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A bong with a circular carburation port in the front of the bowl

A bong (also water pipe) is a filtration device for smoking, generally used to smoke cannabis, tobacco, or other substances.

In construction and function a bong is similar to a hookah, except smaller and more portable. A bong may be constructed from any air- and water-tight vessel by adding a screened bowl and stem apparatus (or slide)[3] which guides air downward to below water level from whence it bubbles upward during use. To get fresh air into the bong and harvest last remaining smoke, a hole known as the “carburetor” or “carb”, somewhere on the lower part of the bong above water level, is first kept covered during the toke, then opened.

The word bong is an adaptation of the Thai word baung (Thai: ???? [b???]),[need tone][4] a cylindrical wooden tube, pipe, or container cut from bamboo, and which also refers to the bong used for smoking.

Bongs have been in use by the Hmong, in Laos and Thailand, for centuries.[citation needed] One of the earliest recorded uses of the word in the West is the McFarland Thai-English Dictionary, published in 1944, which describes one of the meanings of bong in the Thai language as, “a bamboo waterpipe for smoking kancha, tree, hashish, or the hemp-plant.” A January 1971 issue of the Marijuana Review also used the term.

Many of today’s society make what is called a “water-bottle bong”. A bong which is made from a water-bottle with two holes at the bottom to represent a “choke” and a “mouth”, along with tinfoil wrapped at the top with holes in it to act as the “bowl”.

Comparison with other smoking methods

Diagram of a bong in operation.

The rationale behind the use of a bong is the claim that the cooling effect of the water helps to reduce the chance of burning the mouth, airways, and lungs, thus many claim that using a bong to smoke is safer. The water can trap some heavier particles and water-soluble molecules, preventing them from entering the smoker’s airways.[5] Thus the mechanics of a bong function similarly to those of a laboratory gas washing bottle. This “filtration” can lead to the belief that bongs are less damaging than other smoking methods.

However, a 2000 NORMLMAPS study found that “water pipes filter out more psychoactive THC than they do other tars, thereby requiring users to smoke more to reach their desired effect”.[6] In the study, smoke from cannabis supplied by the NIDA was drawn through a number of smoking devices and analyzed. An inhalation machine, adjusted to mimic the puff length of cannabis smokers, drew smoke through a standard bong, a small portable bong with a folding stem, a bong with a motorized paddle that thoroughly mixes the smoke with the water, and two different types of vaporizers. Comparisons to traditional non-filtered smoking methods were not included in these experiments.

MAPS[7] also reviewed a study that examined the effects and composition of water-filtered and non-filtered cannabis and tobacco smoke. It found that when alveolar macrophages were exposed to unfiltered smoke, their ability to fight bacteria was reduced, unlike exposure to water-filtered smoke. It also found substantial epidemiological evidence of a lower incidence of carcinoma among tobacco smokers who used water-pipes, as opposed to cigarettes, cigars, and regular pipes. “It appears that water filtration can be effective in removing components from cannabis smoke that are known toxicants… The effectiveness of toxicant removal is related to the smoke’s water contact area.

Specially designed water pipes, incorporating particulate filters and gas-dispersion frits, would likely be most effective in this regard; the gas-dispersion frit serves to break up the smoke into very fine bubbles, thereby increasing its water-contact area.”[7] These frits are commonly referred to as “diffusers” for the way that they diffuse (or disperse) the smoke as it exits the downstem, and usually consist of small holes or slats at the end of the downstem. This study suggests that a bong’s smoke is less harmful than unfiltered smoke.


A variety of bongs for sale, among other merchandise in Manhattan. For legal reasons, the products are labeled as “Tobacco Use Only”

In the United States, under the Federal Drug Paraphernalia Statute, which is part of the Controlled Substances Act, it is illegal to sell, transport through the mail, transport across state lines, import, or export drug paraphernalia.[citation needed] However all smoking accessories before being used with any illegal substance are legal.

In countries where marijuana and hashish are illegal, some retailers specify that bongs are intended for use with tobacco in an attempt to circumvent laws against selling drug paraphernalia. While technically ‘bong’ does not mean a device used for smoking marijuana, drug-related connotations have been formed with the word itself. Due to these connotations, some head shops will not serve customers who use the word “bong”.[8]