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Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
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Bongs are water pipes used to smoke cannabis. The word “bong” is believed to come from the Thai word “bong” or “baung,” which refers to a cylindrical wooden tube or pipe cut from bamboo trees.
Historically, the bong can be traced back to Thailand, Africa, and some parts of Russia, where it was used to smoke marijuana, tobacco, and other dry herbs.
Today, these smoking devices are primarily used for consuming weed.
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The Anatomy of a Bong
Bongs have come a long way from when they were simply small tubes made from bamboo and other hollow materials. Today, bongs are incredibly well-designed and come with numerous features and parts to ensure you get a smooth smoke.
The bowl piece is an essential part of your bong. This almost funnel-like glass piece holds the dry herb you’re smoking. Bowls come in different shapes and sizes depending on your bong’s design, complexity, price, and shape. The typical bowl is simply an indented glass with an opening at the bottom.
Many modern bongs come with in-built glass screens to ensure the flower is not sucked into the bong. This does away with the need for metal screens that don’t last long anyway. Moreover, you can choose the size of the holes in your bowl’s glass screen. The smaller the holes are, the harder it is for stuff to get past the small bowl.
The ash catcher does exactly what its name suggests. It is another glass attachment that helps you catch the ash from your weed. This way, ash doesn’t get into your bong water, keeping the smoking experience fresh and enjoyable.
That said, ash catchers do more than simply catch the ash. Some are designed to help cool the smoke and filter it even further. Inhaling cool smoke is better because it protects your throat from dehydration due to heat.
Ash catchers also collect most of the dark, sticky tar that comes with using a bong regularly before the bong itself does. They are also relatively easy to clean.
The down stem is another essential feature of a bong. This is a piece of the water pipe or bong that connects the bowl to the main chamber. The down stem directs all the smoke into the water before you inhale it.
This feature is typically a long piece of glass that can either be fixed or replaced depending on the design of your bong.
Some down stems have a diffuser towards the end to help cool the smoke even more. Others with a more functional design simply provide suction and pull the smoke into the water chamber.
We recommend buying a bong with a removable down stem; this will make it easier for you to clean all the gunk off or even throw it out and put in another one.
The joint is an extension found on bongs that holds the down stem. Down stems also have a joint at their ends. If you have a bong whose down stem you cannot remove, the bowl piece goes right into the joint of the bong.
There are three common sizes of joints: 10 mm, 14 mm, and 18 mm. They are classified as either male or female; female joints are perfect for smoking weed, while male joints are popularly used in dab rigs.
If you have a bong with a removable down stem and joint, make sure the replacements you buy match the size of your bong; otherwise, they may not fit.
The percolator is a feature of the modern-day bong that filters the smoke even more after it goes through the water in your stem. Different bongs have different percolators, and the designs continue to get even more complex.
The type of percolator you choose will depend on your individual needs: what you’re smoking, how much you smoke, etc. Be careful, however, since bongs with complex percolators may be relatively harder to clean than a regular bong.
An ice pinch is a feature found close to the mouthpiece of a bong. An ice pinch is made up of three spikes of glass, and its function is to hold ice cubes.
The ice cools the hot smoke as it reaches the mouthpiece, making for an even smoother smoke. This contributes greatly to the overall smoking experience.
The mouthpiece is the part of your bong through which the smoke comes out. Traditionally, this was simply the highest point of the bong, meaning one would have to hunch over the bong to smoke. These days, some of the best bongs have bent necks and angled mouthpieces, making it easy for you to take a big hit comfortably and conveniently.
How Do Bongs Work?
Although there are different designs of bongs, all of them generally work the same way and do the same thing. They filter and cool the cannabis smoke before it goes into your lungs.
As we’ve already seen, bongs have bowls for holding dry marijuana flowers. When you light the cannabis, it burns and produces smoke. As you inhale, the water bubbles, and the smoke rises through the chamber and into your mouth and lungs.
Essentially, bongs allow you to smoke a lot of weed at once and thus get bigger hits of THC at one time.
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Bongs vs. Joints
Many people that use bongs do so because they believe they’re safer than smoking pre-rolled joints. This is because bongs do away with the need for rolling paper and thus prevent you from taking in carbon.
Bongs also give off a cooler and smoother hit, making them less irritating to your throat and lungs. But are bongs really better than joints?
Joints are many people’s preferred way of consuming cannabis. Joints are quick to roll and very portable and light. And even though you can easily find a small bong that’s easy to pack, there’s a lot that goes into maintaining a bong. Joints, however, go straight to the bin once you smoke them to the filter tips.
That said, we can’t definitively state which of these smoking methods is best. This is quite subjective and will depend on your unique needs.
If you’re having friends over and looking to take large hits and get very high quickly, a bong will come in handy. But if you’re going out on a hike with the dogs, it would make more sense to pack a couple of pre-rolls.
How to Use a Bong
The smoking process of using a bong is rather simple. After you’ve done it a couple of times, it will become second nature and almost methodical. But if you’re looking to try using a bong for the first time, here are the steps you should follow:
- Step 1: Grind or break down your cannabis flower, but remember not to grind it down too much. Make sure the particles aren’t too fine; otherwise, they may be sucked into the water chamber.
- Step 2: Prepare your bong. Set it up such that all the pieces go where they need to. You can place a metal screen on the bowl to prevent the weed from going through the down stem into the water.
- Step 3: Fill your bong with water right to the point where it just covers the down stem. You can use cold water or warm water. Ensure the water never rises to your lips when inhaling through the mouthpiece. If your bong has ice pinches, you can add an ice cube or two to your bong.
- Step 4: Slide in the down stem, add a clean bowl, and take another drag to ensure the water level is perfect and that water bubbles rise up the sides of the glass when you inhale.
- Step 5: Remove the bowl from the bong and pack it loosely with dried herbs. Packing it loosely ensures there’s enough airflow for the smoke to easily go through the down stem and into the water chamber.
- Step 6: Put the bowl back in the down stem of the bong.
- Step 7: Hold the bong firmly by the neck with your non-dominant hand. The bong’s base should be on a flat surface, such as on a table or desk. You may also place the bottom of the bong on your lap. However, if you’re new to using a bong, ensure it’s securely placed on a firm surface to keep it from accidentally slipping from your hands and breaking.
- Step 8: Put your lips inside the mouthpiece and seal up the opening.
- Step 9: Strike the lighter and hold it up to the bowl, burning the flower. Inhale simultaneously. You can also use a hemp wick to avoid inhaling butane from your lighter.
- Step 10: Remove the lighter once the cannabis in the bowl is lit and burning consistently. However, keep inhaling.
- Step 11: Stop inhaling once you start losing your breath.
- Step 12: Remove the bowl and inhale the cannabis or tobacco smoke deeply.
- Step 13: Exhale immediately. Don’t hold the marijuana smoke in your lungs for too long. The active compounds found in weed are absorbed almost immediately after the smoke enters your lungs.
- Step 14: Blow lightly into the down stem to force any remaining smoke that may still be in the bong before taking your next hit.
The Bottom Line
Smoking marijuana using a bong has become one of the most popular ways of consuming the herb, especially among young adults.
Bongs offer a fast and convenient way of getting high, making them perfect for when you need a quick top-off before leaving the house. They’re also great for smoking one-hitters or using budder and other concentrates.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How do you clean a bong?
Take out the bowl, the down stem, and other removable parts. Pour isopropyl alcohol into the bong, add coarse salt, and shake your glass piece for 5-7 minutes. Soak the down stem and bowl in alcohol, too.
Rinse it out with soap and water. This should help eliminate all the gunk and tar on the bong. Remember to rinse all the alcohol out before using the bong.
How much do bongs cost?
The price of a modern bong will depend on its design, size, material, and complexity. Smaller silicon bongs may cost anywhere from $20 to $40, but glass bongs may be a bit pricier.
A good glass bong will set you back anywhere from $20 to $80. If you’re looking for something a bit more high-end, be prepared to spend anywhere between $100 to more than $300. At this price range, however, you’ll get a fancy bong with numerous accessories and additives.