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What is hotboxing with cannabis and does it work?

hotboxing a car
Hotboxing a car. (Walenga Stanislav/AdobeStock)

Hotboxing calls to mind a particular scene: Two friends in a parked car, sharing a joint, with all the windows rolled up and the small space filled with smoke.

But using a car to hotbox is only one example, and perhaps it’s the most iconic because of Cheech and Chong’s classic hotboxing scene, or maybe it’s because a car is one of the easiest spaces to hotbox.

What does hotboxing mean?

Hotboxing refers to the act of smoking in a small, unventilated or minimally ventilated space. This could be a car, a closet, a bathroom, a shed, or any small enclosed space.

As smoke is exhaled, it gets trapped in the space and fills the air. Smokers inside the space inhale that secondhand smoke in addition to the smoke from their device.

Why do people hotbox?

People hotbox to get more high. Inhaling secondhand smoke can get you high, though not as much as a direct hit, so hotboxing is like a double dose of weed smoke—you’re inhaling directly from your smoking device and from the smoke in the air.

Some people may only want to get a little high and simply hang out in an area getting hotboxed and not directly smoke.

Hotboxing may also occur simply because you don’t want smoke to leave a certain room, so the space fills up with smoke whether you want to or not.

Other times, hotboxing can be just for fun, for the novelty of seeing how much smoke you can build up in a room by the time a joint or bowl is done.

Does hotboxing get you higher?

In 2015, researchers at John Hopkins University conducted a study on secondhand weed smoke. Six nonsmokers were placed in a small, enclosed, unventilated space, with six smokers.

The smokers were given 10 joints each, and they smoked them over the course of an hour, hotboxing the shared chamber.

In a second setting, the above conditions were repeated, with one big change: ventilation.

In the first setting, without ventilation, the nonsmokers did in fact feel high after sitting in the hotboxed room.

When (and when not) to hotbox

Be mindful of your surroundings—hotboxing a car, even if you don’t drive it after, can still get you in trouble in the eyes of the law.

And of course, be respectful. Cannabis often has a potent smell and hotboxing a space can make its scent stick around for a while. It’s best to not hotbox a room or space that belongs to someone 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 the air becomes too thick, crack a window or step outside for some fresh air.


Rae Lland and Pat Goggins contributed to this work.