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A bong is a water pipe used to smoke cannabis flower. Smoking a bong entails packing ground cannabis into a bowl so that, when heated, the smoke filters through water and provides a gentler smoking experience.
With the right gear and know-how, smoking a bong offers marijuana users who want a smoother hit and a potentially more potent option. Learn more about the bong, its history, and why it makes for a powerful tool in your cannabis consumption toolkit.
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What Are Bongs?
A bong — adapted from the Thai word “baung,” meaning a wooden or bamboo cylinder or pipe used for smoking — is a water pipe used for smoking cannabis flower. Whether made of glass, manufactured, or homemade, most modern bongs feature a universal shape, components, and process for smoking.
They differ from portable glass pipes (hand pipes) in that almost every water bong contains a tube, also known as the vessel or neck, which funnels the smoke into the user’s mouth. While tubes vary in style, they are generally straight, angled, or custom-shaped.
Next, water bongs are identifiable by their base; the water chamber filled is responsible for cooling the smoke. The base makes up the bong’s lower portion and is usually the largest and widest piece of the apparatus. Bases can be straight, beaker-shaped, or spherical with a flat bottom, though these different shapes have little impact on the bong’s smoking mechanics.
The downstem is the connective piece of glass (it resembles a small tube) inserted through the base and into the water, responsible for the filtration process. There are two types of downstems, classic and diffused; the latter features extra holes or slits that help cool the hot smoke and offer a gentler hit.
Finally, the bowl is what holds the ground flower at the top of the downstem. Bowls come most commonly in three different sizes, small (10 mm), medium (14 mm), or large (19 mm), and are usually paired with matching-sized downstems.
How Do They Work?
Bongs are relatively straightforward to use and follow the same basic principles of air and smoke flow.
When you apply fire to dried cannabis flower, it combusts, and the heat breaks down the chemical bonds of the flower and converts its components into gas in the form of smoke. The bong’s design allows it to filter out the carcinogens or toxins typically carried in plant smoke, leaving behind only the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other desirable marijuana components.
When smoke travels through water, the ash and tar bind to the water molecules, trapping them behind as the smoke travels through the device. The water acts as a net or filter, and while a small amount of smoking byproducts makes it into your lungs, the bong significantly reduces its harshness resulting in a smoother smoke.
Water also acts as a cooling agent for the smoke, reducing its heat before reaching your mouth and lungs. However, it’s essential not to over-cool the smoke, as the active, medically beneficial ingredients will vaporize between 125-150 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also necessary to keep your water clean, as dirty bong water will affect the taste of your hit, and some leftover chemicals in the water can be dangerous if inhaled.
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Types of Bongs
There are many types of bongs with shapes, sizes, or modifications, such as gravity bong chambers or an ice pinch. While most bongs are made of glass, homemade or custom bongs can be made of any vessel that’s watertight, airtight, and fitted with a bowl, stem, and carb.
Glass bongs are the most popular bong type, valued for preserving cannabis smoke’s taste and purity. The transparency of a glass bong also provides users with a clear indicator of water level. When their apparatus needs cleaning. Glass bongs are usually more expensive and, by nature, more fragile.
Wood or bamboo bongs are sturdy and much cheaper than glass ones, making them more desirable for those transporting smoking gear. They’re more challenging to clean, but wood bongs can last a lifetime with proper upkeep.
Silicone bongs are an increasingly popular type of bong, chosen for their durability and ease of cleaning. However, you, unfortunately, get a mild plastic taste with each hit, which some smokers opt to avoid. Plastic bongs are also a cheap option that lasts a long time but require regular cleaning to keep them in top shape.
Ceramic bongs are less expensive than glass but just as beautiful, often doubling as an artwork display when not in use. However, they are porous. Make sure that the ceramic bong you purchase has been glazed. This will ensure that dust and bacteria don’t collect in the porous material. They’re also somewhat fragile, so ceramic bongs are best used with care.
You can also make homemade, ad-hoc bongs using apples, water bottles, and other items you’d typically find around the house.
Deciding Which Is Best for You
Bong-making has produced an impressive host of advanced bong designs and customizations as a half-tool and half-art piece. When choosing a bong, it’s essential to know who will be using it and how often (just you or you and friends), whether it’s in danger of breaking, how often it needs to be cleaned, and other details regarding its use.
If you need a bong that you can quickly put away, a silicone one might be your best bet. A lovely ceramic bong may best suit your needs if you appreciate the design as an art piece and tool.
You also should decide what size bowl best fits the amount of flower you consume and if you want your bong to feature any extraneous filtration design, such as with multiple chambers or angled necks.
Your options are limitless, so it boils down to consumer preference when choosing which bong is best for your needs.
How to Smoke a Bong
Smoking a bong for the first time can be confusing and even scary for new users, but the following steps make it simple to pick up the technique:
- Fill the bong with water, pouring directly into the mouthpiece. The downstem should be submerged no more than an inch inside the bong’s base.
- Prepare your flower by grinding it in a grinder, picking it apart with your hands, or using a pair of scissors.
- Pack the bowl, but not too tightly — you’ll want to leave room for air to flow through the material.
- Get ready to inhale. Hold the bong in your non-dominant hand and hold the lighter with your other. Put your mouth to the mouthpiece, creating a tight seal that won’t let any air escape.
- Light the flower in the bowl and slowly inhale to guide the smoke into the device.
- Once you’ve drawn a hit, remove the bowl from the bong and inhale the smoke. Hold the smoke for 2-3 seconds and exhale your bong “rip.”
Care and Upkeep
Cleaning your bong is aesthetically essential and ensures a cleaner, non-toxic smoking experience. Without regular upkeep, bong water can build up leftover ash, bacteria, and other contaminants inside the bowl.
After a regular smoke session, combining isopropyl or rubbing alcohol with salt is an easy, quick cleanse liquid. Dispensaries also often sell specially formulated cleaning products for bongs and other cannabis tools.
Disassemble the bowl and downstem and add the cleaning liquid into the bong, shaking the liquid around the base. The alcohol should break down most of the leftover resin, but adding a bit of salt will target the more difficult stuff. A pipe cleaner or cotton swab in alcohol will help get to those hard-to-reach places. If residue lingers, you may need to let the bong soak in alcohol for 24 hours, rinsing with warm water once cleaned.
After you’ve cleaned your bong, allow it to dry in sunlight, which should break down the last of the resin. Maintaining the bong’s cleanliness is simple; just be sure to follow these best practices:
- Change the water after each smoke.
- Use filtered water.
- Frequently dump the ash from your bowl.
- Clean your bong regularly if you’re a heavy user.
Cleaning your bong is also a common courtesy, especially if you share it with others. A study from Los Angeles-based company Moose Labs found that the average public toilet seat is cleaner than the average bong, so it’s polite and necessary to clean your bong regularly. It may also be worth investing in alcohol wipes or a mouthpiece to keep things hygienic during a joint session.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a bong cost?
The price of a bong ranges widely, from cheap $20 pieces to works of art up to $20,000. Many factors go into a bong’s cost, including style, materials, and the artist who made it. Different types of glass or other materials also have different price points. Knowing your budget beforehand is best as you look for options in your price range.
What’s the difference between a bong and a bubbler?
A bong is more complex, has more parts, and gives you larger hits and more bang for your buck from the same amount of flower. A bubbler is another name for a water pipe, which offers the same water filtration as a bong with more portability but with much smaller hits and a more challenging cleaning process.
Are bongs legal?
Unless a bong is considered a smoking device meant for legalized substances like tobacco, bongs meant for consuming cannabis are technically illegal drug paraphernalia, according to United States federal law. However, most (but not all) states with legalized cannabis programs make special allowances for bongs as a consumption accessory. Check your state’s laws before purchasing a bong for cannabis use.