A bong, also commonly known as a water pipe, is a smoking device, generally used to smoke cannabis. It is sometimes confused with a hookah pipe. The difference is that a bong has a slide or a carb.
Bongs can vary greatly in their shape, materials, styles, colors, and sizes. Many bongs are regarded for their style, distinct vivid colors, or customizations such as stickers, and become a personalized signature of that particular bong owner.
The word bong is an adaptation of the Thai word, baung, a cylindrical wooden tube, pipe or container cut from bamboo. One of the earliest recorded uses of the word dates to a piece in the January 1971 issue of the Marijuana Review.
Using a Bong
Smoking using a bong contrasts with smoking using a pipe or cigarette in two major ways. Bongs cool the smoke before it enters the user’s lungs and a large amount of smoke is inhaled quickly as opposed to the smaller, more frequent, inhalations of pipe and cigarette smoking.
- The base is filled with water to the depth dictated by the bong. This water is typically tap water. Sometimes other liquids are used, e.g., alcoholic beverages. More rarely, liquids like Coca-Cola and herbal teas are used. However, a lot of liquids other than water will absorb more of the active ingredients because cannabinoids have very low solubility in water. This makes water an excellent candidate for bong water while lipids such as milk wouldn't be as efficient since a lot of THC would be absorbed. Since the bong is used to achieve the cleanest hit, other beverages than water are not recommended because it also affect the taste of smoke.
- The substance to be smoked is packed into the bowl and ignited. Cigarette lighters are usually used for ignition. However, torch lighters, heating glass rods, soldering irons and matches can be used as well.
- The user places his/her lips on the mouth piece, forming a seal, and inhales. An inhalation is known as a "hit." If the smoker is using a larger bong or has insufficient lung capacity, the first hit contains no smoke; this type of hit is known as a "dry hit." Its purpose is to draw the clean air out of the chamber and to start drawing in smoke from the bowl. If a smaller or regular sized bong is being used, the first hit should consume all the potential smoke. In some cases this can be difficult to accomplish with bongs that are hot and dry generally making for a more harsh inhalation. When smaller bongs are used quite often the user will either place a small bit of the substance into the bowl and smoke a "one hitter" or they will place a moderate sized amount of substance into the bowl and consume it casually in 2-3 medium sized inhalations. The user is quick to take the hit after it has been drawn into the chamber. If cannabis smoke is left in the chamber of a bong for too long before being inhaled it can become stale and undesirable.
- When the user feels that they have inhaled a satisfactory amount of smoke, they can pull the bowl (also called a slide up from the bong to introduce "clean" air. This is known as "clearing" or "pulling the slide". Other bongs have a small hole, known as a "carb hole" or "choke", above the water level, to be blocked with the user's thumb until he/she draws enough smoke to "carb" or "clear" the smoke.
- Once the slide has been removed (or carb unblocked), the smoker inhales sharply, drawing the smoke into their lungs in order to get high.
The thoracic diaphragm contracts and the intercostal muscles expands the ribs which causes the volume in the lungs to increase and the pressure to decrease. The low pressure "sucks" air from the mouth creating low pressure suction. If the mouth changes volume you may be puffing smoke, not actually inhaling it. This is one of the reasons first time smokers fail to feel the results. The mouth makes a seal around the mouthpiece of the bong, and the suction produced by the muscles around the lungs translates through the trachea, mouth, and chamber, enacting on the top surface of the water inside the bong. The suction causes the water level in the chamber to rise and the water level in the stem to fall. When the level inside the stem reaches the submerged end, air from the stem diffues bubbles up through the water to equalize the suction force. Once the chamber is full to the smokers desired capacity, a hole above the water level is uncovered, either the bowl is pulled out of the stem, or, in bongs with an attached bowl a "carb" or "shotgun" (a small hole that is covered by the thumb) is uncovered and the smoke in the chamber is inhaled (cleared)into the lungs. Once in the lungs, the active chemicals in the smoke are absorbed into the blood stream.
The smoke initially travels through a hollow pipe that is attached to the bottom of the bowl containing the smokeable material. The pipe enters into the side of a large vessel containing water. The hole in the side of this container is airtight, and the bottom of the pipe is submerged in the water. The flow of air increases the burn temperature of the herb and rate of combustion which allows the chemicals dissipate into the air stream.
The water is the most important part of the process. The water has two roles: 1) It acts as a filter for undesirable particles present in the smoke, and 2) It acts as a coolant. After a few uses the water turns into an unpleasant bitter smelling solution having absorbed water soluble chemicals and large particulates from the smoke.
Once the smoke has risen through the water, it is trapped in the air gap above the water. The empty space of the container fills up with cool filtered smoke. At the side of the container above the water level, there is a small hole which is kept covered up with a finger until the point when sufficient smoke has been held in the air gap. This hole is sometimes known as a shotgun hole or carburetor, more commonly "carb." Its purpose is to allow an easy passage of air into the container when the smoke is finally inhaled into the lungs. The fresh air from the shotgun hole also further helps to cool the smoke as it is inhaled.
Bongs of more expensive design can sometimes feature ice catchers, which allow ice to be stored in the main chamber where smoke resides. This ice can cool the smoke to below room temperature, sometimes allowing smokers to intake significantly more smoke and hold it in the lungs for a longer duration.
Motivations For Use
The motivations for use include:
- Smoke palatability
- Efficiency of dosage
- Perceived health benefits
Efficiency of Dosage
By making the smoke cooler and more palatable it allows the dose of active chemical to be inhaled more deeply and rapidly. This makes absorption of the active chemical more efficient and so less of the original substance is required. The maximum amount of smoke that can be inhaled in a single hit depends on the bong's chamber capacity, and the smoker's lung capacity. Normally, this amount of smoke is far greater than can be achieved when smoking a Pipe, Joint, or Spliff . The bong can also give a stronger hit than other smoking methods.
If a smoker uses too much substance or collects too much smoke or uses a substance that is destroyed by high temperatures, bongs can still prove wasteful, as the excess smoke is often lost to the atmosphere. In the case of cannabis, it is a common misconception that holding the smoke in one's lungs for a longer period of time increases the absorption of THC, however roughly 95% of the THC is absorbed within the first five seconds and holding the smoke for longer than that can only irritate the lungs. Different substances that can be inhaled through a bong have different absorption rates, so the five second rule should not be considered standard. For instance, it is recommended that Salvia divinorum be held in the lungs for at least twenty to thirty seconds for optimum results.
Bongs bubble the smoke through water, which cools it down. This helps to reduce the chance of burning to the mouth, airways, and lungs. The water can trap some heavier particles and the more water-soluble molecules, preventing them from entering the smoker's lungs.
Most smokers believe that bongs are healthier than other smoking methods; however, a 2000 NORML-MAPS study 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". Smoke from cannabis supplied by the NIDA was drawn through a number of smoking devices and analyzed. A smoking 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 mix the smoke with the water, and two different types of vaporizers. The study found that the unfiltered joint outperformed all devices except the vaporizers, with a ratio of about 1 part cannabinoids to 13 parts tar.
However, MAPS  reviewed a study that examined the effects and composition of water filtered and non-filtered cannabis and tobacco smoke. It found that when alveolar macrophages, an important component in the lungs immune system, were exposed to unfiltered smoke, there was a marked reduction in the macrophages' ability to fight bacteria, whereas there was no such reduction in those exposed to water filtered smoke. It also found that there is substantial epidemiological evidence among tobacco smokers that those who smoke through water-pipes, as opposed to cigarettes, cigars, and regular pipes, have lower incidences of carcinoma. "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. Specially designed water pipes, incorporating particulate filters and gas dispersion frits, would likely be most effective in this regard; the gas dispersion frit serves to break up the smoke into very fine bubbles, thereby increasing its water contact area."  This study suggests that a bong's smoke is less harmful than unfiltered smoke.
Bong water is used to filter and cool the smoke. When bong water is not properly maintained the water can take on many undesirable characteristics. These effects can include simple discoloration in the form of a green then brown and eventually black tint. Some waters, such as municipal tap, contain minerals that can promote residue buildup, making distilled water preferable. In addition, as a bong is smoked, ash is sucked through the stem where it rests in the bong water. Therefore, heavy users might consider rinsing and filling their bongs with pure fresh water daily.
Additives, such as flavored drinks and alcoholic beverages, are common in place of water; however, certain chemicals bond easily to alcohol and could reduce the effect of the substances contained within certain strains of tobacco and cannabis. Additionally, there is a minute risk of fire when using flammable substances in place of water.
Bongs can vary greatly in their shape, material, style, color, and size. Commonly constructed from metal, acrylic, ceramic, or glass, bongs can also be fabricated from materials as diverse as pykrete or even from household objects such as empty water bottles. Some people even make bongs out of fruits and vegetables that are discarded after use. Many bong owners take pride in giving original names to their smoking devices. These names usually reflect cannabis culture or some particular distinction of the bong.
Since the bong is such a simple device, it can be constructed out of nearly anything that is at least semi-rigid and can be made airtight. This includes, but is not limited to, bamboo, plastic bottles, soda-pop cans, buckets, vases, beer bottles, hollow plastic and ceramic statues, chemistry beakers, snorkels, even apples and potatoes. However, care should be taken, as burning plastics results in the production of dangerous toxins. Most bongs purchased will be made out of glass (either hand-blown or cast in molds) or clear acrylic tubing. Most of these bongs will include or otherwise utilize glass stems and bowls. However, cheaper bongs (nearly all made out of acrylic) may be designed with metal stems and bowls.
A common home-built bong is made from a bowl and stem purchased either from a head Shop or a hardware store, or fabricated from supplies around the house. (A bong can be assembled out of tinfoil and a short length of garden hose, for instance.) The rest of the design needs nothing more than a knife or scissors, a 20 oz to 1 liter empty plastic bottle, and some duct tape. Just because a bong can be constructed this way does not indicate it is a good idea. To avoid dangerous fumes and chemicals, all bowls and stems should be made of glass or metal, and the chambers of the bongs of glass, metal, or acrylic. This type of Bong is often referred to as a "MacGyver", after the TV show, due to its improvised and home-made nature.
Blu-tac can be used to create good airtight seals on a temporary bong. Milliput (or any other epoxy putty) is a more permanent solution, and has many other good properties for DIY bongmaking - it will set under water, becomes hard after 2 hours, rock hard overnight, and is resistant to high temperatures.
Materials such as PVC, plastic, rubber, or garden hoses may emit toxic chemicals when heated. Plastic can release fumes which may induce asthma. Little has been documented on the inhalation of these fumes but the practice should be avoided. Duct tape may also release fumes. Choosing a glass bong therefore results in safer and more tastier experience.
Offshoots from the simple bong concept do exist. These devices either bubble the smoke through water to cool it or have very large chambers. Some of the devices are designed to allow slower, more controlled draws through the bowl, causing the smoke to be much denser. Other bongs even have attachments for vaporizers.
Some bongs have a small hole, called a carburetor, or "shotty", or simply "carb", located in the chamber across from the stem. These are typically also known as but aren't limited to bubblers. This is simply a valve that the user places his/her finger over when inhaling, allowing the chamber to fill up with smoke. If the user releases the carburetor, then he/she is no longer having to pull the smoke through the downpipe and water so it is easier or more relaxing to smoke. Some bong users allow fresh air to rush rapidly in through the hole. The fresh air mixes with the smoke and forces the smoke into the user's lungs more rapidly than could be achieved through normal inhalation. Inhaling a lung full of smoke is known as a hit. Often, bongs are smoked in two hits; first a "lit hit" when smoke is allowed to fill the chamber, then, after a short break, the "chamber hit" or the "clear," when the user inhales smoke.
Carburetor hole bongs use a hole to release the vacuum which allows air into the chamber. This has the effect of clearing the chamber of the smoke which is inhaled into the lungs. This method prevents the need to fill the chamber with carbon dioxide to clear the smoke before it becomes stale. They are easy to construct and often used in home-made bongs.
Slide bongs have two piece stems. One is attached to the bong itself and the other, with the bowl, slides into that one using a smaller diameter. To use, the user pulls out the second piece by the bowl.
One of the most common varieties is the ice bong, which is a sub variety of a slide or carburetor bong. These are typically made of glass or acrylic, like the one to the left. Ice is placed in a twist or ice trap in the neck. This has the effect of cooling the smoke when the user comes to inhaling. These bongs are typically bright colors and are popular due to the durability, ease of use, and controllability. They usually have carburetor holes on the opposite side to the bowl or slightly to the left or right of that position. These tend to have larger chambers than other bong varieties, as ice is used rarely in smaller bongs.
A bubbler is a small bong that can be operated with only one hand (aside from having to provide an ignition source). In these devices, the stem is internal and the bowl is at the very top. A majority of the bong is enclosed with only a hole in the side to act as the carburetor and the hole the smoke will exit on its way to the user. These operate very much like a pipe since their internal chamber is so small but they have identical parts to a common bong. They are considered more pleasant to smoke out of than a regular pipe because the smoke is cooled through the water and filtered.
A vaporizer-bong, or "vapor-bong," is the use of a box type vaporizer or heat gun and a bong connected via a special glass attachment. The vapor goes through the attachment, filters through the water, and may pass through a layer of ice - creating an ice-cold, vaporized hit of herbal material.
A popper, also called a yetti or a pop, or a Scoot in Brantford Ontario, or a shottie in China, or a Gunny in New Zealand, is similar to a bong, but replaces the bowl with a metal tube or popper shaft, First, a small piece of tobacco is placed into the end of the popper shaft by cutting or ripping a piece of a cigarette big enough not to fall through the shaft when you put your cannabis on top. The popper shaft is then stamped into a pile of busted (cut up) cannabis, which is also sometimes ground using a herb grinder, or occasionally in parts of Cornwall (England) cut apart until a fine dust is reached via a pair of scicors and a shot glass. The popper is then smoked by gently inhaling so that the cannabis is lit, filling the chamber slowly; this is called 'brewing the popper', then once you see the cannabis slowly moving down the shaft, it is inhaled violently to pull the burnt cannabis and tobacco into the water, this is known as pulling the popper. Poppers originated in a little town called Thornhill, in the greater Toronto Area where they are known as pops. Royal Orchard Boulevard a.k.a "Popper Street" is the main road going through Thornhill. Originally as a way to smoke hash, which was previously more common in Thornhill, pops can also be used to smoke herbal cannabis. In England shotties are smoked with rolling tobacco, and are frequently improvised from a 500ml plastic bottle. Fair warning, highly addictive, and after a few good poppers normal weed will not appeal to you, as you'll be left with a nicotine dependence. They can also be *very harmful to the user causing significantly greater damage than, for example, a normal toboacco-less bong.
Parachute / Lung hit
A Parachute is made with a soda bottle, bread bag, tin foil,and some tape. First cut off the end of the soda bottle, then insert the bread bag inside the bottle till it reaches the top. Tape the rest of the bag on the outside of the bottle. Get the bottle cap and burn or cut a hole in it about the size of nickel, then get a piece of tin foil and push it in the down hole and then around the cap and tape it down. Poke holes in the tin foil that's down in the hole in the cap with a pin; this is where you will put your cannabis. How it works: put your cannabis on the tinfoil where the holes are, then light it and grab the bag from the very top on the inside and pull it down slowly while keeping your lighter lit on the cannabis. Once the bag reaches the bottom, quickly screw off the cap and inhale the smoke making the bag go back to the top. Repeat.
Bong Mix/Chop-Bong/Pull through
This form of bong is similar to a popper but where no bowl is used on the former, a small conical bowl (with its wide end slightly wider than the stem being used and its narrow end considerably smaller), known as a 'drop-in cone,' is placed at (not fixed to, hence 'drop in') the end of the stem. This type of cone has a fairly small hole at one end and does not require a gauze.
A bucket bong (also known as hydros, buckets, g-bongs, pissers, GBs, sinkers, torpedoes, depth-charges, yo yo pushers, aqualungs, turbos, plungers or serial thrillas) does not necessarily filter the smoke through water but instead uses water to generate a slow and constant vacuum in the chamber. This offers the same benefit of delivering a concentrated charge of smoke to the user but is much more effective at making the smoke denser, thereby causing more chemicals to be absorbed. These devices are known for inducing massive coughing fits in their users and can be very unpleasant to use, but can allow a user on a tight budget to conserve his/her substance and still get high. People sometimes filter smoke through the water by inserting a makeshift stem (i.e., a pipe the length of the bucket) from the bowl into a bucket of water.
This technique uses a more elaborate setup to reduce the complexity of use. Rather than to lift the bottle, the water is drained in order to produce the vacuum. Also known as a "waterfall," or "pisser" the gravity is made by cutting a hole in the bottom of the bottle instead of cutting it off completely. The bottle is then filled and drained into a sink or bucket while the bowl is lit. Such a device is rare, as gravity bongs are characterized by party situations, poor users or users focused on efficiency (such as in conserving the end of a stash;).
In Pop Culture
- Beastie Boys' rap song Shake Your Rump contains a sample mid-way through the song that features a bong being smoked
- Cypress Hill's rap Hits from the Bong is a famous musical reference to this form of smoking.
- The guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Frusciante, can be heard taking a hit from a bong at the beginning of "For Air" on his second solo album, Smile from the Streets You Hold.
- The Whole Wheat Bread song Grass features samples of bong bubbling.
- In the beginning of the song "Left Hand Suzuki Method" by the Gorillaz and near the end of the song "Kielbasa" by Tenacious D, a water bong can be heard being lit and used.
- In the song "Smoke Two Joints" by Sublime, a bong can be heard at the beginning of the song.
- Immortal Technique mentions a gravity bong in his song Leaving the Past. "Humanity's gone/smoked up in a gravity bong/by a Democrat, Republican, Cheech and Chong.
- A bong hit can be heard at a break in the song "Shake Your Rump" on the 1989 Beastie Boys album Paul's Boutique. It is shortly followed by an explosive sound effect. The clip is often censored at concerts, and was replaced by a scratch breakdown performed by DJ Hurricane in the music video for the song.
- In album "Dub Side Of The Moon", a dub remix of "dark side of the moon" by Pink Floyd, the remixed song "Money" uses a bong sound as loop instead of coins.
- Seconds 28-39 of Madvillain's song "America's Most Blunted" featuring MF DOOM/Madlib(Quasimoto) features the sound of a bong being hit, most likely by MF DOOM himself
- A bong hit can be heard at the end of the song "Among the Sleep" by the rapper Cage.
- The Kottonmouth Kings have a whole song on their Koast II Koast CD, rapping about "Taking bong tokes".
- A bong hit can be heard at the beginning of the song Green Day, performed by the band sharing the same name.
- In The Dandy Warhols song "I am over it" A bong can be heard in the beginning of the song.
- In Brujeria's "Don Quixote Marijuana" a bong can be heard at the end, followed by "Oi!"
- In 2006 Bong Vodka from Holland was released in the U.S. in rather familiar looking bottle.
- In Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny, JB and KG use the Devil's horn as the "Bong of Destiny"
- In Showtek's song green Dutch stuff a bond hit is heard in the beginning.
- Butthole Surfers have a 1989 tune entitled "Bong Song" which features the sampled sounds of a cigarette lighter, a bong hit, and a user choking and coughing.
- Office of National Drug Control Policy
- Contraband: The Sale of Regulated Goods on the Internet
- bong, n.3 The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 20 Apr. 2006 http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50024920
- The text read: Many thanks to Scott Bennett..for the beautiful special bong he made for my pipe collection. Text cited in bong, n.3 The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 20 Apr. 2006 http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50024920
- MAPS/CaNORML vaporizer and waterpipe studies
- Nicholas V. Cozzi, Ph.D. Effects of water filtration on marijuana smoke: a literature review
- Nicholas V. Cozzi, Ph.D. Effects of water filtration on marijuana smoke: a literature review
- Bong Water by Bad Boy Beverage Company
- Bong Water and other micro-marketed energy drinks
- Bong Reviews, Reviews of popular bongs; Roor, Illadelph, G-spot.
- HerbTools , A place to buy bongs
- US Patent number: 4216785, Water pipe or bong William V. Erickson et al
- Bongs Bay, A comprehensive guide to various types of bongs.
- Best Grinder Guide Find all your marijuana grinder reviews.
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