Popular devices for consuming cannabis, bongs come in lots of shapes and sizes, ranging from the handmade to stunning works of hand-blown glass art. With so many choices, how do you know what kind of bong to select? Or whether a bong is even the best consumption method for your needs? Read on to understand how a bong works, how to clean this accessory, safety considerations and more.
What is a bong?
Sometimes referred to as a water pipe, a bong is a device used for smoking dried cannabis flower that has a water filtration system to circulate and cool the smoke before inhalation. Bongs come in many shapes, sizes and materials, including glass, acrylic, wood, metal and silicone. Despite these variations, they’re usually made up of several standard components.
Bowl: A removable attachment that holds the dried flower to be ignited.
Downstem: A small cylinder tube that connects the bowl to the water source. Some downstems are removable for easy cleaning, while others are permanently fused to the tube.
Base: The bottom of the bong, which holds the water. Although it comes in different shapes, the base is typically wider than the rest of the bong so it remains upright without toppling over.
Tube/Chamber: A straight or curved tube where the smoke percolates before inhalation.
Mouthpiece: A lip or narrow area at the top of the tube that’s designed for the consumer to place their mouth for inhalation.
Certain bongs also have optional features like a splash guard, a percolator or an ice pinch. A splash guard is great for a bong with a shorter chamber or lots of aeration to keep nasty bong water out of your mouth. Percolators are additional water chambers usually placed at the bottom of the tube, near the base, to allow extra circulation and cooling of the cannabis smoke. And an ice pinch is used to hold ice cubes in place and out of the bong water to further cool the smoke.
How does a bong work?
When you inhale, the smoke from the burning cannabis gets pulled from the bowl, through the downstem and into the water at the base. The smoke filters through the water, which cools it, and travels up the tube to the mouthpiece. After each sesh, remove the water and clean your bong for next time.
How to use a bong
- Fill: Pour water directly into the mouthpiece until the bottom of the downstem is covered. There’s no standard amount, so start with about 1 cm of water and test it (without cannabis) by removing the bowl and inhaling. If you don't have any splash back in the mouthpiece, you're good to go.
- Pack: Place dried cannabis into the bowl. Ensure the ground flower is not packed too tightly to allow for airflow. You can customize the amount of product that is best for you.
- Ignite: Hold a lighter or hemp wick to the edge of the bowl to burn the cannabis evenly. If your bong has a carb (also called a carburator) in the side, place your finger over the hole before lighting.
- Inhale: While holding the flame to the cannabis, cover the tube with your mouth to create a seal and inhale. Once it’s filled with smoke, remove your finger from the carb or remove the bowl to clear the smoke and continue inhaling.
Note that these are the steps for a basic water bong — other types may have different requirements.
Don't hold your breath — it’s a myth that inhaling deeply or holding smoke in your lungs makes you feel the effects more strongly.
What kind of cannabis can be used in a bong?
Bongs are primarily used to consume dried flower and milled cannabis, although other combustible formats, such as bubble hash and kief, can also be used. If you’re using whole flower, the cannabis must first be broken down into smaller pieces with a grinder or scissors.
Pros and cons: Why choose a bong?
With so many ways to consume cannabis, each with its own benefits and drawbacks, why use a bong? It all comes down to personal preference. Let’s look at the pros and cons of choosing this method.
- Produces smoother and cooler smoke in comparison to joints and pipes
- Easy to use
- Option to fit every budget
- Allows you to consume a customized amount of cannabis
- Inhaling cannabis smoke is associated with health risks
- Not very portable
- Can be breakable
- Needs to be cleaned regularly
Buying a bong: What to consider before purchasing
Before you buy, know that not all bongs for sale are safe. Only use a bong made from materials that are meant to be heated (avoiding plastic and aluminum) and won’t leech chemicals into the water.
Some other considerations when choosing a bong:
- Size: Bongs range in size from small bubblers to multi-person towers.
- Shape: The shape of the bong base affects stability and can keep it from toppling over and breaking.
- Material: Glass is the most common material, but bongs come in other less-breakable materials, like silicone and stainless steel.
- Price: While collectors might spend thousands on a display piece of hand-blown bong art, simpler versions start as low as $10.
How to keep a bong clean
Regularly cleaning your bong is about more than aesthetics — it’s a safety precaution. Bacteria and mould can grow inside the device, increasing your chances of developing a lung infection, and any residues coating the bong will affect the flavour of the cannabis.
Just like your home, quick, regular cleaning is easier than scrubbing away built-up grime. If you’re using the bong regularly, it’s a good idea to wash it every two days or so. If the bong is only used sporadically, clean it after every use to avoid bacteria growth.
Sharing your bong with others? Keep individual alcohol wipes on hand to clean the mouthpiece between uses to reduce the risk of sharing bacteria and viruses.
Are there risks to using a bong?
As with any method of cannabis consumption, there are risks associated with inhaling cannabis smoke from a bong. Research shows that the smoke produced by burning (or combusting) cannabis contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke and could even lead to pre-cancerous changes in the airway.
There’s a common myth that water bongs are safer than joints because the smoke passes through water and is cooled before reaching your mouth; it’s thought that the water also helps filter out harmful compounds. While it’s true that the smoke is cooled, there’s evidence to suggest that a water bong may actually increase your intake of tar and ash particles.
Minimize your risk when consuming cannabis — check out 10 harm reduction tips.