Contrary to the old saying, you don't have to cough to get off: in fact, holding in marijuana smoke until you're forced to talk in a weird, super-quick cadence, then bust your lungs hacking for 20 minutes, is doing you more harm than good.

While cannabis smoke is way better than, say, tobacco smoke, excessive, prolonged coughing is still a sign you're irritating the delicate mucous membranes in your lungs. As UCLA professor of medicine Dr. Donald Tashkin tells the Cannabist:

"Chronic cough (often accompanied by increased production of phlegm and wheezing, but not shortness of breath) occurs in over approximately 25 percent of habitual smokers of marijuana and resolves soon after cessation of marijuana use, provided that the marijuana smoker does not also smoke tobacco."

If this describes you, here are six ways to mitigate the harshness when you get mellow.

1. Cultivate some distance

Generally speaking, the smaller the distance between your mouth and the burning cherry, the more hot and cough-inducing the smoke. Bongs cool down the smoke, and filter particles out through water, making the smoke less harsh and dry; in addition, according to research conducted by MAPS, "water filtration can be effective in removing components from marijuana smoke that are known toxicants, while allowing the THC to pass through relatively intact." For an extra-soothing experience, try using warm water in the chamber.

2. Let it percolate

Some water pipes include a percolator - a subchamber in the shaft of the bong that provides extra heat diffusion and exposes more smoke to the surface of the water, cooling it and removing particles. While there's a dizzying array of percolator designs - dome, pedestal, tree, helix, honeycomb and fritted disc among them - all of them provide extra filtration, while helping to reduce coughing.

3. Think outside the box

Edibles, tinctures, and vaporizers all get you high minus the need to inhale any smoke whatsoever. Edibles, unlike smoked cannabis, also introduce THC to the body through the gastrointestinal tract, where it is processed by the liver before entering the bloodstream. According to Patty Javier Gomez, R.H.N, "The liver changes the cannabinoid THC into the more potent 11-hydroxi-THC which tends to have a stronger, more sedative effect." Note: although some people still cough while vaping, it's due to the hot, dry quality of the vapour, rather than the inhalation of carcinogenic burning plant matter.

4. Stay hydrated

Keep an ice-cold glass of H2O on hand to sip before, during, and after your session. When your throat is already scratchy and irritated, you'll have more difficulty handling a bong rip. In addition to sipping water, some people swear sucking on a mint or candy that promotes the production of saliva, like an Altoid or cough drop, can help. According to Harbourside Health Centre, staying hydrated is also key to ameliorating the symptoms if you accidentally ingest too much.

5. Pace yourself

You can always smoke more; it's substantially harder to smoke less. To avoid unattractive, uncontrollable coughing, take a small hit, wait, then hit it again. Who wants to torch the entire bowl in a single sitting, anyway? As the Gentleman's Guide to cannabis decrees, "it's better to take multiple small tokes, than one huge toke putting you on your ass." Inhale evenly and steadily until you feel the slightest pressure in your lungs, then, after a few seconds maximum, release. Ahhh...

6. Quality over quantity

As The Cannabist sensibly advises, it's wise to "avoid smoking anything with visible mold or mildew — and consider asking your supplier about any possible pesticides used in its cultivation." Chemicals and mildew - like improperly cured schwag - produce harsher, more cough-inducing smoke. If better-quality, pesticide-free buds are available in your area, go for those: you'll also require less in order to feel the effects, which, by any estimate, is a good thing.

h/t The Cannabist.