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Demystifying the Bong, One Myth at a Time

Bongs, which you may also know by slang terms like bubbler, binger, or billy, are water pipes used to smoke cannabis.

They’ve been around for centuries. The word bong is said to have come from the Thai word “baung” for a bamboo tube used for smoking weed.

Today’s bongs look a lot more complicated than a simple bamboo tube, but they all come down to the same basic process.

Read on to learn more about how bongs work and why, contrary to lore, they aren’t actually any better for your lungs than other smoking methods.

Bongs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very basic with just a bowl and chamber. Others are colorful, mouth-blown works of art.

At the end of the day, they all do basically the same thing: filter and cool the smoke that comes from the burning marijuana.

Bongs generally feature a small bowl that holds dried weed. When you light the weed it combusts. Meanwhile, as you inhale, the water in the bottom of the bong bubbles (or percolates, if you want to get technical). The smoke rises up through the water and then the chamber before entering your mouth and lungs.

If you’re looking for a smoother toke, a bong will give you just that compared to smoking weed rolled in paper.

As expected, the water in a bong eliminates the dry heat you get from a joint. The effect is often described as being cooler, creamy, and smooth rather than harsh.

This effect can be deceiving, though.

While the smoother smoke might feel better on your lungs, you’re still smoking. And that smoke is still filling up your lungs (we’ll spare the lecture on why this is all-around bad news for your health).

Sure, a small amount of the bad stuff might get filtered out. But it’s not enough to make much of a difference.

Yes, this means all those stories about bongs being the “safer” way to smoke are largely based on junk science.

So far, bong safety has been pretty low on the list of priorities when it comes to medical research. But as cannabis becomes legal in more areas, this could change.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations, smoke is harmful to lung health regardless of what you’re smoking because of the carcinogens released from the combustion of materials.

Smoking marijuana, whether via doobie or bong, can harm lung tissues and cause scarring and damage to your small blood vessels.

The tendency to inhale deeply and hold your breath when smoking pot means you’re often exposed to more tar per breath. Plus, bongs are basically a way to get more smoke into your lungs while also making that smoke more pleasant to inhale.

All of these aspects make it easy to overdo it when using a bong.

One other risk to keep in mind is related to the use of plastic bongs. Plastics that contain chemicals like BPA and phthalates have been linked to adverse health effects, including cancer.

Bong health risks aside, depending on where you live and local laws, having a bong with marijuana in it or even just some residue could get you in legal hot water.

Research also shows that marijuana-only smokers have more healthcare visits related to respiratory conditions than nonsmokers, regardless of the method used to inhale the smoke.

How do those fancy bongs, with all their bells and whistles, actually work? Plus, find out whether they're actually easier on your lungs than a joint.

Spotlight: 5 Benefits of Using a Bong

Nothing beats a bong for a smooth smoking experience. The idea of smoking through water is almost as ancient as the smoking culture itself. But what was the reason behind humanity’s decision to invent a new way to ingest therapeutic herbs.

Major Bong Types

Bongs have come a long way since the first homosapien toker decided to craft one from a bamboo tube. Modern bongs filter smoke in a variety of ways, including:

  • Standard bongs simply use water to filter the smoke.
  • Ice bongs cool the smoke even further to allow for a super-smooth hit. These bongs have notches inside the tube, which catch pieces of ice as they melt.
  • Recyclers: Recycling bongs use a two-chamber system to cool down herb smoke.
  • Percolators: Percolators provide an extra level of cooling and filtration. Mechanisms range from inline, tree, showerhead, and honeycomb-style percolators.

All of this extra filtration comes with distinct advantages. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of using a bong.

1. Bongs Produce Smoother Hits

One major flaw of consuming cannabis through combustion (smoking) is that it can irritate the throat when inhaling. As hot smoke enters directly into the lungs with joints, blunts, or dry pipes, it produces an unpleasant burning feeling that might deter newbies (or people who are not used to smoking).

With a bong, the smoke cools down in the bongwater before you inhale it, providing you with a smoother hit. Of course, you’ll still cough here and there, but in general, toking from a bong is infinitely healthier than smoking.

2. Better Filtration

Lighting anything on fire produces carcinogens. Unfortunately, a bong can’t completely eliminate all carcinogens and other toxins. However, using a bong can significantly reduce the number of harmful compounds that end up in your lungs, as they are filtered through the water.

In addition, water filters out nasty byproducts of combustion, such as tar. As any experienced toker can attest, swallowing a tarry chunk of ash is one of the more unpleasant aspects of herb smoking. With bongs, those ash and tar particles stay in the water instead of entering your mouth. If you want to have an even cleaner experience, add an ash-catcher attachment to your bong.

3. Bongs Reduce Bacteria and Mold

Bongwater traps bacteria and mold to reduce the number of microbes that you inhale. Cannabis users tend to pass joints, pipes, and bongs around, which also passes illnesses. With a bong, some of those contaminants get filtered through the water instead of your lungs.

To get the most benefits from your bong, you should change the water between smoking sessions. A weekly deep clean with alcohol and Epsom salt is also a good idea. If you share your bong, you may want to wipe the mouthpiece off with an alcohol swab between each smoker to prevent sharing more than your high.

4. Getting Bigger Hits

Using a glass bong is a favorite of many experienced stoners. The reason? It is the only method that allows users to take a massive rip. Theoretically, you could fill the container with smoke and take it all in one hit. Although massive hits aren’t the healthiest way to consume an herb, they sure can be fun. After all, it only takes a few bong rips to get the party started.

It goes without saying that new users should tread with caution and work their way to bigger hits.

5. Bongs are Fun!

Bongs are not only practical, but they can be excellent conversation starters. Glass is a versatile material that comes in a range of colors. The moldability of glass allows artists to craft artistic bongs in an endless variety of shapes.

Bongs work better and here is why.