Can I Get High from Secondhand Smoke?

Man Smoking Secondhand Smoke
Photo by: andrey olenik/Shutterstock

You can’t always believe what you hear. Cannabis culture is full of myths. That is how marijuana’s reputation has spread over the years: stories, which may or may not be true, ignite and leave behind an ashy residue of vague distrust. They can be fun, historic, or straight-up cool, though not always true. They spark whimsy, though not usually insight. Can you get high from eating raw weed? Probably not. Did George Washington grow hemp in his back yard? It is plausible. (But probably not true.)

Many people ask me, “Can I get high from secondhand smoke?” Chances are, it is super unlikely.

Contact high is a concept that is reinforced all over the place. At concerts, teenagers worry that they got a little high from the clouds above. Couples do the nauseating party trick where one of them takes a large hit before exhaling into their partner’s mouth (fondly referred to as “shotgunning”), and both of them look a little more hazed afterward. Eyes turn red after wandering around smoke-filled rooms. Most people have an anecdotal quip and about the time they got high, even though they hadn’t even touched a joint.

Research suggests, however, that getting high from secondhand smoke has to be intentional. Like the pair lovingly blowing air directly into each other’s lungs, it has to be a pretty purposeful interaction with smoke. This is because of how THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that generates the high) is processed in your body: when you hold the marijuana smoke in your lungs for a few moments, only a small amount of THC is inhaled. And that happens when your entire mouth is filled with smoke, very directly.

Mind Control

Retro Brain Diagram
Photo by: slonme/Shutterstock
But, but, but… what about all the stories? According to an article featured in Business Insider, sometimes a secondhand high is the creation of the mind. Professor of Pharmacology and Medical College of Wisconsin’s Neuroscience Research Center Director Cecilia J. Hillard believes that “contact high is merely a function of placebo, a purely psychological phenomenon.”

Chances are, the stories are not made up, they are just a product of the mind’s power to create scenarios and experiences that are not necessarily legitimate.

It is possible, though.

Naturally, it would take a lot of secondhand smoke to get you high. A 2010 study tested it out; volunteers spent three hours exposed to cannabis smoke in a coffee shop in the Netherlands. Blood and urine samples were tested before and after the exchange, specifically looking for changes in THC levels. In the end, the exposure led to very insignificant amounts of THC absorbed in their bodies. Walking through a hazy fog probably won’t do the trick.

However, contact highs can occur in extreme scenarios. Hot Boxing exists for a reason, right? Another two studies, recorded in The Journal of Analytical Toxicology and Drug and Alcohol Dependence, reflect the findings from John Hopkins University regarding secondhand marijuana smoke. In this scenario, the test subjects walked away with a definite contact high.

The conditions were, again, extreme: the volunteers sat in an unventilated room with six cannabis smokers who went to work on potent cannabis cigarettes. You can bet the non-smokers walked out of the study feeling as though they had smoked a giant bowl; though they felt the feelings associated with being high, neither their urine nor blood showed an increase in THC.

Risky Business

Secondhand smoke comes with its own set of risks. As seen with cigarette smoke, respiratory and other major health issues can stem from nearly any amount of exposure. And while there are large differences between cigarette and cannabis smoke (namely nicotine and cannabinoids), chemicals found in blunts or tobacco papers could produce unhealthy traces in the air. It is always wise to be careful, especially when children, the elderly, pets, and those sensitive to airborne pathogens are around.

Concerns about getting a contact high can also be tied to drug tests, particularly if you happen to walk through a cloud of smoke and accidentally ingest a giant whiff. Have a job interview? Does your employer require routing urine testing? Usually, there is no need to worry.

Stay Calm

Similarly to getting high from secondhand smoke, the chances of THC showing up in your body are slim to none. Two major factors come into play: amount and time. If a week has passed since your lungs were exposed to a small amount of smoke, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Failing a drug test would probably only happen if an extremely large amount of cannabis smoke was swallowed directly before the drug test. Again, think back to intentional inhalation versus passive.

However, if concerns prevail, drinking plenty of water and exercising can help to eliminate the traces of THC in your body. Burn, baby, burn.

Remember: you don’t have to face cannabis myths alone. While you can’t depend on secondhand smoke to get you high, you can count on Leafbuyer for the answers.