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Why Do Smokers Cough So Much in Movies, and What Does It Say About Cannabis in the U.S.?

You have questions. Mother Knows Best has answers.

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Hi Mumma Weed,

Why is it that in American stoner flicks people always cough when they smoke good weed? This confuses me ’cause I am from across the pond—i.e. the UK—and in ol’ blighty we only ever cough if the weed is really bad. Being a stoner, I have discussed this at length with other stoners and the general consensus is that the weed in America is crap compared to the weed in the Queen’s country. Basically all you can get in America is crap weed, so Americans think that coughing is normal.

So, why is it that Americans cough a lot when smoking weed?

Eternally high,



Dear Scooby,

I totally get where you are coming from. If you watch American movies, they do show folks having massive coughing fits after taking a rip off the old bong or smoking a spliff. So, kudos for your keen eye while catching up on your Netflix.

The whole smoke-and-cough thing is actually based on stereotypes of what folks imagine stoners to be like. A lot of the time, these scenes feature people who are getting high for their first time, so they tend to overdo it on the coughing, the idea being that a total newbie has no idea how much to inhale on a first bong rip and then bursts into a fit of coughs. Also, a lot of the time a pot-smoking scene is there for humor, and a big old coughing fit plays into that.

In reality, Americans don’t cough more than Brits or Europeans do in general. Granted, I’m not aware of any hard studies that will back me up when I say that, but then again, I’m not aware of any that disprove me, so….

As legalization has spread, American cannabis has become pretty amazing, so we can’t fault crappy weed for all the coughing in movies, but regardless of the strain or starting quality of your marijuana—or which side of the pond you’re on—there are some things that you can do to cough less, if that is an issue:

Take smaller hits. That sounds like an obvious solution, but you'd be surprised how many people take huge hits thinking it will get them high faster. Smaller hits are just fine and can prevent a massive coughing fit.

Pop some ice in your bong water. This will make your pull incredibly smooth, decreasing the likelihood of coughing.

Vaporize! Vaping will certainly decrease the chances of coughing fits as you’re inhaling vapor instead of irritating smoke.

Of course, there are also those who prefer coughing when they smoke, because when you do, you’re actually opening up more of your lungs, allowing the THC to be more easily absorbed into your system. Just keep in mind that you’re also allowing any harsh irritants or pollutants into your lungs at a higher rate as well.

— Mother

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