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Frequently Asked Questions About Bongs, Part 1 (BEGINNERS)

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Ok, so you just tried a bong for the first time and you now have no idea why you bothered with anything else. Welcome to the world of bongs! It’s a wide world that’s growing wider every day, with new terminology being invented almost as fast as the bongs themselves. You want to make an informed decision when buying a bong, but how do you even begin? We’ll help you get started with a few basics:

What is a bong, exactly?

We’ll get into the details later, but a bong is a cannabis consumption tool that aims to cool the smoke before it enters the lungs. This is accomplished by filtering the smoke through one or more chambers of water and (sometimes) ice. Some designs actually cause the smoke to move continuously through the piece, resulting in additional cooling. Bongs come in all shapes and sizes, and primarily differ from bubblers (which also work using water) due to their size and shape.

How do I use a bong?

Did you already forget?! Must have been a nice one. Bongs actually function in a few different ways (especially when you get into concentrates), but they generally work by lighting the bowl while sucking in from the top, then removing the bowl and stem when the chamber is full of smoke, allowing you to inhale a large amount of smoke rather quickly. If you’re still stumped, just leave the rock you’ve been living under and watch pretty much any comedy made in the last 20 years.

Why use a bong instead of a different method?

It’s all up to personal preference. Many smokers prefer to jump between pieces, opting for a blunt or large joint or a compact but beautiful piece when out and about with friends, while also leaving a bong or vaporizer back home. Bongs generally provide a heavier but smoother hit, while pipes and joints are a bit harsher, though not quite as intense. Vaporizers are in a slightly different ballpark: they deliver clean, lighter hits that can really build on you.

What’s a perc?

Simply put, a perc (often spelled “perk”) refers to the chamber(s) of water that are the key features of a bong. More specifically, “perc” is the short way to say percolator, which is something that bubbles when water comes through it. There are many different types of percs; the GrassCity store has more than 14 types, including a separate category for non-standard perc types, and creative glass experts are coming out with new designs regularly. You’re likely familiar with a classic perc – it’s the type of bong your grandmother might mistake for a flower vase – but you probably have no idea how to tell the difference between tree, circ and honeycomb. Don’t worry. All you need to know for now is that they all aim to break up the smoke, filter it through water and deliver a smoother hit in the end.

What’s a bowl?

Your bowl might be the most important part of your bong, and it’s the one thing all bongs have in common: it’s where you put the cannabis in! Alright, so concentrate bongs have a slightly different bowl than traditional bongs, but you get the idea. The bowl attaches to the downstem, which in turn leads to the perc, which delivers the smoke up the stem and into your waiting lungs. It all starts with the bowl!

What’s a downstem?

A downstem is the piece that connects into the base of your bong. It’s what you pull the bowl from. Some downstems, such as this one from Weed Star, add an extra element of percolation. Note that there are different sizes, so if you’re looking to upgrade or replace your current downstem, you should definitely figure out which size your bong can handle. This is something that can easily be found in the product description.

What’s an ice notch?

An ice notch (also known as an ice catch) allows you to use ice in your bong. It usually sits a fair distance from the top and close above the highest perc chamber. A classic example is shown in this piece. More multi-perc bongs are often fitted with an ice catch to add an extra cooling element, resulting in towering masterpieces like this 8-arm tree perc from Liquid Sci.

Should I use ice in my bong?

Ice will cool the smoke, obviously, leading to a smoother hit that doesn’t feel so harsh. It comes with a slight catch: ice may give the smoke more of a “dry” feeling. Not everyone takes to ice immediately, so it really comes down to what you prefer. If you find the burn of a standard bong a bit disturbing, try adding ice (but be sure to use a bong with an ice notch).

Is a bong healthier because it filters the cannabis through water?

This is a common misconception. Bongs don’t directly alter the smoke beyond chilling it. The cooler smoke is definitely easier on your throat and lungs, so the physical effects are minimized. There’s no real risk of inhaling ash like you may encounter with a dry pipe (we always called that awful moment “scooby snacks”). So it’s certainly not worse – and there may be some side benefits resulting from what is commonly a need for less smoke in general – but to our knowledge, the only way to truly filter cannabis is by using a vaporizer.

Alright, folks. That’s it for this time. These were the very basics – next time, we’ll take things up a notch and get into nails, genders (of the bongs, not the people using them), whacky glass and why you might need to borrow a torch from that friend of yours who makes his own crème brulee (“I studied in France for two semesters” – that guy). If there’s anything you’d like to know a bit more about, be sure to let us know!

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