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The bong


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What is a bong?

A bong, also commonly known as a water pipe, is a smoking device, generally used to smoke cannabis, tobacco, or other substances. The smoke passing through a bong has been allowed to cool down upon entering the user's lungs and is therefore often experienced as a more pleasant experience.


It is said that the first use of bongs dates back as far as 1100 BC. Archaeologists in Ethiopia, Africa, have found smoking devices that consisted of an underground 'cooling' system, a duct connecting a buried bottle -with hemp on top of it- to effectively burn and inhale the hemp fumes.

At the time of this discovery, it was believed that Arab navigators brought cannabis and pipes to Africa during the middle of the thirteenth century. Since these earth pipes have also been found in Central Asia and so much resembled the ones found in Africa, a cultural link between the two areas was assumed.

Later it became clear that the pipes found in Africa were actually designed for smoking cannabis, and not for tobacco, as archaeological evidence indicates that Africans primarily chewed and sniffed tobacco.

Smoking devices that have a greater resemblance to modern day bongs have been found in Thailand and were made out of bamboo. This is also where the name originates from; Bong is an adaptation of the Thai word Baung. The word 'bong' is a recent import to English, noted in dictionaries only as far back as 1971.

Bongs were introduced to the Western culture in the 60's by the marijuana-smoking hippie movement, and have been embraced by tokers over the whole world ever since.


First, the reservoir -or base- needs to be filled with water. Other liquids can be used, but they must be non-harmful. Since THC is soluble in alcohol, using any type of liquor or alcohol containing beverage will somewhat decrease the amount of THC.

The substance to be smoked is packed onto the cone piece or head. A pipe screen may be needed to hold the material and prevent it from jamming the pipe head. The user places his/her lips inside the mouthpiece, forming a seal, and inhales, causing the flame to be drawn toward the substance.

An inhalation is known as a "hit", "pull", "rip" or "toke." As the user inhales, the flame is drawn towards the substance, igniting it, and the smoke which is produced travels through a hollow pipe that is attached to the bottom of the bowl.

The smoke rises through the water, which cools the smoke, and then the smoke is trapped in the air chamber above the water. At the side or back of the bong, above the water level, there is usually a small air hole called a "carburettor", "carb", "choke", "shotgun", "shottie" or "rush hole". The user of the bong covers the carb with a finger until the material in the bowl has burnt away, then uncovers and pulls all the smoke from the bong into their lungs (called "clearing" the bong). The fluid (or 'bongwater') should be refreshed regularly, preferably after usage.


Water in a bong does not only cool the smoke, thereby reducing the chance of burning the mouth, airways and lungs, it also allows for the user to inhale a greater amount of smoke, as opposed to the smaller, more frequent inhalations of cigarette and pipe smoking.

Research has shown that smoke passing through water -water filtration- effectively removes toxic and carcinogenic components from the smoke. The larger the smoke's water contact area, the more toxic matter will remain in the fluid. However, this does not fully seem to apply to marijuana smoke. A study sponsored by MAPS and NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) showed that in the case of marijuana, water filtration is actually counter-productive and makes up for a higher amount of tar, compared to the number of cannabinoids present in the smoke. Apparently, this is because water tends to absorb THC more readily than noxious tars.

This does not particularly mean that bongs are unhealthy since they do filter out certain non-solid smoke toxins occurring in the gas phase of the smoke. However, for those seeking to avoid respiratory hazards of marijuana, a vaporizer would be a much better choice.


This article is based on the following pages:

Wikipedia - Bong

Effects of Water Filtration On Marijuana Smoke

MAPS/CaNORML Vaporizer and Waterpipe Studies

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