Despite its status as a cannabis culture icon that has been around in one form or another for hundreds of years, many people still ask us, “How does a bong work?”
In terms of understanding how it works, the bong is a bit like the internal combustion engine: lots of people use it frequently and depend on it to get them through their day, but few know what’s going on under the hood.
If you’ve been wondering “How does a bong work?” but have been too afraid to ask lest you raise the ire of your friends, rest easy, you’ve come to the right place. This is a safe space.
We don’t judge.
In this article, our experts at Honest Marijuana tell you everything you need to know about the bong so you can decide for yourself if you want to use one.
What Is A Bong?
We’ll discuss what all of this means in more detail in the How Does A Bong Work section below. For now, it’s enough to know that, next to the joint and the brownie, the bong is one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis.
Bongs — a.k.a. water pipe, bing, billy, binger, bubbler, and hookah — are usually made of glass and come in a pretty standard shape.
But the more creative cannaseurs among us have gone so far as to make their bongs out of novel materials like wood, plastic, ceramic, fruit (yes, fruit), and diamond-encrusted gold.
Some even go the DIY route and make their own homemade bongs — that look nothing like regular bongs — out of mannequins, plastic building blocks, and candy.
So when we talk about the question, “How does a bong work?” we’re describing the process as it occurs in a professionally designed, store-bought glass bong, not an apple bong you built in a pinch because you left your real bong at home.
The History Of The Bong
The modern-day bong is a roundabout descendant of the water pipe that smokers in China and India still use today to enjoy cannabis and tobacco.
The definitive lineage of what we now call the bong is lost to the pot haze of time — mostly because the stoners of yore were high all the time and didn’t keep very good records — but some experts believe that the bong was first used in and around what is now Russia (perhaps by the Mongols).
The practice of using a bong to smoke weed traveled along the Silk Road through Persia and into China during the 14th century, where it quickly supplanted weed tea as the most popular method of consuming cannabis.
From China and the Hindu Kush region of Asia, the practice of smoking marijuana through a bong spread south into Indochina (modern-day Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam).
It’s from this region that the pipe we call a bong probably got its name (one of the only good things to come out of the Vietnam War). The Thai word “baung” refers to a round bamboo tube carved into a pipe for the sole purpose of smoking weed.
It’s not hard to imagine American troops in the late 1960s and early 1970s bringing back stories of their marijuana experiences, along with the simple design for a water pipe made out of bamboo (the baung).
From there, cannaseurs Americanized the Thai word into “bong” and began building their water pipes out of glass instead of bamboo (thanks, Bob Snodgrass!).
Since then, bong manufacturers have improved on the original design by including carb holes, larger water chambers, removable bowls and downstems, and even percolators to further filter the pot smoke.
With that in mind, let’s examine the parts of a bong more closely.
The Parts Of A Bong
All bongs, no matter how fancy, are built around the same four components:
The downstem is a small tube that connects the bowl with the main body of the bong itself (the base). Depending on the design, the bowl and the downstem can be one piece or two.
The base is the bottom of the bong that holds the water. Bong designers can form the base into many different shapes depending on the visual effect they want to create. The most common bases are straight, beaker, and round.
The tube extends up from the base and terminates in the mouthpiece. It’s through the tube that you inhale the filtered smoke.
Some bongs also contain a carb hole (short for carburetor hole) that allows fresh air to flow into the pipe, making it easier to inhale the contents. Carburetors are not necessary to the design of the bong, but many feel that carburetor bongs produce a much more intense hit.
Carb holes are either situated on the tube (you cover it with your finger) or in the base itself as part of the downstem/bowl interface. If you have a removable downstem, you can use it as a carb hole by pulling it out after burning your ganja.
Another common addition to the simple base-and-tube bong described above (be it straight, beaker, or round) is the percolator.
The percolator (shown up-close below) is a piece of glass that dissipates the smoke before it passes through the water and causes a bubbling effect in the bong. Spreading the smoke out in that way helps to filter it better and cool it faster.
The percolator can be at the bottom of the bong (a single-chamber percolator), in another chamber (a multi-chamber percolator), or both (a multi-chamber, multi percolator).
Because of the complexity of this type of bong, they can be difficult to clean, not to mention more expensive.
How Does A Bong Work?
Now that you’re familiar with the history and parts of the modern-day bong, we’ll turn our attention to the question, “How does a bong work?”
The process of smoking a bong starts at the bowl-end of the bong itself. But the mechanics of the bong actually start at the opposite end — the mouthpiece.
When you place the mouthpiece over or in your mouth and gently and slowly start to inhale, you create a vacuum in the tube between your mouth and the water (like trying to suck the water through a straw).
Then, when you apply a flame to the ganja in the bowl, the resultant smoke flows through the downstem and into the base at the bottom of the bong.
It’s at this point in the process that the real magic of the bong occurs.
Water is relatively heavy when compared to smoke (which is why smoke will rise and water will stay put). So because you are trying to suck the contents of the base through the tube, the smoke will rise (or “percolate”) through the water into the tube.
This percolation has a two-fold effect: it filters and cools the marijuana smoke.
As the smoke passes through the water in the base, the water acts as a net or filter that removes and traps undesirable particles such as ash and tar.
In regard to the cooling effect, most flames can burn at several thousand degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, the smoke produced when your cannabis burns is nowhere near that hot, but it can still be several hundred degrees Fahrenheit if you were to inhale it directly into your lungs.
The marvelous thing about the bong is that the water in the base (which can be hot or cold) will cool the smoke significantly. Cooler smoke is much easier to inhale and makes for a more enjoyable pot-smoking experience.
Once you’ve got enough filtered and cooled smoke in the tube, you can release the carb hole (or withdraw the bowl/downstem combo) and inhale the contents into your lungs for recreational or medicinal effects.
That’s one hit. Replace the stem, pass it to the next person (if you’re toking in a group), and do it again.
That’s how a bong works in a nutshell.
Should You Use A Bong?
The straight answer is, “Yes!”
If you can handle the expense of buying a bong, the time necessary to maintain it, and the steps necessary to make it work, you really can’t go wrong using a bong.
If you’re a little leery about buying your own, ask a friend if you can try theirs (you can grease the wheel by offering to bring the weed and share the hits).
If you enjoy using your friend’s bong, you can buy your own for personal use. If you don’t enjoy using a bong, you can always rely on one of the many cannabis consumption alternatives, like joints, edibles, tinctures, and oils.
For more information on all things cannabis and to check out our 100-percent all-natural marijuana products, visit HonestMarijuana.com today.