Hookahs Hookahs

Romancing the Smoke: Oy, My Aching Head

If you’re just tuning in to Romancing The Smoke, this is a blog following my journey to becoming a hookah know-it-all. If you’re also a beginner, or a pro who wants to offer some advice, then I hope you’ll follow along!
Quick, pull up Web M.D. and type in these symptoms: headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound. According to Dr. Internet, I'm sorry to tell you that you could be afflicted with everything from a brain aneurysm to diabetic ketoacidosis. However, if you just smoked some shisha, you might want to get a second opinion from Dr. Hookah because you're probably suffering from the dreaded 'hookah headache'.

For hookah newbies like me, feeling this way after a hookah session can be unexpected and uncomfortable, especially if you don't understand why it happened this time when you were fine in the past. But don't fret, it's a fairly common occurrence akin to a hangover - and just like curtailing your J?ger intake can keep away a hangover, hookah headache can also be avoided.
So if it's not in fact a brain aneurysm, then what the heck is causing it? Well, there are a few possibilities:
1) So...hungry...so...thirsty....
There is a lot of preparation that goes into a successful hookah session. That includes preparing the hookah and the shisha, but it also includes preparing your body. You need to make sure that you have recently eaten a substantial meal and have drank plenty of water leading up to a hookah session. I would suggest that you keep water with you during the session, as well. Fending off dehydration is the most important thing that you can do.
2) What's Going On Inside This Body of Mine?
Part of the reason why you should eat before smoking has a lot to do with the biological reaction that shisha creates within your body. The smoke is tasty and it makes you feel mellow - but why? The "buzz" that you get from tobacco is from nicotine which is an alkaloid found in many members of the nightshade family, including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. Smoked in short inhales, it releases adrenaline and other stimulating chemicals in your body. When smoked in long, full breaths nicotine causes a release of dopamine and slows down nerve impulses, creating a sedative effect. There are multiple other chemical reactions occurring, and every person's level of sensitivity will differ. If your body has not received adequate nutrition prior to introducing increased levels of nicotine to your system, then the rate of absorption into your bloodstream will effect how your body will process its reaction to the nicotine.
3) Whoa, Nelly! Slow it down.
Hookah is supposed to be a calming, relaxed activity to be taken at a slow pace. So if you're sucking on that hose every 10 seconds, you just might be smoking too much, too fast. Reign it in, friend. Enjoy yourself. Too much nicotine flooding your system will cause your body to react negatively. Some people experience this feeling even if they are using the hookah in moderation. If your body isn't accustomed to nicotine use, or if you're highly sensitive,   then you might want to try smoking nicotine-free, herbal shisha. It's also important to make sure that your shisha isn't burning. If the heat is too high, the likelihood of feeling ill while smoking will increase.
Let's say that you did not heed my genius advice, and you find yourself with a headache and you're dry heaving at the thought of a hookah hose - what now? Drink some water, get fresh air, take headache medicine, eat food, put a cool cloth on your face, and most of all stop smoking until you feel better. This is not the time to rally and push through - just lay off and lay low until you recover and can figure out what caused it. If the symptoms persist and/or get worse, seek medical attention immediately. Have you ever had a hookah headache? Please share your personal stories and antidotes - we're all learning together!
Until next time, happy smoking! -Katie
To see tutorial videos on this subject, and others, check out our How-To Playlist on YouTube!

Comments (22) -

  • D
    Great educational post! I really enjoyed reading it. I'll be sure to get in a full meal before smoking Smile
    • I'm glad it helped! I think of it kind of like drinking alcohol, if you do it on an empty stomach, you're more likely to have a bad experience. I'll never pass on a big meal, or smoking hookah, so I'm glad that the two things go hand in hand! -Katie
  • Guys are adding some great info to this site. I knew about the dehydration part, but never considered the full meal thing would help. Majority of people I smoke with, we usually have glasses of water close by.

    Not gonna lie, I have experienced the "to ill to smoke feeling", I can attest, taking a break from the rotation definitely helps make it go away.
    • I'm so glad that you're finding our information helpful! Yeah, it seems like the best thing to do is take a little break and let yourself recover. Thanks for reading, Christian! -Katie
  • Another reason a lot of people get sick from hookah is the coals. Quick light coals make a lot of people i know, including myself, vomit and get headaches. I have had no bad side effects regardless ofthe amount of hookah "consumption" in a sitting when using coco nara natural coals. Anytime I have had to switch back to quick lights temporarily, for instance when I dont have access to an electric range, i get very sick even when its small amounts of smoke. I wiuld say stick with natural lights if at all possible if you have any sensitivity to hookah smoke.
    • That is a HUGE one! Thanks so much for pointing that out, Kate!
  • All of that info was great.  Another thing to add is cleanliness of your hookah+ hoses.
    On a couple of occasions I've skipped kit on my cleaning and just reloaded a bowl a day after a good session and ill end up sick, change the water and empty the base after each session
    • I didn't even think of that, but I couldn't agree more, Brent. It's always good to be reminded how important it is to keep your hookah clean! -Katie
  • To Kate: getting sick from QL coals is likely a side-effect of trying to start the hookah before the chemical accelerant has completely burned off. Make sure you give it plenty of time to get good and red before you start up your hookah. If that doesn't help, try switching to a different brand of quicklite, I've found that some of them take much longer to burn clean than others. Also, some additional information: In addition to the nicotine buzz, a large portion of that nice tingly feeling you get when you smoke hookah is due to oxygen deprivation. Hookah smoke is typically smoother and more flavorful than other tobacco smoke, so smokers smoke more and take fewer breaths in between hits. This causes oxygen deprivation in the body and contributes to the buzz, but obviously depriving your brain of oxygen can cause a headache too! Make sure to take a few good deep breaths after you pass the hose, it will not only help keep your lungs clean by disallowing the smoke from sitting stale in there, but it will also help keep your head from hurting!

    Love and Light!
    • Well said, thanks Adam!
  • Thank you for clearing up the mystery! I've been getting those AWFUL headaches a lot recently. Tiny holes on your tin foil is a good help too. And i know lots of people like big clouds, but too much will come back to bite ya.
  • Try buying a better hose as well, it could help with the draw. Also just take a couple puffs and if the air flow is restricted try solving the problem by shaking the bowl as it might help move around shisha that has been packed too tightly.
  • Another big thing is actually inhaling the smoke or not. Unlike cigarettes, hookah smoke doesn't need to be inhaled. I've noticed with some of my friends that if they inhale the smoke, more often than not anyway, it makes them cough and eventually gives them a headache. If one practices blocking off their throat and trying to not inhale the smoke, it could help with headaches. The head change (which is nothing more than nicotine and a lack of oxygen) will still occur even if you don't inhale. Plus, if you don't inhale the smoke, you'll have more smoke for better smoke tricks Smile
  • I used to puke every time I smoked hookah. and had a headache and all that jazz. I figured out, like you say to do, that I needed to slow down and get used to smoking. I would keep up with my friends who had smoked much hookah at the time. It took me about a month to stop feeling bad after smoking, but it progressed much faster after I eased myself into smoking longer sessions by starting with even only 10 minute ones.
  • Hahahaha, I remember this feeling!! The first time I ever smoked shisha, I would hit the hose every 5 seconds it seemed. Its different than smoking a cigg where you have to puff every minute or so, romance it and enjoy the time. When I smoke mine, its like a bonding expierence that I have with myself. Its 'Me' time, and time to relax. I usually smoke after a long day at work, but MAKE SURE YOU EAT BEFORE. I love my 'Neptune', she is amazing!! Happy smoking! Smile
  • THANK U ! @katie
  • I was down at a hooka bar with my friend david. The hooka we got was really strong and we were smoking pretty fast but I didn't really feel bad. After about an hour david stopped smoking because of a headache and I just kept the hose. After another hour of just me taking deep puffs back to back to back my head started hurting. As soon as I stood up to leave my legs felt all jello-ey and wiggly and I barely made it outside. When I did I had to hang on to david just to walk and I fell twice, the second time i just layed in the road and almost fell asleep. David had to carry me to my truck and drive us home. Smoked for years before and after that and have never had it happen again. Even at the same bar.
  • I smoke hookah almost daily and i have never had a head buzz from it however i smoke cigarettes heavily does anybody know of a shisha brand that could offer a high enough nicotine level to allow me to have one?
    • Hi Brandon! I would recommend Tangiers or Hookafina Blak. Both of these are 'unwashed', which means they contain a higher nicotine content. Nakhla is another good option that always knocks me on my butt, and I also smoke cigarettes. Give them a shot and let us know what you think!
  • I smoke hookah every now and again, mainly due to me forgetting haha, I knew something was off when I smoke too much of it. When I loaded it for the first time it almost made me pass out on my back porch! Probably because I took too many inhales. Luckily I didn't pass out. But my body was extremely relaxed to the point where if I tried to get up my body would lose balance for a quarter second before I catch myself. good thing is that the hits weren't harsh