Using a bong is often thought to be a less harmful option than smoking a regular joint by the average cannabis user.
In fact, together with the extremely intense effects a bong can produce, it’s one of the main reasons why cannabis users use a bong:
They think that the water inside a bong filters out harmful by-products like tar, that develop as a result of combusting plant material.
Well, while the water inside a bong indeed filters out a significant amount of toxic by-products that develop as a result of burning your dry herb (like the filter inside a cigarette filter out some tar) …
Studies have shown that the same water also filters out a significant amount of cannabinoids.
In this article, we’ll explore why using a bong isn’t necessarily a less harmful method than smoking a joint, to consume your cannabis.
Also, we’ll review methods of cannabis consumption that are less harmful to your health than smoking a joint, and also, less harmful to your health than using a bong.
But first let’s start with…
Why Smoking Cannabis is Harmful to Your (Respiratory) Health
The two biggest reasons why people smoke marijuana are:
- Because they enjoy the act of smoking (they can love the ritual, the taste, the throat hit), or;
- Because they enjoy the effects smoking marijuana produces (these effects include the medical effects), or;
- A combination of both.
Now, if you’re just looking for the effects that smoking marijuana produces, why not simply eat it?
Well, eating raw marijuana can’t produce any noticeable effects because of one simple reason:
Cannabinoids need to undergo a process of ‘decarboxylation’ to become active and readily absorbable by your body. This decarboxylation process is only possible through heating the cannabinoids in their pre-decarboxylated from.
Burning your cannabis is one way to achieve that.
But the act of burning plant material, whether that’s marijuana, tobacco or any other type of plant, always creates toxic by-products. So, when you’re smoking, just as you’re inhaling the decarboxylated cannabinoids that give you the effects you’re looking for, you’re also inhaling a large amount of these toxic by-products like tar.
Read our full article on Does smoking cannabis cause lung cancer?
In that sense, smoking cannabis isn’t much different than smoking tobacco…
Except that a clear link between smoking marijuana and lung cancer has not been found yet (like a link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer, that has been clearly established).
Some researchers think that the cannabinoids in marijuana have a protective effect on the lungs and respiratory system and that’s why this link has never been found.
And while it’s true that science hasn’t found a strong link between marijuana smoke and cancer yet…
Science did find a link between smoking marijuana and various respiratory symptoms like wheeze and smoker’s cough.
Bottom line: All these toxic by-products that develop as a result of burning your marijuana are harmful to your health.
What if we could find a way to filter out these toxic by-products? Then we could smoke cannabis in a less harmful way…a bong maybe?
The Problem with Bongs
It’s true: Bongs have a large compartment with water, that filters out a large part of these toxic by-products that develop as a result of burning your cannabis.
But what most people don’t know is that a study done in 2001 found that this same compartment with water inside a bong also filters out a large part of the decarboxylated cannabinoids that get released as a result of burning your marijuana.
You might wonder: How’s this possible?
Well, the researchers theorize that cannabinoids are relatively sticky compounds and therefore get easily trapped by physical filters, like water.
What this means is that when you’re using a bong, you’re not only filtering a significant amount of toxic by-products like tar, but you’re also a significant amount of cannabinoids.
In fact, the researchers found that the cannabinoid-to-tar ratio of bongs was lower than of a regular joint.
By using a bong, you might, in fact, be inhaling more tar than with a joint, if you want the same concentrations of cannabinoids.
Now, the researchers note that tar is made up of many different chemical components, and it could be that the water inside a bong, filters out more of the harmful chemical components than the less harmful components. But as of today, this is just theory.
Bottom line: If you want to inhale the same concentrations of cannabinoids when using a bong as you would’ve when smoking a joint, you might risk inhaling more tar when using a bong compared to smoking a joint, because a bong produces smoke with a lower cannabinoid-to-tar ratio than a joint.
Alternatives to Bongs and Joints
Now you understand why a bong might not necessarily be a ‘healthier’ option than smoking a joint to use your marijuana, let’s explore some alternatives.
Dry Herb Vaporizers
Dry herb vaporizers heat up your marijuana high enough to decarboxylate all the cannabinoids inside it, but low enough to prevent it from combusting.
While opinions range from a 50% till 95% reduction in toxic by-products, what researchers do agree upon, is that a vaporizer reduces the production of toxic by-products that would’ve normally get produced through the act of smoking, significantly.
And the best part is that vaping doesn’t decrease the cannabinoid production either. With a dry herb vaporizer, you can get very high concentrations of cannabinoids, with a very significant reduction of toxic by-products like tar.
Just make sure to get the right one. One that comes from a well-respected manufacturer.
Another option are edibles. Marijuana edibles usually come on the form of cakes. Important to note here is that edibles only work if the marijuana inside your dish was heated for a period at a relatively high temperature. Remember the decarboxylation process? The process that changes the cannabinoids inside marijuana to their active and readily absorbable form? It only occurs when you heat the cannabinoids.
Now, when you’re eating marijuana edibles, you’re not inhaling anything. This means that you’re not inhaling any toxic by-products that you would’ve gotten with smoking, or even vaping (yes with vaping you significantly reduce toxic by-products, without reducing cannabinoid-intake, but you still inhale some toxic by-products).
The problem with edibles is that they’re infamously tricky to dose and the onset of effects is late. That means it’s easy to overdo it with edibles.
Depending on the country/state you live an easier-to-dose option for you could be cannabis oil. With cannabis oil, you only need a few drops usually to get your desired effects. Cannabis oil usually contains high amounts of THC and therefore is illegal in most countries/states.
Now that you’ve learned why using a bong might not be a smart alternative to smoking a joint from a health perspective…
Maybe you’ll explore other methods of consumption to use your marijuana.
Whether that’s using a weed vaporizer or an edible in the form of a cake or oil, that’s up to you.
When you’re ready to make the switch from your bong or joint, visit Herbonaut, where they review weed vaporizers, cbd oils, grow equipment and have a balanced discussion on the risks and benefits of cannabis-derived and cannabis-related products.