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.
What’s in bong water?
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- Substances in bong water
- How often should I change bong water?
- Bong water alternatives
- Bottom line
Bongs are a quintessential part of the cannabis smoking experience. Sometimes referred to as a water pipe or bubbler, a bong is a smoking device featuring a bowl for dried weed and a chamber filled with water. Smoke bubbles up through the water, which cools and filters it. The result is a smooth cannabis smoke with only trace amounts of particulate matter such as tar and ash.
Since the filtration system cleanses the smoke, you might be wondering, what is in that water? In this article, you’ll learn exactly what could be lurking in your bong water, plus why it’s important to keep your bong clean and change the water frequently.
Substances in bong water
Although some of the substances in bong water are toxic, others are desirable, such as cannabinoids. The water filters out some of the good and some of the bad, which means that you may need to take more hits with a bong than with a joint to reap the potential benefits of the cannabinoids. Not all the weed will burn off, so there could be some residual herb in the bong water, which means lower concentrations of CBD and THC in the smoke that reaches you. Some CBD, studied for its many potential therapeutic effects, may be left behind. Some THC will also linger in the water, meaning that a bong may not get you as easily high as other types of smoke.
Stagnant bong water, just like water in a puddle, can gather all kinds of bacteria and fungi. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Stagnant bong water, just like water in a puddle, can gather all kinds of bacteria and fungi. Yeasts and other microorganisms can also fester in dirty bong water. Under no circumstances should you attempt to drink bong water. It’s not even advisable to water plants with bong water, as it can contain toxic levels of mold. If in doubt, pour the old water down the drain and start fresh.
How often should I change bong water?
Ideally, you should use clean, fresh water for every bong session. If you don’t change the water frequently enough, the bong will be challenging to clean. It’s also important to change the bong water regularly to remove any potentially carcinogenic materials that the filtration system has released.
Ideally, you should use clean, fresh water for every bong session. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
You’ll know that the water needs to be changed when it develops a top layer known as biofilm. Forming across the surface of the water, the biofilm could harbor any number of nasty pathogens, from Strep and E. coli to black mildew. When inhaled, these substances can lead to serious illness, so be vigilant about changing that bong water. One of the benefits of bongs is that they filter out harmful materials, but they can only accomplish that feat with clean water.
If you’re cleaning the bong water for the first time, be prepared for a foul odor. Replace it with the most purified water available. You can also toss in a few ice cubes or ice water for a cooler, more refreshing smoking experience.
Bong water alternatives
If you want to experiment, there are several alternatives to bong water. Unsweetened cranberry juice is one popular substitute for water. While the juice won’t dramatically change the flavor of your bong hit, it will display an appealing crimson color in the glass. Even better, cranberry juice’s natural acidity can keep your bong cleaner longer. Sugary fruit juice, however, is not recommended as a bong water alternative. The sugars can create a sticky residue and make the bong cleaning process very frustrating.
Sparkling rather than still water is another option to try that will make your marijuana smoke feel like a party. Fizzy bubbles can add lightness and texture to your bong hit, along with subtle flavor if you use sparkling water flavored with citrus or lime (again, avoid the sweet stuff).
For a slight variation, slice up some lemon peels and insert them into the chamber along with still water, sparkling water, or cranberry juice. Mint leaves may offer the ultimate chill factor for your water pipe.
Get creative with bong water alternatives but avoid any sugary substances. Also steer clear of liquor which can emit dangerous alcohol fumes (and contains sugar to boot).
Bongs can deliver a fresher, smoother cannabis smoking experience. Just be sure to keep the water and the device clean.In this article, you'll learn exactly what could be lurking in your bong water, plus why it's important to keep your bong clean and change the water frequently. ]]>