The Ultimate Guide to Water Pipes and Bongs: Usage, Differences, and Legal Troubles
Your one-stop-shop on everything you need to know about water pipes and bongs.
Published on September 19, 2023

In the world of smoking accessories, "water pipe" and "bong" are terms often used interchangeably. However, there are subtle differences between the two. This article aims to clarify the distinctions, guide you through the usage, and update you on some recent legal troubles concerning these smoking devices. 

What's the Difference Between a Water Pipe and a Bong?

While both water pipes and bongs serve the same fundamental purpose of filtering and cooling smoke for a smoother experience, there are design differences. Water pipes are typically smaller, often used for smoking tobacco, and could feature various styles like bubblers and hookahs. Bongs, on the other hand, are usually larger and primarily designed for smoking cannabis. They have specific features like percolators, ice catches, and multiple chambers to further filter and cool the smoke.

How to Use a Water Pipe and a Bong

Water Pipe:

1. Fill with Water: Add enough water to submerge the downstem.

2. Pack the Bowl: Add your tobacco into the bowl, not too tightly.

3. Ignite: Light the tobacco while inhaling from the mouthpiece.

4. Smoke: Inhale the smoke, which will pass through the water, cooling it down.


1. Fill with Water: Pour water into the base chamber.

2. Add Ice: Optional for a cooler hit.

3. Pack the Bowl: Fill the bowl with ground cannabis.

4. Ignite and Inhale: Light the cannabis while drawing air through the mouthpiece.

5. Clear Chamber: Remove the bowl or open the carburetor, inhale all the smoke.

The Fascinating History of Water Pipes and Bongs

The roots of water pipes and bongs stretch far back into history, crossing cultures and continents. While many associate bongs with the countercultural movements of the '60s and '70s, their origins are more ancient.

Water Pipes:

Water pipes have a long history in various parts of the world, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. The concept is thought to have originated centuries ago, with early examples like hookahs in Persia and India. Traditionally used for smoking-flavored tobacco, water pipes have evolved into different styles, including the modern bubblers and small water pipes we see today. 


The term "bong" is derived from the Thai word 'baung,' which refers to a cylindrical tube or pipe made from bamboo. The use of bongs for smoking cannabis dates back to ancient times, and evidence suggests they were used in Africa, Central Asia, and even the Americas before European contact. Over time, bongs have evolved from rudimentary bamboo tubes to sophisticated glass pieces with various accessories.

This historical context underscores how water pipes and bongs have transcended time and culture. From ancient gatherings around a communal hookah to modern-day sessions with intricate glass bongs, these devices have played a part in social rituals and individual relaxation across the ages. 

Adding this rich history to your understanding of water pipes and bongs can deepen your appreciation for these fascinating devices. Whether you're a seasoned user or a curious newcomer, the journey of these smoking devices is as complex and varied as the people who use them.

How to Clean a Water Pipe or Bong

1. Empty and Disassemble (if possible): Remove old water and take apart any removable pieces.

2. Soak: Fill the water pipe/bong with warm water and cleaning solution, or use alcohol and coarse salt. Shake well.

3. Scrub: For stubborn residues, use a brush.

4. Rinse: Rinse well with hot water. 

5. Dry: Let all parts air dry completely.

Recent Legal Troubles  

It's essential to be aware that while water pipes and bongs may be legal in some jurisdictions for tobacco or cannabis use, they can be subject to legal troubles. Recently, there have been cases of shops being raided for selling "drug paraphernalia." Laws around these devices can be complex and may vary between states or countries. Always research the laws in your jurisdiction before purchasing or using either a water pipe or a bong.

In summary, while water pipes and bongs serve similar purposes, their designs, use-cases, and cultural associations vary. Knowing how to use and maintain each device can enhance your smoking experience. However, it's crucial to be mindful of the evolving legal landscape surrounding these products. Always ensure you are using them responsibly and within the bounds of the law. It is probably safer to always call it a water pipe and don’t forget to clean it once in a while!

MERRY JANE is based in Los Angeles, California and is dedicated to elevating the discussion around cannabis culture.
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