The number of ways one can consume cannabis grows with each passing year, however, there are a few common methods that many marijuana aficionados use in mass, those being hand pipes, water pipes, and vaporizers. While it’s easy to point out the immediate differences between the three of these, a majority of us don’t understand the more subtle distinctions between them. Luckily for those people, the more nuanced differences between the three are what I’m going to detail below, so without further ado, let’s get started.
Getting Down to the Basics
To start, let’s touch on decarboxylation, which is a fancy word for removing a carboxyl group from a substance, which is essentially science talk for applying heat to an applicable substance (at least in regard to the decarboxylation of cannabis). To go into a little more depth on decarboxylation, it’s more or less the reason why you would feel the effects of smoking or vaping a miniscule amount of marijuana more than you would from eating the same amount of raw flower. Decarbing your cannabis THCA into THC, thus yielding the desired effect most consumers expect after taking a lighter to their joint or bowl. While one could still gain some of the medicinal and psychoactive effects of cannabis consumption through literally consuming cannabis, that amount pales in comparison to that which can be achieved through decarboxylation. What does this mean for edibles you might ask? Well, that’s a topic for another article.
Puffin’ a Pipe
Simple, convenient, and (typically) portable, hand pipes are a staple method of cannabis consumption. While bongs and vaporizers may have more recently come into the spotlight thanks to the prevalence of dabbing amongst members of the cannabis community, pipes have and will always be the good to consumption methods for many members of the flower-loving crowd. Whereas pipes vary in structure dramatically, and more so as time goes on, the typical “spoon” design is the most commonly used and for the sake of simplicity, it is what I will base most of these examples off of. While heralded for their taste preserving qualities (a product of their simplicity), given the short distance between their point of combustion (the bowl) and their point of inhalation (the mouthpiece), hand pipes typically offer the harshest hit out of the three methods we’ll be touching on today. With the spoon design giving little thought to cooling, the cannabis smoke hits one’s esophagus at a higher temperature than one will likely experience from either of the other methods. However, for those who expect me to say “You get less THC from using a hand pipe as opposed to a water pipe”, that has yet to be proven and, in fact, the opposite might actually be true (at least according to a study conducted by NORML in 2000). In short, the simplicity, convenience, and portability pipes offered are offset by their potential unpleasantness, depending on how well one is conditioned to tolerate the harshness that comes with inhaling marijuana smoke.
Rippin’ the Bong
Between you and me, water pipes have been my favorite method of cannabis consumption for a long time, but I will put my biases aside for the sake of journalistic integrity and while I can talk about all manner of water pipes, I’m going to focus solely on bongs in this section. Practicality and efficiency are the bong’s game and it plays it well, affording larger hits than a pipe along with the added bonus of water filtration. Whereas the points of combustion and inhalation are in close proximity with a hand pipe, they are further apart in bongs and separated by a body of water through which the smoke is pulled, cooling it slightly by the time it hits one’s esophagus. While the potential maximum hit size scales with the size of the contraption in question, bongs typically allow for a larger hit than pipes or vapes, given the size of the average bong’s chamber. Speaking of chambers, bongs are known for possessing an intimidation factor than often discourages newer cannabis consumers from using them. This could be due to a few factors, but is most often due to their sheer size and their inherent complexity for those who don’t know how to use them. I’ll be the first to admit it, the first time I ever saw a bong, I had no idea how the thing worked and paired with the fact that it produced hits larger than I’d taken up until that point in my life, I was apprehensive to give one a try. In additional to those with similar mindsets to the one I just described, there are also individuals who have had bad experiences with them and avoid using bongs as a result. Furthermore, bongs are less economical than pipes, often requiring a larger quantity of cannabis to effectively use and typically take away from the flavor of cannabis when an individual takes larger hits. Negatives aside, bongs have the potential to produce the biggest hit at the expense of their characteristic smoothness, making them the most practical way to reap the psychoactive benefits of marijuana.
Hittin’ the Vape
A relative newcomer amongst legends on this list, vaporizers have taken the cannabis community by storm in recent years. The epitome of convenience, vaporizers allow individuals to consume cannabis almost anywhere, since they require no lighter and leave less of an olfactory trace compared to the other methods I’ve mentioned. While dabbing rigs and other concentrate consumption methods technically count as vaporizing cannabis, I am only going to focus on dry herb vaporizers throughout this section. In regard to the benefits of vaping, the first and foremost is the cleanliness of the hit. While bongs offer water filtration, vaporizers can heat cannabis to temperatures that are perfect for carboxylation, allowing a consumer to inhale only the aromatic cannabinoids without any added tar or carcinogens, affording tasty hits that are also quite smooth. For those who consume cannabis regularly, vaping is an effective way to minimize any negative effects on the lungs without having to make a significant reduction in one’s consumption patterns. Also, a study conducted by UCSF showed that vaping exposes consumers to little to none of the potentially toxic chemicals produced by traditional combustion based methods such as those mentioned about. However, while it has yet to be confirmed, many believe that vaping yields a more subtle high that lasts for a shorter period of time in comparison to that which is yielded through other consumption methods. This is likely due to the volume of the hit, which is typically lower than that which is afforded by hand or water pipes. While this may be a benefit to some, it is a detriment to others and consumers should take that into consideration when selecting their prefered method of consumption.
Apples to Oranges
While there are a great deal of cannabis consumptions methods, the only one that’s inherently best is the one you enjoy most. Each of the methods we covered today have clear strengths and weakness that cause each to be viewed as more or less desirable to pursue consumers. Whether you prefer the simplicity of a handpipe, the massive hits afforded by a water pipe, or the on-the-go convenience of a vaporizer, what’s most important is maximizing your personal enjoyment. The purpose of this piece was to be informative, granting readers insight into their favorite (or least favorite) consumptions methods as well as those they may have yet to try. Expect more content similar to this but covering all other common consumption methods to come sometime in the near future, but for now, thanks for reading and as always, keep it a mile high.
Travis A. Denver, Co
An accomplished scholar, researcher, athlete, writer, and editor, Travis is always aiming to keep himself on the forefront of content creation. Most of his free time is spent practicing mixed martial arts, hitting the slopes, or adventuring with his beloved canine companion, Fate.