For many full-time smokers, bongs are the method of choice for smoking marijuana. By filtering the smoke through cold water and ice, even large hits can feel relatively smooth. First time users may find using a bong quite difficult, so this article introduces the history, construction, and use of bongs.


The bong is mechanically very similar to that of thehookah. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish in historical documents. The etymology, on the other hand, is quite clear. It originates from the Thai wordbaung, a cylindrical wooden tube, pipe, or container cut from bamboo.

Bongs similar to the ones we are familiar with today have probably been in use for centuries in Laos, Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia. As far as its introduction into the West, the 1944 McFarland Thai-English dictionary described the word bong to mean “a bamboo water-pipe for smoking kancha, tree, hashish, or the hemp-plant.” Throughout the counterculture movement of the 60′s it rapidly gained steam and today is a common household term for stoners.


The construction of bongs varies significantly in many respects. They can be constructed from acrylic, ceramic, or most commonly glass. Generally, the common features of most bongs are as follows (labeled in the diagram):

  • A. Chamber: This is the large portion of the bong where smoke collects. The chamber sometimes has small protrusions near the bottom called ice-catchers which are designed to hold cannabis bongcrushed or cubed ice for the purpose of cooling down the smoke.
  • B. Base: This is the larger, often rounded portion at the bottom of the bong. The base acts primarily to hold the water through which the smoke will be filtered. Due to its larger size, the base also acts to allow the bong to stand on its own.
  • C. Stem: The stem extends from below the water level in the base out of the bong at an angle such that the other end is higher than the water level. The stem holds the bowl and smoke flows through it into the water.
  • D. Bowl: This is typically a removable cone-shaped container where the cannabis is placed and ignited. Bowls can be simple and plain or as ornate as the rest of the bong. They can sometimes be stuck in place on the stem, but are most often removable. Removable bowls are most commonly referred to as slides.

Some (usually lower quality) bongs have a carb or choke. The choke operates in a manner similar to that of traditional pipes. A seal is made by pressing one’s finger over the choke while smoke is brought into the chamber. When the finger is removed, air is allowed to enter offering an accelerated inhalation of smoke. In higher quality pipes, the bowl is removable, and removing the bowl serves the same purpose, allowing flow of air into the chamber.


The use of a bong can sometimes be confusing for marijuana novices. Bongs also vary greatly in their construction, so even regular users can sometime be confused by unfamiliar bongs. The general use of a bong should be understood to avoid embarrassment, but if you are comfortable with the crowd you chose to smoke with, you should not be afraid to ask for help!

If the bong you are using has a choke or carb, the first step is to cover it with your finger. In the more likely chance it has a slide, this step is not necessary.

Next, you are going to want to place your mouth over the mouthpiece forming an air-tight seal. A lighter is then placed near the marijuana in the bowl and you will begin inhaling.

As you inhale, the pressure in the chamber will decrease and to equalize this pressure with the outside, atmospheric pressure will push air in through the only available opening, the stem. The flame of the lighter will be consequently pulled to the marijuana, which will combust and smoke will enter the chamber through the water. This produces a characteristic bubbling sound familiar to stoners worldwide.

When you feel enough smoke has entered the chamber, it is important to release your finger from the carb or if the bong you are using has a slide, pull the slide out of the stem. This will allow air to enter the chamber and accelerate the flow of smoke into your lungs.

smoking bongAs you continue to inhale, it is important to pull all smoke from the chamber. This is called clearing the chamber. If you fail to clear the chamber with one inhalation, it is not uncommon to cover the top of the bong with your hand, exhale, and resume your hit.


Smoking bongs can be a frightening experience for newbies. It is important to remain calm and know that eventually, if you keep at it, you will be as experienced as everyone else. It really doesn’t take a lot to be stoner, so don’t feel too overwhelmed. While you will inevitably experience some minor mishaps early in your career, the following etiquette rules involving bongs should come in handy.

Clearing the chamber is the most important etiquette rule with regard to bongs. Whenever you take a hit, only fill the chamber with as much marijuana smoke as you can take. It is okay to take a breather, making sure to cover the top of the bong with your hand, and continuing your hit until the chamber is clear. Failing to clear the chamber altogether, however, is frowned upon.

It is also important not to exhale into the chamber. If you are taking a breather, cover the mouthpiece and exhale away from the bong. Exhaling into the bong forces water out of the stem and into the bowl, drenching the marijuana, which is not good.

If it is bestowed upon you to set up the bong, be sure to use fresh water. While it is okay to reuse the same water for a few sessions, over time, particles build up and the water becomes a disgusting brown-green color. This water starts to smell and also hurts the taste of the smoke. Fill the base with water such that the water-level is above the bottom of the stem, but not with so much water that you would pull water up the chamber with every hit.

Do not, under any circumstances, do anything that may cause the bong to fall. If the bong falls, the best-case scenario would be a spillage of foul-smelling bong water. Bong water can stain fabrics and smell for a long time. Even worse, the bong could break. Bongs tend to be very expensive and glass is very fragile, so it is important that everyone present looks out for the well-being of the bong.

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