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Anatomy of a bong

Summerland Chongo bong
The Summerland Chongo bong. (Matt Stangel for Leafly)

What is a bong?

A bong is a pipe that filters cannabis smoke through water before being inhaled. The water cools smoke, making for a cleaner, smoother, less harsh hit. The water in a bong also catches ash and debris from burnt weed and filters out some tar—which is why water in a bong will eventually turn brown.

Bongs are often made out of glass and are vertical in design. Cannabis is placed into the bowl of a bong, similar to a pipe. Smoke travels from the bowl through the downstem and into the base, which holds the water, and then into the tube for inhalation.

History of the bong

The word “bong” is thought to be derived from the Thai word “baung”—originally a piece of bamboo used to smoke herbs.

The ancient Scythians, a group of people living in central Asia between 600 BCE and 400 CE, smoked cannabis out of gold bongs. Water pipes were also used during the late Ming Dynasty in China in the 16th century, and bongs and water pipes are also related to the hookah, which originated in India or the Middle East.

The different parts of a bong

Whether simple or complex, all bongs have these features:

  • Bowl: A removable attachment where weed is placed. The bowl of a bong sits in the downstem and is removed when the smoker is ready to clear the smoke in the tube.
  • Downstem: A small tube connecting the bowl and the base of the bong. The bong’s downstem sits in water but doesn’t touch the bottom of the base.
  • Base: The bottom of the bong, which holds the water. Water is filled up to between the bottom of the downstem and the top of the bowl. The base of a bong can have many shapes.
  • Tube: Coming up from the base, smoke is drawn into the bong’s tube from the water and then inhaled through the mouthpiece.
  • Mouthpiece: Where smoke is inhaled, at the end of the tube. Your lips go inside the mouthpiece, not over it.

There are many other additional features that enhance a bong:

  • Ice pinch: Indents in the tube that hold ice, which further cools smoke.
  • Percolators: There are a variety of percolators, but all of them further cool smoke by adding oxygen to it.
  • Splash guard: A device in the tube that prevents water from coming up the tube when inhaling.
  • Ash catcher: Usually a device added between the bowl and downstem that catches ash and debris from the bowl so it doesn’t get into the bong.

Different types of bongs

Bongs come in all types of shapes and sizes. All are vertical in design to allow for a water chamber at the bottom. Here are some common types:

  • Straight tube: One piece that is a straight cylinder
  • Beaker base: Triangular base that has the feel of a something you’d see in a science lab, hence the name
  • Rounded base: Classic bong design with a bulbous base
  • Multi-chambers: Usually a straight tube with multiple chambers attached to the central tube, which additionally filter and cool smoke

Bongs can also be made out of many different types of materials, including:

  • Glass
  • Plastic
  • Ceramic

Advantages of smoking from a bong

Bongs are great because they provide a smoother hit than pipes. Some say the water filters out some terpenes and cannabinoids, but it’s a negligible amount. 

One of the disadvantages of using a bong is that they are typically more expensive than pipes because they are bigger and require more skill to make. Bongs can also get dirty easily and be difficult to clean. 

Pat Goggins contributed to this article.