A bong (also water pipe) is a filtration device for smoking, generally used to smoke tobacco, cannabis, 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) which guides air downward to below water level whence it bubbles upward during use. To get fresh air into the bong and harvest the last remaining smoke, a hole known as the "carburetor", "carb", "choke" or "shoddy", 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: บ้อง [bɔːŋ]), 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. 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.
Comparison with other smoking methods
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. Thus the mechanics of a bong function similarly to those of a laboratory gas washing bottle. This filtration means that bongs are less damaging than other smoking methods.
However, a 2000 NORML-MAPS 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". 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.
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