Your opinion: does holding in smoke make you higher?

Woman sitting and holding a lit joint with lugs and cannabis in the background

The topic of whether or not holding in smoke increases the effects of the cannabis plant is a popular – and divisive – topic among recreational cannabis consumers.
Read on to see what our community of enthusiasts thinks about this burning issue.

If you are a cannabis consumer yourself, take a minute to recall your first encounters with your favourite plant, however long ago that was. While every experience is different, we are somewhat positive you can confirm there was always a divide on the challenging subject of whether or not one should hold in cannabis smoke. You may even still be regularly debating this while partaking with friends!

This is why Sensi Seeds decided to test the waters and asked its Facebook and Instagram communities the following question.

One man holding a smoke in and the other exhaling

The results were eloquent, with almost equal parts of believers, and non-believers. Which side turned out to be right? Check out the different stances below, or skip to The Science to get the 101.


Many of our users were convinced that holding in smoke while consuming cannabis results in a stronger high.

M.T.C. – “It’s always worked for me!”

D.M. – “Holding it in your cheeks, false! Holding smoke in your lungs, depends on your tolerance, absorption rate is increased, true!”

C.V. – “Yes, if doing proper circular breathing with a little amount of smoke in your lungs. You’ll get so much more high, rather than just holding it or exhaling right away.”

Depending on the user, various “optimal” numbers of seconds during which smoke should be held in were reported. On the other hand, everyone from this side of the poll seemed to agree on one thing: however long you choose to do it, holding in smoke supposedly triggers a much more powerful result than when inhaling, and exhaling immediately after.

While we can’t exactly say that this is untrue, the reason why this happens is actually not linked to any kind of increase in cannabinoid intake …


J.IXO – “False. It just gets the lining of your lungs kinda screwed.”

W.A. – “Takes only milliseconds for the good stuff to pass through. Only need to make sure you inhale properly and you will be fine and dandy.”

A.L. – “It doesn’t and that’s not an opinion that is fact. That “higher” feeling you think you’re getting is literally just oxygen deprivation.”

As user A.L. confidently asserts in the above comment … the statement presented by our team was false! And it was never a question of opinion: science has proved it.

Indeed, many studies have been published on the topics of THC absorption, breath holding time, and the impact of cannabis smoke on the lungs. Many of them have been conducted in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which presumably explains why most current smokers seem to have missed the memo.

The Science

E.S.T. – “False false false, if you don’t know this by now you’re ignoring the science.”

When inhaled by way of smoking, cannabinoids are transported to your lungs, where they are absorbed by its millions of alveoli. Via them, in a matter of seconds, they make their way through the bloodstream, and eventually to your brain.

The real question hidden behind the one we opposed to our community is the following: how long does it take for the lungs to absorb cannabinoids?

If quantifying the average smoking experience, 3-5 seconds is the threshold after which a crushing majority of the cannabinoids contained in a puff of smoke are fully absorbed by the lungs.

After that, most elements gaining more exposure from an increased breath holding time would be tar, as well as other lung-damaging compounds, not to mention carcinogenic elements if tobacco is part of the equation. There is evidence that some THC accompanies the aforementioned dangerous items, however, in such small quantities, that the health hazard that the rest of the process represents is far from outweighing this gain.

But don’t take our word for it! Here is a small collection of studies that have addressed the issue throughout the years:

Breathhold duration and response to marijuana smoke – 1989

Response to marijuana as a function of potency and breathhold duration – 1991

Marijuana Smoking: Effects of Varying Puff Volume and Breathhold Duration – 1995

A Cannabis User’s Harm Reduction Handbook –  2001

Effects of varying marijuana smoking profile on deposition of tar and absorption of CO and delta-9-THC – 1991 – 2002

Effects of cannabis on lung function: a population-based cohort study – 2009

Why is everybody confused?

Numerous users have reported from the “True” side, confirming that the “holding in” method has worked wonders for them. This is very understandable, as several things may lead a consumer to think they are succeeding at absorbing more cannabinoids.


R.L. – “I don’t think so. Holding in smoke does not increase the THC intake, all it does is cut off the oxygen to your brain. This makes it seem like you’re higher but that “high” goes away once the oxygen is flowing to your brain again.”

As per mentioned by this user, when holding your breath in order to keep smoke in, you deprive your brain from oxygen. This state of oxygen deficiency is called Hypoxia. After a few seconds, this leads to a particularly convincing rush of “high”, which can be misconstrued as originating from the cannabis being consumed. As we saw earlier, it is partly true that more THC goes into your lungs in this particular situation. However, the amount of it is so slight, it is unlikely to play any part in the rush experienced.


A “ghost hit” is a puff of smoke that is held in until only an insignificant amount of it is left to exhale. To achieve such results, the smoker needs to hold smoke in for several minutes, breathing occasionally from the mouth or nose while actively keeping the smoke in. This is generally achieved via, well, holding one’s breath, or by practicing circular breathing.

This method is especially popular among those who can’t consume cannabis freely, but have easy access to it (such as young adults), and is generally used to conceal the use of cannabis from others.

This may explain why it is considered an integrant part of the average smoker’s experience. Following such intense oxygen deprivation, the “high” experienced, while almost entirely not cannabis-related, is undeniably impressive compared to your run-of-the-mill inhale-exhale puff. Many smokers are tricked into seeking the same level of high every time they smoke, which results in the misplaced but widely popular obsession around the “holding in smoke” technique.


If you are a beginner, or if it simply turns out to be one of these days, it is possible holding smoke in will make you cough violently at some point. Coughing, while not the most optimal method for expanding one’s lungs, does exactly that. This means that following a coughing fit, your lung capacity will increase, thus offering more surface area for cannabinoids to be absorbed.

However, this is most definitely not the recommended way to increase lung capacity. Instead, opt for breathing exercises prior to consuming cannabis, or work on your cardiovascular capacities!

Your fellow community members’ advice

J.T. –“ If you inhale nothing and hold it in for long enough obviously you’ll feel a little high, it’s called oxygen deprivation, this is why people say they feel euphoria when drowning or being chocked, it can also give you brain damage if you’re determined enough.”

J.T. is right, and raises an interesting point: if you are excessively committed to experiencing a stronger “high”, this may eventually lead to dangerous incidents. From there, generally speaking, the advice is: DO NOT hold cannabis smoke in. So what to do instead?

You may recall this article stated earlier that 3-5 seconds is somewhat of a reasonable number to link to the process of cannabinoid absorption. BUT – this does not mean you need to “hold in” the smoke for 3-5 seconds. For one, breath holding time is not the sole parameter at play when it comes to the potential of a high.

J.B. – “Depends on THC potency, very low THC levels will be broken down and absorbed through the lungs almost instantaneously.

No need to hold anything in! Pace yourself, and smoke mindfully. If you’re doing it right, a slow inhale-exhale round should take you approximately 3 seconds.

J.D.B. – “It is not the duration of the holding that makes you higher, just the quantity of smoke inhaled.”

That’s right! Inhale more smoke. This does not mean you should inhale bigger hits. Quite the opposite, actually. Because a big hit is fairly high maintenance, you may end up coughing out half of it, or have to hold it in for a very long time in order to handle it without coughing. Instead, take regular-size puffs, and ensure you are thoroughly, slowly inhaling them. Essentially, just proceed with the usual inhale-exhale, only in a slower manner.

D.A. – “The lungs have limited surface area, holding doesn’t make cannabinoids circulate, but rebreathing does.”

As an alternative, rebreathing has at least the merit of being harmless. Rebreathing consists in exhaling smoke, and inhaling it back immediately after. In other words: taking full advantage of one’s own second hand smoke. However, keep in mind that the amount of cannabinoids present in second hand smoke is fairly low.

We hope you have found valuable advice in this rundown we had the pleasure to offer you, with the help of our beloved followers. Do you have anything else to say? Another study on the topic of breath holding time while consuming cannabis that you would like to share? Tell us in the comments below!

  • Disclaimer:
    Laws and regulations regarding cannabis use differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.


5 thoughts on “Your opinion: does holding in smoke make you higher?”

  1. Well said, I don’t hold it in for nothing. If I blow it out like a cigarette I don’t get high barley. If I hold my smoke a bit not till I pass out 20 second sounds nice I get high. I know what hypoxia and getting high feel like and it’s just a dumb argument for me. I’m not gonna change the way I smoke it. If I hold a cigarette in like pot I’ll be so messed up so saying the lungs can’t keep exchanging gasses or elements is naive. I’m no Dr just straight up doing it practile knowledge

  2. Holding your breath does get you higher, but it is not due to biological reasons, but rather fluid dynamics ones (air and smoke are fluids).

    The smoke from the hit takes time to mix with the air in your lungs. The lungs are actually very efficient at mixing gases, but even so it takes a few seconds for the gases from the hit to fully mix, particularly as smoke is usually many times more dense than air and so doesn’t mix as quickly.

  3. The above discussion indicates holding smoke in is potentially more harmful to the lungs and even brain. I agree. However, you do not discuss vapor, holding it in… no tar etc… What is the content of vapor? Just cannabinoids and maybe terpenes. So if one holds them in what is going to hurt lungs and brain? The content of exhaled vapor must still have significant amounts of cannabinoids, if collected in a vape bag it can be inhaled again. If vapor is held in, why do lungs not continue to absorb the entire time? I don’t think any of the above analysis has taken all variables into account. When I hold my normal breath in for 20 seconds without vapor I do not feel hypoxia, but if I hold vapor in for 20 seconds I do feel more rush than immediate exhale.

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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