Most tokers usually have a preferred method for smoking weed. Some folks like to take their time sharing a joint, while more hardcore smokers may prefer choking on a massive bong rip.
But why do these different methods lead to varying qualities of highs?
Believe it or not, science hasn’t quite reached a consensus here, despite more than half of American adults saying they’ve tried pot at least once. That said, it may have something to do with water filters found in water pipes and bongs. Let’s explore.
Kyle Boyar, the vice chair of the American Chemical Society’s cannabis division, told MERRY JANE he was unaware of any ongoing studies into why pipes, bongs, and the like cause different kinds of buzzes. He did, however, point to one 1996 MAPS study that could provide some clues.
In the study, researchers measured how much THC came out of the business ends of various smoking devices. Surprisingly, unfiltered joints provided more THC than water pipes, as the water filters trapped some THC while allowing cannabis tar to pass through.
“Counterintuitive results, for sure,” Boyar said. “The chemist in me wonders how do cannabinoid components that are insoluble in water end up getting trapped in the water more than the tar,” which is also insoluble.
The MAPS study, unfortunately, didn’t evaluate how high people got from different smoking methods, since there were no human subjects. It only measured how much THC could transfer from the weed to the smoker.
“The dose is certainly the key issue,” wrote Mitch Earleywine, a cannabis researcher and professor of psychology at the State University of New York-Albany, in an e-mail to MERRY JANE. “Unfortunately, funding for an experiment comparing these methods is pretty scarce.”
For blunts, Earleywine noted that tokers aren’t just inhaling cannabis. They’re inhaling nicotine, too, as blunts are wrapped with tobacco paper or leaves.
“I’ve seen a blunt or two that has more tobacco than folks might guess, so nicotine ends up adding a bit of stimulation to the mix,” he wrote. “So the blunt would end up being less sedating than the joint, even though it’s the same marijuana.”
Blunts are often much larger than joints, so they “often deliver a bigger hit,” he added.
Additionally, THC may not be the only factor. Some evidence indicates terpenes, the aromatic compounds in weed that make it smell like skunk, berries, wood, or dirt, could alter THC’s effects.
Or Could the Differences Be Due to Terpenes?
To illustrate how terpenes could play a role, Earleywine chose the terpenes linalool and limonene as examples.
“With the bong, we run the smoke through water,” he told MERRY JANE. “Linalool is water-soluble, but limonene is not. So some of the linalool is going to end up in the bong water — not in the smoke.”
Because linalool may induce sleepiness, smoking weed through a bong could contribute to more energetic highs, at least in this case.
Water also cools the smoke, allowing tokers to draw in much bigger hits through bongs than they could with joints or blunts. Even if water filtration absorbs some of the THC, the sheer amount of smoke produced by a bong could off-set any losses of cannabinoids or terpenes, Earleywine wrote.
Can We Even Reliably Test the Question?
Scientifically determining the differences among smoking methods isn’t clear-cut, either.
How much weed someone consumes at once can vary depending on the individual. For example, Sally may pack her blunt with two fat grams of weed, whereas Billy only twists a gram in his Philly wraps.
The amounts of weed loaded into a joint, blunt, or bong will obviously affect how much smoke someone inhales. One 2011 study looked at self-reports for weed use, and the researchers discovered some consistency between methods.
“Participants reported that they placed 50 percent more marijuana in blunts than in joints and placed more than twice the amount of marijuana in blunts than in pipes,” the researchers wrote.
So maybe it’s really just a matter of how much weed goes into a pipe or joint. Maybe.
It gets more complicated with bongs.
Most bongs feature a “female” stem at the base, which holds a smaller “male” stem attached to the removable bowl. Sometimes the stems form air-tight seals between both the stems and the bong’s base, but not always. If there are gaps, the toker will draw in extra air which could significantly dilute the smoke, ultimately altering her or his heady experience, reported Mic.
Even within a single method, there’s a lot of variability. Too much variability to base the research on self-reports or uncontrolled methods.
Does It Even Matter?
Just as every approach to smoking weed is different, individual consumers are different, too.
How one person feels blazing a joint may not resemble the high a buddy feels from smoking on the same joint.
And for some tokers, the question of why bongs, joints, and blunts feel different doesn’t apply.
“I don’t feel any difference” between various smoking methods, said Edgar Robles, a long-time smoker based in Colorado. “Weed is weed. It all gets me stoned the same.”
Believe it or not, science hasn’t quite figured this out.