Are Bongs Healthier? Weighing the Evidence

Updated on October 19, 2020

Are bongs healthier? It’s telling that despite their cooling effects, the purported health benefits of using a bong instead of smoking herbs are hotly debated. Today, we’re going to take a look at the evidence to help create a clearer picture.

Are Bongs Healthier? — The Root of the Debate

Conventional smoke is universally known to be harmful — but are bongs healthier?

Bongs, as you may or may not know, use water to cool and filter the smoke from burning dried herbs. When you inhale this smoke, you receive a much cooler, smoother hit than you would from a regular pipe or rolling paper.

At the end of this process, you may notice that the water becomes discolored or filled with particles. Some sources claim these particles are proof that a bong can filter “90% of toxins” from the smoke.

While it’s unclear exactly how such sources arrived at the “90%” number, those particles you see in bong water are indeed indicative of the device’s filtration capabilities.

What Does the Science Say About “Are Bongs Healthier?”

Beyond observing the filtration directly, we can rely on scientific evidence to confirm bong health benefits — to a degree.

Medical experts like Dr. Donald Tashkin, professor of medicine at UCLA, say that particles from marijuana smoke do contain toxic components like carcinogens. While researchers have yet to find evidence suggesting marijuana smoke actually does cause cancer or pulmonary disease in humans, seeing some of these particles filtered is undoubtedly a perk of using a bong.

In one review of studies on water bongs, University of Wisconsin pharmacologist Dr. Nicholas Cozzi stated that they “can be effective in removing components from marijuana smoke that are known toxins, while allowing THC to pass through relatively intact.”

So while there’s no proof that bongs filter “90%” of toxins out of marijuana smoke as some proponents would have you believe, it’s clear both scientifically and observationally that they remove some of the toxins (or “tar” as cannabis users frequently call it). Some bongs even have multiple filtration chambers, theoretically supercharging this process.

Results concerning smoking tobacco in a water bong have been less promising. Some researchers have gone as far as to say that smoking tobacco from a bong is as harmful as smoking cigarettes.

Because of the sheer quantity of smoke one inhales while using a water bong, some researchers say that smoking tobacco in them for a single one-hour session can be as bad as smoking 200 cigarettes. This despite seeing similar particles in bong water after smoking tobacco.

One explanation for this, of course, is that tobacco interacts with the body in more harmful ways and that even a bong’s filtration can’t combat this.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that the tobacco used in these studies has generally been from commercial water bong lounges. The tobacco found in such establishments may not be of the highest quality, whereas modern cannabis studies (like those that suggest bong use is healthier than smoking it) use medical herbs whose origins are known.

Future studies of water bongs using organic tobacco may yield more promising results.

Beyond Filtration: Cooling

The water chamber in a bong cools the smoke.

Beyond filtration, there’s another immediately observable (and indisputable) health benefit of using bongs: they cool the smoke.

You feel this in the much cooler hits that a bong produces. You’ll likely cough less and feel less irritation in your lungs. This feature of water bongs can even be enhanced using ice!

Chemicals inherent to whatever herbs you’re smoking aside, the hot smoke itself can damage your lungs. The heat will kill cells that protect your lungs from germs, suppressing your immune system.

It’s no surprise, then, that people who smoke marijuana (as opposed to using a device that cools the smoke) report more visits to the doctor for respiratory conditions.

Again, there’s not much quantitative research proving bongs are “X%” easier on the lungs than smoking cannabis or tobacco. However, quantitatively, any bong user will acknowledge that their lungs thank them when they use a bong over other types of devices.

Are Water Bottle Bongs Safe?

It’s worth noting that, thus far, we’ve been discussing bongs made from glass. Some people who perhaps don’t have the resources to buy glass bongs (particularly teenagers) may resort to making bongs out of water bottles.

It seems crafty — but are water bottle bongs safe?

This question has a simple answer — and that answer is no.

Even in a high-quality bong that you can purchase from a bong shop, the smoke is still at a moderate temperature. When this smoke touches the plastic, chemicals will leech from the latter and end up in your lungs.

Considering that there’s significant debate as to whether these bottles are safe to drink from, it goes without saying that you don’t want to be inhaling these chemicals.

So… Are Bongs Healthier?

Alright, so you know that water bottle bongs are out of the question. But are glass water bongs healthier than conventional smoking?

When it comes to marijuana, while the question can be hotly-debated at times, research suggests that the answer is yes. With tobacco, current research suggests that the answer is no — but future research using organic tobacco (as opposed to that which is found in hookah lounges) may suggest otherwise.

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