden on your throat. You’ll be able to inhale the hit of smoke better and easier with little aggravation. 

Try Using a Percolated Bong or a Bubbler

Upgrading your bong with a percolator or investing in a new percolated bong, or even switching to a bubbler can prove to be very good. Percolated bongs and bubblers filter and cool down the smoke, which makes it so much smoother. Many of the impurities remain in the water, making it slightly less aggravating, and the cooler temperature of the smoke will feel much more pleasant.

Switch to Vaping

Alternatively, you can switch to vaping because it doesn’t even combust the weed, to begin with. The vaporization process means that the cannabis buds are heated to a temperature below combustion which releases the THC and CBD more efficiently than smoking, and the vapor isn’t as hot. Vaporizers can be an investment, but if you decide to vape instead of smoke, it can be worth it.

If All Else Fails, Consume Edibles

Finally, if none of the methods above work, then just try edibles. There is such a variety of edibles on the market – starting from capsules, which you don’t even have to eat but only swallow, to some more fun products, such as brownies, candies, gummies, sticks, chocolates, etc. You can also try tinctures, which are more readily absorbed than edibles.

Bottom Line

Smoking weed can often cause coughing fits in marijuana smokers( which can really ruin the mood). And indeed, marijuana smoke contains many irritants similar to those found in tobacco smoke, so no wonder it’s aggravating sometimes. The main reason why smoking weed makes you cough is a combination of a person’s own sensitivity to smoke and the fact that the smoke is very hot and contains chemicals.

In order to reduce coughing when you toke, you don’t have to give up cannabis use, maybe just smoking weed (if it gets really bad). But in all other cases, maybe some of the tips we gave you could work for you!

Additional Sources

Owen KP, Sutter ME, Albertson TE. Marijuana: respiratory tract effects. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2014;46(1):65-81. doi:10.1007/s12016-013-8374-y

Tashkin D. P. (2013). Effects of marijuana smoking on the lung. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 10(3), 239–247. https://doi.org/10.1513/AnnalsATS.201212-127FR

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.