Navigate to our accessibility widget

Saturday November 27, 2021

By Paul Barach

Reviewed By Joshua Hooten, M.D. on Tuesday February 15, 2022

Someone holding in their marijuana hit Education

Does holding in smoke get you higher? According to the friends that you started smoking weed with, totally. And why not? It makes sense. The more time the smoke hangs out in your lungs, more of it gets absorbed. After all, the longer you hold it in, the higher you feel, right?

Unfortunately, this is one of those weed myths that gets spread around by novice smokers, especially ones who are practicing this method already. That’s why PotGuide is here to bust that myth, and fill you in on what really affects how high you get when you take a hit. 

Why Holding in Your Hit Makes You Feel High

First off, holding on to a lungful of smoke can make you feel higher. However, this has nothing to do with how much THC is getting absorbed into your lungs. Holding your breath deprives your brain of oxygen, which can make you feel light-headed.

More importantly, it increases the amount of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream. Carbon dioxide is a powerful hypnotic. Add some THC into the mix, and you may feel an extra initial headrush, but it’s not going to lead to a lasting, better high.

When it comes to the quality and intensity of your experience, what matters isn’t just the amount of time a hit spends in your lungs, but the bioavailability of the product you’re consuming.

What is Bioavailability?

When figuring out how long you should hold in your hit, the most important consideration is the product and method of consumption. The absorption of cannabinoids differs depending on what and how you’re consuming. The reason for that is the bioavailability of THC varies from product to product. 

Someone smoking a joint
Smoking a joint has a much higher bioavailability than edibles, yielding quicker effects.

Bioavailability is a percentage. It is the amount of a chemical compound in your body that is ready to be used versus how much you consumed. How easily and quickly molecular compounds are absorbed into the body’s organs and tissues directly effects its bioavailability.

When you take a hit, ingest an edible, or slap on a patch, each method’s bioavailability affects how much THC will transfer from the product into your bloodstream and eventually your brain/central nervous system. 

Bioavailability of Different Methods of Consumption

Smoking cannabis flower has a bioavailability of around 30% according to a 2007 study published in the journal of Chemical Biodiversity. That is to say, for every puff of cannabis smoke, whether it’s a low-THC strain like ACDC or some high-test bud Sour Diesel, only 30% of that THC is going to be absorbed before you exhale.

Concentrates, on the other hand, have a much higher bioavailability than smoked flower. This makes sense, since all that THC has been...well, concentrated. Some concentrates can max out above 90% THC, and have over twice the bioavailability as flower. According to a 2019 study, when inhaling vaporized concentrates, the bioavailability of cannabinoids rose to just over 75%.

Just for reference, edibles have somewhere between 4-20% bioavailable THC according to that same study. However, those molecules will have been broken down into a much smaller and more effective form of THC, 11-hydroxy-THC, which is why edibles can be so potent. 

So, when it comes to cannabis, the greater bioavailability in the product, the less you’ll need to consume to get the same results.

So Should I Hold in My Hit at All?

An often referenced but seemingly impossible to source Australians study claims that 95% of bioavailable cannabinoids are absorbed within the first few seconds. While this claim remains at minimum unverified and at worst made up, we can still assume that holding in your hit doesn’t do much to increase bioavailability, the same way that holding your breath for longer periods of time doesn’t supply you with more oxygen.

Imagine for a second, your lungs are a balloon. Blow smoke into that balloon. How much of the smoke is even touching the inside surface? Only the smoke that touches the inside surface will be absorbed. That is why vaporized concentrates have so much higher bioavailability.

Someone exhaling smoke
Holding in your hit longer may result in the absorption of more unwanted chemicals. photo credit

What holding in your hit does is give your lungs time to absorb the around 88% of non-cannabinoid elements contained in cannabis smoke. That means more tar, more carbonized plant shreds, and more chemicals. Not the stuff you want around delicate lung tissues. Over time, this can create problems for your lungs and your heart.

As for holding in a dab rip or pull off a vape pen longer, there are still traces of chemicals that you don’t want getting absorbed if you can help it (especially if you’re taking a high-temp dab), so you should probably just let that puff of vapor go too.

For maximum efficiency, consider your consumption method more than how long to hold your hit, a few seconds should be enough.

Inhale Deeper

While holding in your hit for a long time won’t do much to improve your smoking experience (besides that head rush from lack of oxygen), inhaling deeper will make a difference.

There’s a maximum limit to how much THC and other cannabinoids each square inch of lung tissue can pass along to your bloodstream. However, by breathing deeper, you expose more surface area of your lung tissue to the smoke. That means more THC absorbed overall.

When it comes to how long you should hold in a hit, there’s no scientific studies to turn to (yet). Just a couple of seconds should do the trick. It would be safer and increase the bioavailability to take smaller hits and then take a deep breath. This increases the lung surface area and gets a higher amount of the inhaled smoke to your lung surface. This may actually save you a few hits in the long run, and will prevent extra substances from staying in your lungs.

The Wrap Up

If you’re looking to get the most out of each lungful of cannabis, choose a method with a high bioavailability like dabbing. After you take a hit, take the deepest comfortable breath you can to maximize your available lung space, then exhale after a couple seconds. Also, multiple smaller hits may be more effective than a single large inhalation.

Or, simply find the method that gets you where you want to be. Do some experimentation, but getting the highest that you can isn’t the only goal of smoking weed. It’s getting to the best place possible and all the benefits that come with that. 

How long do you hold in your hit? Have you noticed a difference? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credit: Chuck Grimmett (license)


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.

More From This Author

Expert Medical Reviewer

Joshua Hooten, M.D. Joshua Hooten, M.D.

Dr. Hooten is a research physician in new therapeutics with a special focus on psychiatric diseases. He received his MD from the University of Queensland in Australia (where he maintains close ties with the medical cannabis community) and a clinical certificate from Ochsner Clinical School in New Orleans. He is passionate about advancing medicine, and he sees great potential in Psychedelics and Cannabis.

More From This Author

Related Articles