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Can Dirty Bong Water Make You Sick?

Kat Helgeson

by Kat Helgeson

February 2, 2021 10:30 am ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Can Dirty Bong Water Make You Sick?

We’re learning more all the time about the potential health benefits of cannabis. And as more information comes out, we’re also debunking more and more ideas about the dangers of cannabis, many of which are simply misinformation spread by the voices behind the War on Drugs. That said, unsafe practices when it comes to cannabis use can result in some danger. We saw this last year during the so-called “vape crisis,” when off-market vape products were shown to contribute to health issues. The major takeaway from that fiasco was that it’s always smarter to get your cannabis legally and through a reputable source. And there are other best practices when it comes to cannabis consumption that can help to ensure that you have a safe and healthy experience. Today, we’re confronting the notorious issue of dirty bong water.

What is a Bong?

You’re probably already familiar with bong water, but because not everyone chooses to consume their cannabis the same way, we’ll offer a quick overview.

A bong is a water pipe used to smoke cannabis. Many consumers prefer their smoke to run over water because it cools the smoke and makes it less harsh to inhale. When using a bong, plant material is packed into a bowl. The consumer will hold a flame over the bowl as they slowly inhale while smoke fills the pipe chamber. Once the chamber is full or reached the preferred amount of smoke, the consumer sharply inhales from the mouth of the bong at the top. The smoke is drawn into a water-filled base, and from there up to the user’s mouth. 

Because plant matter and smoke gets sucked directly into and through the water at the base of the bong, it will eventually develop a sticky residue coating that becomes dirtier over time. The question is, is that dirty water harmful to our health?

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The Effects of Dirty Bong Water

The short answer is yes—dirty bong water can make you sick. The longer answer, though, is that this isn’t really a cannabis issue so much as it’s a dirty water issue. You wouldn’t drink dirty water. You wouldn’t take a bath in dirty water. Dirty water is a haven for bacterial growth and bong water is no different. Left unchecked, it can become a breeding ground for microbes. Such pathogens as E. Coli and Hepatitis A can be found in stagnant water, and you definitely don’t want to inhale that stuff. And if you have ever been dared to drink dirty bong water, it’d be in your best interest if you didn’t. 

But in addition to regular pathogens, there are things that do come from cannabis passing through your bong water. For example, Aspergillus, a fungus that grows on the cannabis plant, breaks down into mycotoxins when it’s burned. Inhaling mycotoxins can cause lung disease. Even though it might be tempting to put off cleaning and grab that dirty bong to light up, it’s important to clean it out before you use it.

How Often Should You Change Your Bong Water?

You really can’t change your bong water too often, so if you’re not sure, just change the water. Some people like to have fresh water for every new smoking session, and that’s a good idea. You wouldn’t eat off dirty dishes, so why consume cannabis out of a dirty piece? Another good rule of thumb is to simply look at the water. If it looks gross, it probably is, and it’s time for a change. And bacteria will start to accrue in standing water within 24-48 hours, so if it’s been longer than that, you definitely need to change it.

From time to time, in addition to changing your bong water, you should clean your bong. You can do this by soaking the pieces in isopropyl alcohol and then rinsing them thoroughly. Some people add kosher salt to the alcohol, pour it inside the bong, and vigorously shake it around to help scrub the resin off unreachable parts inside. If you don’t want to use alcohol, there are several different 420 cleaning brands that you can buy or you can also submerge your bong in water that has been boiled and sterilized. Just make sure the water has simmered and isn’t still at a boil or you could risk cracking the glass.

Keeping things clean, when you use a bong or any water pipe, will help you stay healthy—and it’s worth the little bit of extra effort!   

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