friends laughing and sitting in smoky room

What is a Contact High? Understanding Second Hand Cannabis Effects

Have you ever hung out with a group of stoners and tried to stay sober throughout their smoke sesh? It’s not an easy feat to accomplish, and we’re not just talking about being tempted to hit a joint or take a fat rip from the bong. Many claim that spending a lot of time shrouded in cannabis smoke can get you quite stoned, even if you don’t partake in consuming cannabis yourself. 

But is “contact high” actually a real thing, or is it just an illusion some people experience, something that could explain the goofy mood they get into after spending a bunch of time with their baked friends? That’s what we’re going to dive into in this article. Keep reading for an in-depth look at the concept of a contact high. 

“Contact High” Meaning

Contact high refers to the feeling of intoxication you might feel after spending time around people who smoke marijuana around you, without smoking it yourself. While it’s not as strong of a high as you would get when directly consuming cannabis, it can still get you fairly stoned, depending on how much weed was smoked in the room, its potency, and method of consumption. 

However, the truth about contact highs is much more complicated. In fact, the only surefire way to get high from second hand smoke would be if large clouds of weed smoke were blown directly into your face. Otherwise, in order for THC to fully affect your brain via second hand smoke, you’d have to close yourself in a small, poorly ventilated room with smoke from at least 16 joints, smoked one after the other. 

Seeing as this is definitely not the scenario most people have in mind when describing their contact highs, what should we make of these experiences? 

One possible explanation for this phenomenon is purely psychological: as you spend time with your friends, all of whom are high as a kite, with cannabis fumes all around you, your brain can easily be tricked into thinking that you’re high, as well. 

In other words, it’s the placebo effect: since you believe that the copious amounts of second hand smoke are getting you high, you’ll start feeling a buzz, despite the fact that you’re completely sober. 

Effects of Inhaling Second Hand Cannabis Smoke

woman inhaling second hand smoke

Just because an actual contact high is very unlikely, it doesn’t mean that it never occurs. It all depends on the size of the space you’re in, the amount of weed smoked, its potency, and your tolerance. 

For example, if you and your buddies are hotboxing a fully-packed five-seat car with top-shelf weed, chances are that you’re going to catch a bit of that second hand THC and develop a small buzz yourself. The same goes for smoke sessions that take place over long hours in small rooms with zero ventilation. 

So what exactly are the effects of a secondhand high? If you’re a regular smoker, you’re surely familiar with them: it’s basically the same thing as a normal high, but much milder. If you’re planning to work or drive after hanging around cannabis smoke for a while, be mindful of the following undesirable side effects of weed

  • Slower reaction times, 
  • Dizziness, 
  • Lethargy. 

These can impair your ability to control vehicles and concentrate on demanding work assignments. While the likelihood of catching a contact high is very low, we’d advise you to err on the side of caution and avoid small, smokey rooms until you know you won’t have to drive or work later on. Otherwise, make sure that the space you’re in is properly ventilated – it will reduce your chances of getting high to near zero. 

Can You Test Positive From Secondhand Weed Smoke?

As we discussed above, most instances of a contact high are purely psychological in nature. This means that THC will not be detected in your body by a blood, urine, or hair test, provided that you haven’t actually smoked in the weeks preceding it. 

Of course, there are rare occasions where you do run the risk of getting high from secondhand smoke, like the aforementioned hotbox situations. In these cases, THC actually enters your bloodstream, and you might fail a drug test that was done in the 1-2 days after the smoke sesh. Bear in mind that its concentration will still be much lower than in the people who did the smoking. 

If you’re anxious about an upcoming drug test and suspect that you might have gotten high off of secondhand marijuana smoke, test yourself with an over-the-counter urine test. That should put your mind at ease and let you know where you stand before the actual, medical-grade test you’re about to have. 

Is Secondhand Cannabis Smoke as Dangerous as Tobacco Smoke? 

The impact of secondhand weed smoke on a person’s lungs hasn’t been extensively studied as of writing this article, but a few studies have examined the correlation between inhaling it and lung function. 

A 2016 rat experiment published in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that even as little as one minute of secondhand weed smoke inhalation could have an effect on your lungs for up to 90 minutes. 

When it comes to the toxicity of the smoke itself, it does expose you to many of the same harmful chemicals that are present in tobacco smoke. However, cigarettes contain far more of them than joints (provided that they do not contain any tobacco, of course). 

To sum it up, secondhand smoke from both tobacco and marijuana are harmful to your lungs. However, the former is much more toxic than the latter, so if you were forced to choose, finding yourself in a room filled with weed fumes would be less damaging than being stuck in one that’s full of cigarette smoke. 

The Bottom Line

Contact high is a real thing, but it’s definitely over-reported and misunderstood by many weed enthusiasts. The whole ritual of smoking in a group is an experience that brings a lot of joy in and of itself, which is why many non-smokers who end up having a great time in a cloudy room full of potheads suspect getting intoxicated by secondhand smoke. In most cases, however, their state of mind is the work of the placebo effect, not an actual physiological reaction to THC. 

With that said, you can get a contact high on rare occasions, so if you’re particularly worried about THC showing up in your bloodstream, it’s best to avoid coming in contact with it altogether.

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