Cannabis is now legal in 19 states and several Canadian territories, and decriminalized in many more. For many people, using cannabis no longer needs to be a clandestine activity, and it’s easier to consume it in the way that works best for them. Often, that means loading up a bong.
How a Bong Works
Bongs, also called water pipes, are usually made of glass, but you can also find models made from materials like acrylic, ceramic, and silicone. They consist of a small removable bowl (where weed is placed) connected to a large chamber for holding water, which leads to a long cylindrical tube (where you place your mouth). To use one, fill the small bowl with cannabis and ignite it. Suck air through the tube to pull smoke from the bowl into the water chamber. Then, remove the bowl and inhale the smoke through the tube. Some bongs also include ash catchers, which keep ash and resin from entering the water, and percolators, which filter the smoke before it enters your lungs.
While bongs are a favorite among cannabis users, they can be a little intimidating for the uninitiated. There are many options out there—including some that are quite expensive—and if you’re not sure what to look for, picking your first bong can be a daunting task.
Fear not: This guide has you covered. We caught up with Anthony Sarabia, curator at the cannabis subscription service Daily High Club, to get the crash course on bongs and what to look for if you’re buying one for the first time. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Should You Use a Bong?
Before you go shelling out for a new bong, make sure that’s how you want to consume your weed. A hit from a bong tends to pack quite a wallop, so if you’re new to cannabis, you might want to consider other options.
On the plus side, there are many benefits to using a bong. According to Sarabia, one of the biggest perks is that bongs, especially models with a percolator and ash catcher, can help cool down and filter cannabis smoke before it enters your lungs, which makes taking a hit a mellower experience compared to smoking a joint.
“You won’t have to deal with such a harsh cough,” he tells Men’s Journal.
How Much Does a Bong Cost?
If you’ve browsed bong options online, there’s a good chance you’ve been spooked by the prices. Water pipes can run into the hundreds of dollars, which can feel a bit steep for newcomers. According to Sarabia, however, there’s no need to shell out hundreds, especially if you just want something simple.
“It’s possible to get a bong without breaking the bank,” he says. “A good $50 bong should get the job done.”
What Are Some Good Brands?
As with most cannabis-related products, there are hundreds of bong brands out there. Some are excellent, some are good, and some aren’t so great. Luckily, we’ve got Sarabia to narrow it down: He recommends MJ Arsenal, GRAV Labs, and Eran Park Glass as good places to start.
What Features Should You Look For?
Sarabia recommends keeping it simple for your first bong. Look for something about eight to 12 inches in height; anything larger can be a bit unwieldy. More importantly, he recommends paying close attention to durability. You want a piece that’s well-balanced and sturdy—look for pipes with a wide base that won’t easily tip over.
You’ll also want a bong with a sufficiently long tube to prevent splash-back (when water from the bong contacts your mouth), and an appropriately sized downstem (the narrow passage that connects the bowl to the water chamber). If it’s is too long, it can create poor airflow, and if it’s too short, bong water could pass through it and soak your cannabis.
As mentioned above, some models include percolators, which filter the smoke and help prevent the water from splashing into your mouth, and ash catchers, which reduce the amount of tar that enters the bong. Both are worthwhile, Sarabia says, but the latter item is particularly useful because less tar means a cooler, cleaner bong hit.
As for what to avoid? First and foremost, choose glass over plastic.
“I wouldn’t recommend using plastic bongs because they usually have aluminum metal bowls that aren’t the best for your lungs,” says Sarabia. “Burning any of those can emit harmful chemicals and toxins.”
How Do You Maintain a Bong?
The most important way to avoid grime buildup in your bong is to change the water frequently. Sarabia also recommends using RezBlock, an all-natural product made from fruit and vegetable extracts. When added to bong water, it acts like a protective barrier over the surface of your glass.
“It creates a coating that prevents the bong from getting stuck with cannabis resin,” he says.
Eventually, of course, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and do some scrubbing. Try a combination of isopropyl alcohol and coarse salt, which will serve as an abrasive to cut through stubborn residue. Pour the mixture into the bong’s main chamber, shake it up for several minutes, and rinse it out thoroughly. You can also opt for a dedicated bong cleaning product.
“Cleaners are also helpful to have around in case you grow tired—or run out of—alcohol and salt,” Sarabia says.
With proper care and regular cleaning, your new bong should last for years.