Bongs are a quintessential part of the cannabis smoking experience. Sometimes referred to as a water pipe or bubbler, a bong is a smoking device featuring a bowl for dried weed and a chamber filled with water. Smoke bubbles up through the water, which cools and filters it. The result is a smooth cannabis smoke with only trace amounts of particulate matter such as tar and ash.

Since the filtration system cleanses the smoke, you might be wondering, what is in that water? In this article, you'll learn exactly what could be lurking in your bong water, plus why it's important to keep your bong clean and change the water frequently. 

Substances in bong water

Although some of the substances in bong water are toxic, others are desirable, such as cannabinoids. The water filters out some of the good and some of the bad, which means that you may need to take more hits with a bong than with a joint to reap the potential benefits of the cannabinoids. Not all the weed will burn off, so there could be some residual herb in the bong water, which means lower concentrations of CBD and THC in the smoke that reaches you. Some CBD, studied for its many potential therapeutic effects, may be left behind. Some THC will also linger in the water, meaning that a bong may not get you as easily high as other types of smoke. 

dirty bong water
Stagnant bong water, just like water in a puddle, can gather all kinds of bacteria and fungi.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Stagnant bong water, just like water in a puddle, can gather all kinds of bacteria and fungi. Yeasts and other microorganisms can also fester in dirty bong water. Under no circumstances should you attempt to drink bong water. It's not even advisable to water plants with bong water, as it can contain toxic levels of mold. If in doubt, pour the old water down the drain and start fresh.

How often should I change bong water?

Ideally, you should use clean, fresh water for every bong session. If you don't change the water frequently enough, the bong will be challenging to clean. It's also important to change the bong water regularly to remove any potentially carcinogenic materials that the filtration system has released.

cleaning a bong
Ideally, you should use clean, fresh water for every bong session.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

You'll know that the water needs to be changed when it develops a top layer known as biofilm. Forming across the surface of the water, the biofilm could harbor any number of nasty pathogens, from Strep and E. coli to black mildew. When inhaled, these substances can lead to serious illness, so be vigilant about changing that bong water. One of the benefits of bongs is that they filter out harmful materials, but they can only accomplish that feat with clean water.

If you're cleaning the bong water for the first time, be prepared for a foul odor. Replace it with the most purified water available. You can also toss in a few ice cubes or ice water for a cooler, more refreshing smoking experience.

Bong water alternatives

If you want to experiment, there are several alternatives to bong water. Unsweetened cranberry juice is one popular substitute for water. While the juice won't dramatically change the flavor of your bong hit, it will display an appealing crimson color in the glass. Even better, cranberry juice's natural acidity can keep your bong cleaner longer. Sugary fruit juice, however, is not recommended as a bong water alternative. The sugars can create a sticky residue and make the bong cleaning process very frustrating.

Sparkling rather than still water is another option to try that will make your marijuana smoke feel like a party. Fizzy bubbles can add lightness and texture to your bong hit, along with subtle flavor if you use sparkling water flavored with citrus or lime (again, avoid the sweet stuff).

For a slight variation, slice up some lemon peels and insert them into the chamber along with still water, sparkling water, or cranberry juice. Mint leaves may offer the ultimate chill factor for your water pipe.

Get creative with bong water alternatives but avoid any sugary substances. Also steer clear of liquor which can emit dangerous alcohol fumes (and contains sugar to boot).

Bottom line

Bongs can deliver a fresher, smoother cannabis smoking experience. Just be sure to keep the water and the device clean.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on August 19, 2020.