The History and Uses of the Bong
Read up on the differences between bongs and how they came to be.
Whether or not you use them, pretty much every cannabis user has used a bong at some point or another. Bongs have a long and rich history, with evidence of their use dating back to ancient civilizations, and it’s a heritage that people enjoy along with the smoke whenever they use them. And while the styles and designs have shifted over the years, the model of water, air pressure and smoke filtration is common to most of them.
The origins of the bong can be arguably traced to the arrival of the hookah, which was originally invented in India by the physician Hakim Abul Fath. Inventing it originally for tobacco, Fath believed that passing the smoke through the water would strip it of some of its toxins, a belief that smokers still cling to today. However, a pared-down design explicitly used for cannabis as well as tobacco was found during excavation of a kurgan in 2013, and studies of waterpipes found in Eastern and Southern Africa suggest they were originally and exclusively used for cannabis.
The Chinese in particular gravitated towards bong usage, and its usage was prevalent during the Qing Dynasty that stretched from the 17th to the early 20th century. From the Thai, we get the actual name for the bong, which originates from their term “baung.” Usage of such bongs in Asia ranged from simple bamboo designs used by commoners to more ornate brass and metal models used by merchants. Qing Empress Dowager Cixi was so enamored of hers that she was buried with three of them.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the bong became a symbol of the counterculture movement, and as the 20th century progressed, companies such as RooR and Illadelph would innovate significantly on their designs. Today, bongs are widely available in a variety of materials, sizes, and designs, and are used by people all over the world for smoking a variety of substances.
The Main Types of Bongs
If you’re interested in investing in a bong, one should consider what you prioritize. Some bongs, such as silicon models, are easy to clean but not as ornate, while glass bongs can be beautiful but very fragile. Moreover, some bongs can enhance the cannabis effect more than others. Following are some of the main types of bongs, some of which innovate on the older methods, and others which work with the tried-and-true.
Straight-tube bongs: These are the most basic and traditional type of bongs. They consist of a tube with a bowl at the bottom, a mouthpiece at the top, and a stem connecting the bowl to the tube. To use a straight-tube bong, you fill the tube with water, place your herb in the bowl, light the herb, and inhale through the mouthpiece. To inhale, you either place your finger on a hole, called the “carb,” and then remove it when you’re ready to take in the smoke, or you remove the stem.
Beaker-shaped bongs: These bongs are similar to straight-tube bongs, but they have a wider base in the shape of a beaker. This wider base allows for more water to be used, which can help to filter and cool the smoke more effectively. To use a beaker-shaped bong, you follow the same steps as with a straight-tube bong.
Gravity bongs: Gravity bongs are a type of bong that often uses water and air pressure to create a strong and intense smoking experience. Classic models consist of a bottle with the bottom cut off, a bowl that fits onto the top of the bottle, and a bucket of water. To use a gravity bong, you fill the bottle with water, place the bowl on top, light the cannabis, and slowly lift the bottle out of the water while inhaling through the mouthpiece. The rising smoke will be forced into the bottle and then into your lungs when you remove the bowl. A “waterfall” gravity bong uses only one bottle with a hole at the bottom where the water is drained and the resulting vacuum creates the smoke you would subsequently inhale.
Percolator bongs: Percolator bongs are bongs that have an extra chamber with small holes or slits, called a percolator, built into the tube. Numerous varieties of percolators, such as inline frit, pyramid and showerhead upline, exist, but they all help to cool and filter the smoke by breaking it up into smaller bubbles as it passes through the water. To use a percolator bong, you follow the same steps as with a straight-tube bong, but the smoke is filtered and cooled as it passes through the percolator chamber.
Multi-chamber bongs: Multi-chamber bongs, also known as "recycler bongs," have two or more chambers that the smoke passes through before reaching the mouthpiece. These bongs are designed to filter and cool the smoke multiple times, resulting in a smoother and cooler hit. To use a multi-chamber bong, you follow the same steps as with a straight-tube bong, but the smoke is filtered and cooled multiple times as it passes through the additional chambers. In the case of recyclers, the smoke is continuously circulated and filtered through the chambers, leading to a smoother hit.