Why holding in your hoots is hurting more than helping.

Since the time we are introduced to cannabis, we're likely told to hold in our hoots to increase the intensity of the high. Our whole lives we’ve likely held onto that notion, believing in its effects to enhance the quality of our euphoria. Well, we hate to burst your bubble, but this anecdotal evidence is not conclusive and could very likely be injuring your lungs.

The science

The Journal of Psychopharmacology was able to demonstrate that the response to marijuana was not dependent on the duration of your breath-hold. The team of Zachny and Chait exposed subjects to three breath-hold duration conditions (0, 10 and 20 seconds) on three occasions. They kept the number of inhalations, puff volume and post-puff inhalation constant. Typical marijuana effects (increased heart rate, increased ratings of “high” and impaired memory performance) were observed under each of the breath-hold conditions, but there was little evidence that response to marijuana was a function of breath-hold duration. Holding your breath for twice as long doesn’t get you twice as high. There are diminishing returns. Holding for 10 seconds will get you higher than not holding your breath at all. But holding it for 20 will not get you twice as high. Wrong.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that their “findings cast doubt on the common belief that prolonged breath-holding of marijuana smoke significantly enhances the classical subjective effects” (the high). Their article in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics also showed that the total smoke inhaled is a better predictor of the high than the total volume. Taking overly large inhalations and holding them for as long as possible isn’t getting more THC into your body. Smaller more controlled puffs held for a moderate amount of time end up working in your favour.

So, why have we been doing this for so long without anything to prove it works? This research has existed for over almost 30 years. With past cannabis prohibition, word of mouth won over science. When certain ways of doing things are reinforced for so long, they become the norm despite the facts.

So, what should you do instead?

Simple, inhale and exhale normally! Cannabinoids are absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs easily and keeping smoke in your lungs could increase the risk of lung damage through something called pneumothorax (a medical emergency that could put you in the hospital). Take reasonable breaths and don’t hold on to them. Protect your lungs!

 

Zacny, J.P., Chait, L. D. Breathhold duration and response to marijuana smoke. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 1989; 33(2):481-4.

Azorlosa, J. L., Greenwald, M. K., Stitzer, M. L. Marijuana Smoking: Effects of Varying Puff Volume and Breathhold Duration. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 1995; 257:560-569.

Avinash, A., Donald, C., and Doe, S. Breath-holding in a marijuana smoker. Respiratory Medicine Case Reports. 2012; 5: 69–72.