A bong (or water pipe) is a device commonly used to smoke cannabis or sometimes tobacco. Bongs are very popular among cannabis smokers because they provide a cooler hit that is much easier to inhale compared to other smoking methods. They also allow the user to inhale large amounts of smoke very quickly and get Mega Blazed.
How a Bong Works
It uses the simple process of a filtration and cooling system by passing heated gasses through water to achieve cooler smoke and remove possible ash and other foreign material from within the smoke intended for inhalation.
It uses a very similar design to a pipe but with the added water cooling system; for this reason it is also commonly known as a "water pipe". Water is the only commonly used liquid acceptable for use with a bong, since THC is not water-soluble. Some argue that everything is soluble to a certain degree under specific conditions, but at standard earth temperature and pressure so little THC is lost (<0.01%), it is considered insoluble.
Many people have been known to use ice (frozen water, not the drug) or snow to assist the cooling process of the bong. As ice has the same chemical makeup as water, it remains insoluble to THC. A word of caution: If your bong does not have an ice trap, putting ice down the neck may damage your downstem. To avoid this, use crushed ice, or fill the chamber with water first.
Most other liquids are not suitable due to either high solubility levels or possible toxicity issues.
Bongs and other water pipes utilize vacuum science and take advantage of a gas' ability to pass through liquids. Because a water pipe is airtight, the suction caused by inhaling causes a vacuum between the person's mouth and the water, blocking oxygen from passing through. Smoke then enters the downstem and passes through the water. Technically, most of the smoke is filtered and touches the water thus removing larger particles and water soluble contents of the smoke, however, downstems with diffusers are much more effective in filtration. Recently, diffusers have become a standard for high quality filtration in the water pipe culture. Diffusers break up the smoke into smaller bubbles which gives the smoke a higher surface area ratio that touches the water.
Pros: Smoother hits, bragging rights.
Cons: Cost is usually high, break easy in the hands of the heavily baked.
Buying Tips: Aim for a bong with a glass bowl, and without rubber grommets. Notable Brands: RooR, illadelph
Pros: Cheap, portable, hard to break, can come in humorous lengths.
Cons: Develop an odor after awhile, don't hit as well as glass.
Usage instructions of a typical bong:
- Pack the bowl with cannabis to the level of your personal preference.
- Cover the carb hole (if you have one) and light the bowl using a general all-purpose lighter while inhaling not so hard that the cannabis instantly falls through or makes burning, screaming noises but strongly enough so that the flame is pulled into the cannabis to an acceptable level.
- Continue pulling smoke through the device until your comfort level has been reached.
- Take your finger off the carb to clear the chamber and rip all that smoke into your lungs OR pull the slide out. If there is still smoke, inhale it until it is all gone.
- If there is more cannabis in the bowl, repeat steps 1 - 4 until it is all gone.
Bongs come in infinite varieties of size, shape, color and performance. They consist of many different parts and glass bongs utilizing scientific glass joint technology can have interchangeable additions inserted. There are a variety of different features that glass bongs contain. The most common of these are diffusers, percolators, ash catchers (with or without water) and bowls. Newer additions for glass joint enabled bongs are inline diffusers and special "bowls" for smoking concentrates where the flame does not touch the substance.
Luxury bongs are waterpipes that are made from high quality borosillicate glass (also known as pyrex) or other highly durable heat resistant glass. These bongs may or may not be thicker than usual glass bongs and by definition have glass joints which allow for interchangeable parts. Well known manufactures of "luxury" bongs are Roor (.de or .us), PHX, Lux, US Tubes, Toro], Ehle, and Kulture.
A downstem, also known commonly as a bowl, slide, or pull, is the nifty little piece on the bulbous segment of your bong that you, in most cases, pull to clear the chamber. Oftentimes small, these will more often than not have just enough room for the exact amount of pot to fill your favorite smoking device with potent clouds. The typical cheap version is conic, while more expensive and fancy stems will be shaped and colored to more appeasing specifications.
Some bongs have fixed bowls. These have a carburetor on the side to clear the chamber. Bongs with carbs are typically acrylic. A glass bong typically has a sliding pull, removing the bowl effectively opens the carb. A closed carb will let only the air coming through the bowl (smoke) into the chamber. Opening the carb will let fresh air enter the chamber. This clears the bong of all the smoke ripping it into your lungs. This is a good thing because no one likes stale smoke, and pulling a little air in after smoke will ensure that the smoke is in your lungs, not your throat or mouth where it won't be absorbed into your bloodstream.
Diffusers are downstems on a chamber of a bong that have holes or slits added to increase the surface area of smoke that touches water by dividing or diffusing the smoke into smaller bubbles. This increases the surface area of the smoke on the water, allowing better cooling, filtration, and airflow. The more holes through which air can travel, the better. Another important note is the size of the hole (if any) at the end of the downpiece. A diffuser with one large hole at the end will not separate air bubbles very much.
There are many kinds of diffusers:
- Standard Diffuser - The end of the downstem has small holes or slits to diffuse the air into smaller bubbles, and increase airflow.
- Fan Diffuser - Looks like a Chinese hand fan at the end of the downpiece with many slits on the end.
- Shower/Circular Diffuser - Has a circle of holes/slits on the end of the downpiece. This allows for more air to travel trough with more allowed directionality.
- Halo Diffuser - Has a ring of glass in the shape of a ring attached to the downstem. Many holes are dispersed throughout the chamber.
Diffusers can refer to the main (male) downstem on the main chamber of a bong or on the tubes inside of a percolator, which also utilizes diffusing technology. Diffusers also come in all shapes and sizes. Anything that splits the smoke bubbles into smaller bubbles is a diffuser; the number, size, and placement of holes affect cooling and drag.
A percolator is a sub chamber in the shaft of a bong that provides in-line smoke-water interaction via heat exchange and dissolution. Percolators act as an additional diffuser and further cool the smoke. It also allows the smoke to evenly rise to the top of the shaft because the bubbles burst at the surface of the water simultaneously. Percolators are commonly filled by pouring water down the shaft of the bong quickly so that excess water comes through the holes or slits of the diffuser, the water will then drop down to rest just above the diffusers top holes or slits.
Multiple percolators in one bong can cause cleaning issues and vacuum pressure resulting in trapped particulate matter, or water travelling into the bushing for glass on glass water pipes. There are several types of percolators:
- Dome Percs - Dome percolators use a single encircling cylindrical piece to direct smoke to the bottom of the water column. Dome percolators can be diffused in many different ways, some have triangular slits along the bottom. While others have either a few large holes or many small holes around the bottom of the dome. The size and number of holes, or slits is determined by the inside diameter of the up stem for correct air flow. Sometimes colored art is applied to the dome resulting in a 'zig zag' pattern common in traditional soft glass paperweights and vases.
- Tree Percs - Tree percolators instead utilize between 1 and 8 (or more, if the manufacturer is capable) branches or arms for the smoke to enter the water. Recent variations include bent arm and twist trees. The size of each slit and the number of slits combined should equal the inside diameter of the up stem for equivalent air flow. A sub-category of the tree called a 'twist' resembling a jellyfish is thought to be the first 'Zoa'-type percolator system.
- Coil Percs - Coil percolators limit or increase air flow based on the number of wraps and outside diameter of the tubing. They were the first associated with the 'slow-draw' style trap for bongs.
- Dewar Percs - Dewar percolators correct an early problem associated with domes, whereby a vacuum creates back pressure pushing water up the bushing. The Dewar contains a jacketed dome that stands up off the bottom of the percolator chamber eliminating the issue. *Jacketed Dewar sections containing a coil immersed in freezable glycerin are believed to represent the first models.
- Pinwheel Percs - Artistically combining a Dewar with low-set arms in a swirl pattern the Pinwheel is a re-engineered version of the Ring. Only two are known to exist, although tested and shown to be 'slow-draw' water pipe percolators; the 'slow-draw' system is not yet proven to provide benefits.
- Multiple Action Dewar Percs - MAD percs are jacketed Dewars with round or compressed spheres inside. Holes at the top of the sphere inside the Dewar allow smoke to billow intensely filling the jacket before channeling out slits in the bottom. They act as air diffusers and water percolators in one piece. The main types of MADs include the Atomic Mushroom and Snake Egg.
- Inline Percs - Inline percolators resemble the tree with one larger arm sealed inside a jacketed Dewar. The Inline contains slits and is usually found in the first chamber of the water pipe. The Inline can be made with slits of varying diameter causing increased diffusion and massive visually entertaining bubbly action. Coined 'Harmonic' the action resembles waves of bubbles similar to a sound wave pattern. The glass artist 'Hops' is credited along with 'Toro' for origination of terminology and design.
Ash catchers are chambers that are between the slide and the main chamber. They contain water, and while they add to the cooling and filtration, their main goal is to catch any ash that may come down the slide with your smoke. This keeps nasties out of your bong water and mouth. Some ash catchers come in helical shapes, these increase the amount of time the smoke is making contact with water, thus increases cooling potential.
Carbon filters are a replacement for ash catchers in just about every way. The smoke that passes through the filter is still just as thick, milky, tasty, and potent, but has virtually no smell, tar, or resin. This is the best filtration system, but does not act as a cooling mechanism.
It works because activated carbon is highly adsorbent. Carbon has a large surface area due to a high amount of pores, and thus molecules adhere to it. On average, 3 grams of activated carbon has a total surface area larger than a football field. A Roor carbon filter (shown on right) holds twice that. Because smoke particles are large (you can see them with the naked eye) they can't fit in the 2 football fields of nooks and crannies that snatch tar and scent.
Ice traps are pinches in the glass in the neck. These allow you to put ice in your bong without having to worry about damaging the downpiece in your chamber from falling ice cubes. These add another layer of cooling to your bong. A word of caution: hot smoke travelling through ice will cause it to melt. Melting ice will raise the water level in your bong. Be sure to check that the melting ice does not cause your bong to overfill and make a mess or dampen your weed.
A spash guard is a useful addition that keeps nasty bong water out of your mouth. It typically looks like the dome of a percolator with the holes but without the tube. These are very nice because it allows you to rip at any speed without the worry of getting water in your mouth from the furious bubbling that will ensue.
While glass bongs are much nicer than their acrylic/plastic/metal counterparts, beware of the grommet. The grommet is a little rubber piece that connects two pieces of glass (typically the chamber and the downpiece, or the downpiece and the slide). This grommet allows some air in, and cannot ever be perfectly clean after use. Glass-on-glass bongs are far superior to bongs with a grommet, however, they are also more expensive.
Many people believe that water in a bong filters the smoke.
Scientifically Credited Evidence
Water can trap burning bits of ash and water-soluble molecules, preventing them from entering your airways.1 This "filtration" can lead to the belief that bongs are less harmful than other pieces. However, a 2000 NORML-MAPS study2 found that "water pipes filter out more psychoactive THC than they do other tars, thereby requiring users to smoke more to reach their desired effect". In the study, smoke supplied by NIDA was drawn through different pieces and analyzed. An inhalation machine, adjusted to mimic the puff length of cannabis smokers, drew smoke through a standard bong, a small portable bong with a folding stem, a bong with a motorized paddle that thoroughly mixes the smoke with the water, and two different types of vaporizers. Comparisons to traditional non-filtered smoking methods were not included in these experiments. A MAPS study3 states that "Disappointingly, waterpipes performed uniformly worse than the unfiltered joint. The least bad waterpipe, the bong, produced 30% more tar per cannabinoids than the unfiltered joint. Ironically, the pipe with the electric mixer scored by far the worst of any device. This suggests that water filtration is actually counterproductive, apparently because water tends to absorb THC more readily than noxious tars. Like the waterpipes, the cigarette filter also performed worse than the unfiltered joint, by about 30%. Researchers speculate this is because cannabinoids are exceptionally sticky and adhere to other solids. Hence, any filtration system that picks up particulates is likely also to screen out cannabinoids." MAPS4 also reviewed a study that examined the effects and composition of water-filtered and non-filtered weed and tobacco smoke. It found that when alveolar macrophages were exposed to unfiltered smoke, their ability to fight bacteria was reduced, unlike exposure to water-filtered smoke. It also found substantial epidemiological evidence of a lower incidence of carcinoma among tobacco smokers who used bongs, as opposed to cigarettes, cigars, and regular pipes. "It appears that water filtration can be effective in removing components from cannabis smoke that are known toxicants... The effectiveness of toxicant removal is related to the smoke's water contact area.4
Conclusion: THC is sticky. It sticks to glass. This is why you see a lot of buildup after you use your piece. If you can salvage this (with a res-bowl, or by simply using a joint instead), then you have nothing to worry about.
- Don't spill it while handing it to the person on your left.
- Smoke that remains in the chamber will become stale after touching oxygen or after being held in the chamber for a long amount of time. Stale smoke feels much harsher on the lungs and the cannabinoids contained may lose their potency after a short time.
- If you need to cough, remove your mouth from the mouthpiece immediately. Doing otherwise will result in the water shooting out the bowl. Coughing into a bong is very unhygienic and will be frowned upon by others. (coughing is perfectly normal, coughing into a bong is something that will keep others away from smoking with you)