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Bongs & Water Pipes Throughout History

Posted by Sean Geng on

by Bart Benne, guest contributor

Water pipes and prehistoric history.

Those things seem so different they shouldn’t play off each other, but in the case of the water pipe, there’s evidence they’ve been around longer than the written word.

We know from cave paintings and early hieroglyphics that cannabis has accompanied humans since … well, they lived in caves. And cannabis is mentioned in the earliest recorded texts too (even the Old Testament/Torah uses the phrase “all seed-bearing plants” as being gifts from God in the first part of chapter 1).

So the knowledge of the plant often associated with the water pipe was learned over generations of use and predates writing.

Of course, the cannabis plant is so versatile that it was used for physical things not related to the euphoria from the psychoactive side. Hemp could be used for clothes, tools, and seeds ingested as food.

The flower of the female plant, as we all know, is psychoactive and often used for pain relief. Its smoke can be harsh to some, but filtering through water cools it down, making it smoother.

Smoking flower was sacred in for many cultures. The euphoria can go from comforting to trippy, so it’s used for a wide range of experiences in different settings.

People have taken smoking herb seriously throughout our evolution, creating for them (rolling papers weren’t invented until the 17th century).

Is it any wonder that bongs were found from the 16th century Ming Dynasty in China? They have been excavated from kurgan burial chambers dating back 2,400 years.

Bongs aren’t just for cannabis, however. The water filtration works with other herbs, including tobacco. They are a simple tool used in multiple cultures throughout history (and prehistory!) for multiple substances, and humanity has evolved alongside it.

The coolest part about water pipes is that even though they are an ancient tool, the simple premise of pulling smoke through water has only recently been improved. With the advent of great glass becoming cheaper, water pipes now have “percs.”

Percs (or percolators) are glass filters designed to pull water in a way that creates countless little bubbles and diffuses smoke into finer particles. The result? A smoother pull and cooler, denser hits.

As legalization sweeps the nation, another smokeable substance is becoming popular: Concentrates. Oil derived from plant matter is perfect for the humble water pipe. Actually, when a water pipe becomes a dab rig, some would argue it supersedes humble and becomes full-blown fabulous.

dab rig is a water pipe with an attachment called a “nail,” used to flash vaporize concentrates like butane hash oil (also called BHO, wax, shatter).

In essence, a nail—or a banger or bucket is a piece of heat-resistant material like metal (titanium), glass (borosilicate) or quartz that is heated with a butane torch until hot enough to vaporize the concentrate, ideally between 315° and 440°F). (We can talk about the difference between low temp dabs and high temp dabs another time as that goes beyond our bong talk here today.)

Waxy concentrates are dropped into/onto the hot nail, where it sizzles away into a fine vapor. Cooled by water, “dabs” are concentrated even more for an intense experience.

Water pipes were an early human invention designed to make the best of a great thing growing naturally in the wild. This simple device kept our ancestors company and still comforts people to this day. 

It's unfortunate that using water pipes to smoke herb ever became a forbidden subject. However, cannabis reform has meant writers can actually use our first amendment rights again, but in some states, we still know that a rose by any other name still smells as sweet.

In our case, we could say a pipe by any other name stills smells as dank.

Bart Benne has written for newspapers, magazines and websites of all sizes. He is a passionate advocate and educator for numerous just causes including cannabis reform, and now specializes in the leafless cannabis industry. You can reach him at bbenne@gmail.com

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