Why Are Bongs So Strong? Here's the Science Behind the Rip

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In lighthearted flicks like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Pineapple Express, the comedic main characters will pause their adventures at some point to rip a bong. Formerly called the water pipe, bongs are tools used to smoke herbal substances like tobacco or marijuana distinguishable by their tall stems and water-filled chambers. 

The origins of the water pipe is unknown, but it most likely hails from Persia, according to Tobacco in History: The Cultures of Dependence. The device spread throughout the Middle East as a way to socially smoke tobacco, similar to the way people gather around a hookah. These days, anyone can pop into a head shop and pick up a bong in varying sizes, shapes and colors. 

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While lighting the herb-loaded bowl of a bong and inhaling, the smoke runs over the water and cools down, functionally similar to a hookah. It becomes smoother, so it becomes easier to take bigger-than-typical hits and achieve more powerful highs, Mitch Earleywine, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, told Mic. But he added, people also tend to hold the smoke in their lungs too long, which irritates the respiratory system.

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It's common for people to anecdotally claim that bongs get them higher than joints or hand pipes. Some users on a Reddit thread discussed bongs delivering higher amounts of THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in cannabis that provides the psychoactive effects). Although research on bong efficiency is lacking, a 2000 study from marijuana advocacy group NORML and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which tested several marijuana devices, found that smoking from a water pipe did not deliver more THC than a joint. In fact, bongs might actually filter out some of the THC, but that's not entirely proven. Still, the study didn't take into consideration the larger inhales people tend to take. 

"You want to make sure you have a good connection and seal for whatever type of slide you're using to ensure the smoke stays in and fills the chamber until you're ready to clear it," Alan Bader, CEO of Elevate Accessories, told Mic. This way, no user is pressured to clear the bong in one hit and feel too high, too fast. 

Bottom line: the bigger the bong, the bigger the hit.