What is a water pipe?

Posted by Abrar Odoo on

By Janelle Lassalle

The cannabis world is changing so fast that many have taken to calling it the new “green rush”. Old school cannabis connoisseurs may even remember a time where the word ‘bong’ would earn the ire of head shop owners everywhere. They’d painstakingly correct you, stating, “It’s a water pipe, NOT a bong.” 

Luckily those hush hush days of prohibition are long behind us. Cannabis has slowly become normalized, so much so that you can walk into a shop and confidently ask to see a bong without any worry. But just what is a water pipe, anyways? Is it the same as a bong? Are bubblers also bongs? Even experienced smokers may not know the difference, which brings us to: our very own blog post dedicated to water pipes. Brush up on your glassware knowledge by checking it out below.

What is a water pipe?

A water pipe is a piece of glassware that’s filled with water to provide a smoother smoking experience. The water acts as a filtration system that cools the smoke as it passes through. 

Water pipes can be made from a variety of different materials. While glass is the most common you can also find pipes made of acrylic, plastic, metal or even bamboo. Beginners may want to opt for water pipes made from acrylic or metal as these are more durable and less prone to breakage.

The term ‘water pipe’ is typically used as a generic term as water pipes aren’t exclusively devoted to cannabis. One of the most common water pipes you may be familiar with is a shisha or hookah pipe that’s used to smoke tobacco. Another common type of water pipe is the beloved bong. 

Most water pipes are typically designed for tobacco or dried cannabis flower use.

Getting to know bongs

Bongs are one of the most common types of water pipes. They’re typically designed for cannabis use and can be equipped with many unique elements, which is why we’re going to spend a moment diving into the different components of bongs.

The simplest bong consists of a glass tube connected to a base. The tube has a hole in it known as the carb or carburetor. The carb is usually topped by a glass bowl that you can fill your dried cannabis flower in. Once the bowl is lit it’s pulled away, exposing the carb and allowing the user to clear the smoke in the chamber. Smoke is inhaled via the mouthpiece at the top of the tube. 

A downstem is the piece of glass that connects the bowl to the base. Some models may have detachable downstems while others have fixed ones. The base is the part you fill up with water, generally adding just enough so that the downstem is barely submerged. Bongs with wider bases are often better choices for beginning users as these are more stable and less prone to breakage.

Many bongs also feature percolators. A percolator is a type of filtration device that’s added to make your smoking experience even smoother. Percolators can be as simple as diffused downstems (slits placed on downstem to additionally filter smoke) or can even appear as extra glass “arms” within the pipe.

You can also customize your bong in a number of different ways. A few common add-ons include adding an ash catcher, additional percolator filters or even bubbler extensions.

Water pipes vs. other smoking devices

Smoking out of a water pipe provides a different experience than consuming cannabis as a joint or even in a vape. 

Many find smoking out of a water pipe to be a much smoother, more enjoyable experience than smoking joints. This is because the water cools down the smoke, so by the time it gets to the mouthpiece it’s distinctly less “harsh”. The subsequent filtration systems also means you’re getting more full bodied flavor out of your herb compared to what you’d experience with a joint. 

You can also add ice to your bong for an even more luxurious experience. Some bongs may even include an “ice pinch” to prevent your ice from falling out. This effect is multiplied when you smoke out of a water pipe with percolators in the mix. It’s a great option for those who want to minimize the effects of smoking on the lungs such as patients with bronchitis.

Water pipes are also a great cost-effective option. You can get away with using much, much less flower in a bong as opposed to traditional methods like a joint. In this sense they’re also very versatile as you can top a bowl with other cannabis forms (i.e. hash or concentrates) and consume them that way, rather than having to buy a separate specialty piece for concentrate use.

Bongs vs bubblers

A common point of confusion is how bubblers fit into the equation. You can think of a bubbler as a hybrid mix between a pipe and bong, or even as a portable bong.

Bubblers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Like bongs bubblers are also made out of glass. They feature many of the same components as bongs—mouthpiece, a base for water, stem and a bowl. Some also have percolators. Bubblers tend to be much smaller than bongs, making them a great portable option. They’re also often one piece rather than a piece with several components, making cleanup somewhat tricky. 


‘Water pipe’ is a generic term that refers to a pipe with a base that can hold water. Filling the pipe with water cools down the smoke as it passes through, resulting in a smoother overall experience. 

Many water pipes today are designed exclusively for cannabis use. These include bongs and their smaller, more portable cousins, bubblers. A bong consists of a glass tube connected to a base with a carb to let smoke out. You can customize your bong for your optimum smoking experience in a number of ways. These modifications can be as basic as adding ice to your bong or even buying additional accessories like a percolator.