The bong has a long history—but it may have a short future. With the onset of additional ways to consume cannabis (read: vape pens and smokeless edibles), many are moving away from the classic flower-and-smoke to the subtler ways of enjoying THC. Nevertheless, what would cannabis culture be without its humble beginnings? Before we say “History!” to the bong, let’s remember, well, the history of the bong!
Back in 2013, diggers found gold bongs in Russia that were used roughly 2400 years ago to smoke pot and opium. And, legend has it, the use of water as filtration in a pipe first occurred in China in the 16thcentury. The word “bong” itself is an adaptation from a Thai word, “baung,” meaning bamboo tube or pipe, and these smoking devices have been used all over the world for hundreds of years.
What many don’t know, however, is that, according to a study conducted by the advocacy group NORML-MAPS, “water pipes filter out more psychoactive THC than they do other tars, thereby requiring users to smoke more to reach their desired effect.” Say it ain’t so! Nevertheless, the bubbly, resin-laden apparatus remains in dorm rooms, basements and garages all over North America. But why?
For many, it’s a habit, something familiar to reach for. For others, it’s the way they understand their THC intake best. “The aesthetic is ghastly,” declares Seattle theater writer Adrian Ryan, “but the resulting effect is unparalleled.” Or, as West Coast photographer Alex Garland puts it, “It’s not as sexy as vaping, but the effect is lovely.” And Seattle rock musician Eva Walker attests, “If I’m smoking, it gets me higher faster than anything else.”
While the bong remains a touchstone in stoner culture, the country is moving more toward a more elevated approach with its day-to-day cannabis use, both recreationally and medically. And as this trend continues, the bong may find itself on the fringes of smokers’ imaginations. In its place, perhaps Apple will develop a voice-activated, mechanical, bong-like device that offers users a perfectly dosed supply of pure THC. Or maybe there’ll be a share-based app where someone rents their bong out to you for a half-hour, arriving at your place via bike like a delivery person.
Either way, the bong is still here, proudly sitting on the top shelf at the head shop. And so we salute the this historical smoking device! Here’s to one more night of epic, ice-filtered, spring-water-in-the-chamber, trying-not-to-cough-a-lot, happy bong session! Now, Siri, where’s my lighter???