Vaporizing with a Bong or Bubbler

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In this entry we will assume that you have some basic understanding of the vaporization process. A good place to start is here: Introduction_to_Vaporizing.

Why water-filtration? Isn't that overkill?

While vaporization offers a generally healthier and smoother alternative to smoking herbal blends, many users find further comfort and pleasure in using a water-filtration device with their vaporizer.

The vaporization process can introduce discomfort to users' air-passageways in several ways, but the dryness and heat of the vapors are the most common complaints. Running the produced vapor through a water source before inhalation can relieve both of these annoyances. The water not only moisturizes the vapor, but also allows for further cooling to take place.

Finally, some users complain about harsh particulates entering the airways when using a vaporizer. The use of a water-filtration device can simply and safely scrub any accompanying particle matter from the vapor.

At the same time, many users enjoy the added recreational value a bong or bubbler can bring to their vaporization experience. Ultimately, a water pipe can make the vaporization process more pleasurable for users--some prefer the possibility of larger hits while others seek the smoother cooler hit that 'vaporbonging' can provide.

Thankfully, vaporizing with a bong or bubbler doesn't have to be difficult or intimidating. (Skip ahead to Where to get started? if you don't care about the scientific explanation and just want to start the process and/or shopping.)

Wait, am I losing active compounds in the water?

Sometimes new users stop in their tracks and wonder, is using water to filter my vapor counterproductive? What if, for instance, all those active compounds we're aiming to inhale are actually susceptible to being filtered along with the rest of the harsh and sometimes noxious compounds? More specifically, when vaporizing marijuana, users sometimes become concerned that their precious cannabinoids might get left behind in the water. Unfortunately, more research regarding the filtration of cannabinoids is called for. Nonetheless, you may have heard of one popular and oft-referenced study...

Marijuana Water Pipe and Vaporizer Study (from the Newsletter of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
MAPS - Volume 6 Number 3 Summer 1996)

From the above study:

"Like tobacco, marijuana tars are rich in carcinogenic compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are a prime culprit in smoking-related cancers. However, cannabinoids themselves are not carcinogenic. An obvious way to protect smokers' health is therefore to minimize the content of smoke tars relative to cannabinoids."

The worry, for some, is that cannabinoids are inherently sticky. Again, from the above study:

"Researchers speculate [that owing to the sticky nature of] cannabinoids...any filtration system that picks up particulates is likely also to screen out cannabinoids."

It is important to remember, however, that the above study, while dealing directly with and taking into account vaporization, does not pair water-filtration devices with vaporizers. Instead, the above speculation (and the specific results of the study) deal with smoke and water-pipes (not vapor).

Ultimately, while there does seem to exist some scientific evidence that cannabinoids can be trapped in water (albeit with smoke--results with vapor are not listed here) the conclusions are not completely convincing. Further, even if cannabinoids are lost prior to inhalation in the water tool, many users report this loss to be negligible (appealing to their perception and not necessarily scientific data).

The final point is: if you find discomfort in inhaling vapors directly or find greater pleasure in using a water-filtration device with your vaporizer, you probably don't need to worry about a loss of your herb's potency. While some compounds might be caught in the water during use, most users report satisfactory results.

Addendum:

While there are no specific studies that have quantitatively assessed whether any actives are lost with water filtration, one can speculate with some scientific principles.

The first is that the cannabinoids and terpenes that provide the actives/tastes are both oils. Oils are virtually insoluble in water, leading one to believe that any loss due to interaction with the water is minimal to non-existent.

There could be surface losses due to the interaction of the oils as they pass through the water, especially if there is diffusion and bubbling action. Increasing the diffusion increases the possibility of this surface/wall interaction.

Most of the loss of actives/tastes is probably due to condensation of the oils on the colder surfaces of the glass it encounters. You can see resin build up on the glass pieces as you use the device; however, you can recover this resin accumulation by rinsing the glass pieces with alcohol and then evaporating the alcohol off. You can vaporize the resulting oils later.

Where to get started?

To begin, you'll need a vaporizer. While most vaporizers can be attached to a water device, some designs are particularly suited to the job. Along with the vaporizing unit you'll need some form of water device (e.g. bong, bubbler). Finally, you need some way to pair the two devices together, which sometimes requires an extra part.

When choosing a water tool there are some common starting points (if you're shopping). The benefits of buying a glass water-tool are many. More specifically, borosilicate glass is generally considered a standard in pipe construction. Simply put, if in the market for a new pipe (or mulling over the quality of your old one), borosilicate glass offers unmatched safety and strength for the application. (It is worth noting that 'boro' is a standard in laboratory and cooking applications as well.) Of course, though often distinguished from 'soft glass', borosilicate is still very breakable and should thus be used with care.

What type of water tool?

This page isn't designed to tell you what type of water tool to buy, but rather set out some broad guidelines. To begin,a quick overview of a water tool's utility follows.

"A bong may be constructed from any air- and water-tight vessel by adding a bowl and stem apparatus which guides air downward to below water level whence it bubbles upward during use..." (taken roughly from Bong Wiki.

Traditional (glass) bongs generally have two main parts: the bong itself (the vessel) and the down-stem. These two pieces connect together and allow the user to inhale the vapors from the mouthpiece. As such, the vapors are forced (generally) to pass ("bubble") through the water. The vapor-source must be mated to the downstem. (Note: bongs take many shapes and forms, this description is relevant to most traditional style bongs.)

Many users recommend a water tool outfitted with a ground glass or glass-on-glass joint. These joints can pair the bong and the downstem together, as well as allow the downstem to accept an airtight vapor source (a slide for smokers).

Glass-on-Glass (GonG) Joints

In recent years, pipe-makers have been employing glass technology long reserved for scientific glass (glass used in laboratory settings). Ground glass joints, commonly referred to as Glass-on-Glass joints (or simply, GonG joints) offer an air-tight and safe seal between two glass objects.

One end of the joint is 'male' and the other 'female,' allowing one piece of glass to safely slide into the next. Pipe makers can incorporate GonG joints into their pieces in several ways. Most commonly, ground glass joints connect a downstem to the water-pipe, or the vapor/smoke source to the downstem, or a mouthpiece to the water-pipe vessel.

Finally (and thankfully), GonG joints come in industry standardized sizes, meaning you usually only have to worry about a few. Specifically, 14mm and 18mm joints are the most common. (Note: you might see these sizes listed at 14.4mm and 18.8mm respectively. The measurement depends on how closely the joint is measured. In any case, joint measurements advertised as 14mm, 14.4mm and even 15mm represent the same size. The same goes for 18mm, 18.8mm and even 19mm.) Be aware that there are other less traditional joint sizes, but with a careful eye and some common-sense, you'll easily find compatible joint sizes.

Pairing your vaporizer to a water-tool

A GonG H20 adaptor

There are several ways to connect a vaporizer to a water tool. The connection depends largely on the delivery method of the vaporizer itself. Below we'll provide a brief overview of the ways different vapes are paired to a bong or bubbler.

Whip Vapes

Vaporizers that utilize a whip to deliver the vapors are easily attached to a water pipe with the help of a GonG water adaptor. Such vapes (e.g. Super Silver Vape, the Arizer Extreme series, HerbalAire etc.) are generally fitted with a mouthpiece for the user to inhale from, exchanging the mouthpiece for an H20 adaptor makes the transition into vaporbonging very easy.

Bag Vapes

While many users prefer to use some form of direct attachment to pair their vaporizer to a water tool, bagged vapor can also be inhaled through a bong or bubbler. Not all bag systems are the same, so each model of vaporizer must be fitted individually. Notably, the recently released Oracle Vaporizer features a bag system implemented with GonG technology.

The Volcano vaporizer can be used with a water pipe with the aid of an aftermarket attachment system.

Direct Draw

Some direct draw vapes mate directly with GonG joints. Log vapes with standard stems (the Purple Days, Zaps Woodeez etc.) fit directly into a 14mm GonG joint. The HerbalAire can also be used in this fashion.

Water Specific Vaporizers

There are a number of vaporizers available that are designed specifically for use with water tools. These vaporizers differ in size, shape, form, heating style etc. Since they are designed with water filtration in mind these vapes usually pair easily with bongs and bubblers.