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What is hotboxing with cannabis and does it work?

April 2, 2020
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Hotboxing. It’s a common cannabis colloquialism that calls to mind a particular scene: You’re in a parked car sharing a joint with a friend; all the windows are rolled up and slowly but surely, the small enclosed space begins to fill with smoke.

Using a car is only one example of how people like to hotbox, but it’s certainly the most iconic. Perhaps it’s because of Cheech and Chong’s classic, comical hotboxing scene, or maybe it’s simply because a car is one of the easiest common spaces to hotbox.

Whatever the reason, it serves as an appropriate example of exactly what hotboxing is and how it’s done. Seems straightforward enough—but there’s more to know.

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What does hotboxing mean?

Hotboxing refers to the act of smoking in a small, unventilated or minimally ventilated space. This could be a car, as previously mentioned, or it could be a bathroom, a shed, or any small enclosed space. The smoke becomes trapped as it is exhaled and fills the air, often creating big clouds of smoke that billow out of the space when exited.

Why do people hotbox?

The answer to this varies. For some, it may simply be a matter of convenience. It could be that the only appropriate place to smoke at the time is in a certain room, and people are trying to keep the smoke contained so it doesn’t smell up the rest of an area.

Other times, it can just be for fun, or the novelty of seeing how much smoke builds up by the time a joint is finished.

Most commonly, however, people hotbox to try and get more high. After all, it seems to make some sort of sense, doesn’t it? Surely sitting in a cloud of cannabis smoke is a good way to inhale and absorb more smoke and additional cannabinoids right? Let’s look at some research to answer this question.

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Does hotboxing get you higher?

In 2015, researchers at John Hopkins University conducted a study on contact highs, and in doing so they studied the effects of hotboxing. In the first setting, six smokers and six nonsmokers entered a small, enclosed, unventilated space. The smokers were given 10 joints each, and proceeded to smoke over the course of an hour, effectively hotboxing the shared chamber. Researchers reported that, “the chamber was visibly very smoky during the unventilated session (became difficult to see through to the opposing wall clearly).”

Researchers did not find a difference in cannabinoid levels in smokers when they hotboxed and when they smoked in a normally ventilated room.

In the second setting, they repeated these conditions, with only one change: ventilation. As you can imagine, in the first setting, under these extreme conditions with no ventilation, the nonsmokers did in fact feel high after sitting in the hotboxed room. But what about the smokers? Did hotboxing get them any higher than usual?

Researchers compared the results of the same individual smokers who participated in both the first and second experiment. “Data from active smokers who participated in multiple sessions were analyzed together and are presented together because their levels of cannabinoid exposure did not significantly differ as a function of room ventilation,” they wrote.

Meaning? Researchers did not find a difference in cannabinoid levels in smokers when they hotboxed and when they smoked in a normally ventilated room.

When (and when not) to hotbox

So maybe hotboxing doesn’t necessarily get you higher, as research thus far seems to suggest, but that doesn’t mean smokers won’t still enjoy doing it. Just remember to be mindful of your surroundings—hotboxing a stationary car (that you don’t intend to drive after) is all well and good, but not if it puts you at risk of legal trouble.

And of course, be respectful. We all know cannabis has a rather potent smell, and hotboxing has a way of making that scent stick around for a while. As such, it’s probably best not to hotbox in rooms or spaces that belong to people who wouldn’t appreciate the activity.

Finally, keep in mind that oxygen is your friend—keep it at reasonable levels to avoid feeling lightheaded or woozy. If it starts to become too much, crack a window or step outside to take a breath of fresh air.

Rae Lland's Bio Image

Rae Lland

Rae Lland is a freelance writer, journalist, and former editor for Weedist and The Leaf Online. With a focus on culture, music, health, and wellness, in addition to her work for Leafly, she has also been featured in numerous online cannabis publications as well as print editions of Cannabis Now Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @rae.lland

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