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Bongs, which you may also know by slang terms like bubbler, binger, or billy, are water pipes used to smoke cannabis.

They’ve been around for centuries. The word bong is said to have come from the Thai word “baung” for a bamboo tube used for smoking weed.

Today’s bongs look a lot more complicated than a simple bamboo tube, but they all come down to the same basic process.

Read on to learn more about how bongs work and why, contrary to lore, they aren’t actually any better for your lungs than other smoking methods.

Bongs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very basic with just a bowl and chamber. Others are colorful, mouth-blown works of art.

At the end of the day, they all do basically the same thing: filter and cool the smoke that comes from the burning marijuana.

Bongs generally feature a small bowl that holds dried weed. When you light the weed it combusts. Meanwhile, as you inhale, the water in the bottom of the bong bubbles (or percolates, if you want to get technical). The smoke rises up through the water and then the chamber before entering your mouth and lungs.

If you’re looking for a smoother toke, a bong will give you just that compared to smoking weed rolled in paper.

As expected, the water in a bong eliminates the dry heat you get from a joint. The effect is often described as being cooler, creamy, and smooth rather than harsh.

This effect can be deceiving, though.

While the smoother smoke might feel better on your lungs, you’re still smoking. And that smoke is still filling up your lungs (we’ll spare the lecture on why this is all-around bad news for your health).

Sure, a small amount of the bad stuff might get filtered out. But it’s not enough to make much of a difference.

Yes, this means all those stories about bongs being the “safer” way to smoke are largely based on junk science.

So far, bong safety has been pretty low on the list of priorities when it comes to medical research. But as cannabis becomes legal in more areas, this could change.

Yep, sorry.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations, smoke is harmful to lung health regardless of what you’re smoking because of the carcinogens released from the combustion of materials.

Smoking marijuana, whether via doobie or bong, can harm lung tissues and cause scarring and damage to your small blood vessels.

The tendency to inhale deeply and hold your breath when smoking pot means you’re often exposed to more tar per breath. Plus, bongs are basically a way to get more smoke into your lungs while also making that smoke more pleasant to inhale.

All of these aspects make it easy to overdo it when using a bong.

One other risk to keep in mind is related to the use of plastic bongs. Plastics that contain chemicals like BPA and phthalates have been linked to adverse health effects, including cancer.

Bong health risks aside, depending on where you live and local laws, having a bong with marijuana in it or even just some residue could get you in legal hot water.

Research also shows that marijuana-only smokers have more healthcare visits related to respiratory conditions than nonsmokers, regardless of the method used to inhale the smoke.

There’s an idea floating around online that bongs are dirtier than toilet seats. While we can’t seem to find the study this tidbit of information came from (probably because it doesn’t exist), it does raise a good point.

There have indeed been case reports of people getting pulmonary tuberculosis from sharing a bong. Even if you don’t share, using a bong can still put you at risk for lung disorders, including life-threatening lung infections.

For example, a 2017 case study details a man who developed necrotizing pneumonia from bong use. This is a serious condition that causes permanent lung tissue death.

Doctors determined he inhaled contaminated aerosol water from a “filtered” glass bong. Cultures and swabs from the bong and the patient confirmed the bacteria came from the bong.

A bong can cool and filter smoke to give you a smoother toke that feels less harsh than what you get from a rolled joint, but it’s not protecting you from the health risks of smoking.

If you’ve been regularly using a bong, it may be time to put some nice flowers in it and leave it to retire on a bookshelf.

If you’re going to use cannabis for recreational or medicinal purposes, experts recommend considering another means of getting it into your body.

Some alternatives, depending on your wants and needs, are CBD sprays, capsules, oils, and edibles, like gummies.