For 5,000+ years mankind has been consuming cannabis, and for 5000+ years we’ve been coming up with new and innovative ways of doing so.
One of the most popular forms of consumption, dating back millennia, is the use of simple bong tech to somehow filter the hot smoke through a vessel of water before inhaling it, purifying it to an extent and cooling it for a smoother experience.
The history of the bong may date back thousands of years globally, but its history here in the U.S. has been pretty provocative over the past 50-60 years as the telltale silhouette shape of your standard bong has become an icon of the cannabis counter culture.
Facing scrutiny from a Reefer Madness-fueled society and an unforgiving criminal justice system, for many years retail smokeshop and headshop owners often insisted that the word “bong” never be uttered in their store, instead requiring customers to use awkward terms like “water pipe”.
This is our history and we don’t have to excavate ancient tombs to study it. These days, as society has come to terms with cannabis in a more realistic manner, you can walk into most shops around the country and use the word bong without being a buzzkill but there is still one term being used a bit too loosely and it’s high time we clear it up.
STRAIGHT TUBE vs. BEAKER vs. FLASK
Bongs come in quite literally all shapes and sizes these days, but the vast majority of them can typically be assigned to one of two categories – what are commonly referred to as “straight tube” or “beaker” bongs.
The straight tube bong is, as the name aptly implies, usually just a straight piece of tubing with a mouthpiece on one end and a termination into a flat, wide base on the other. Slip a downstem inside and fill the tube with a bit of water and bam, you’re bubblin’!
What a lot of folks call a beaker bong would also have a mouthpiece attached to a straight tube but instead of terminating at a flat attached base, the tube would flare outward in either a straight tapered design or a rounded bubble design. This widening from the down tube allows for a larger water chamber and provides a wider footprint or base for the bong to rest on.
Ok, pretty basic stuff right there – Smokeshop 101, if you will.
But now we are taking you back… way back to Chemistry class for a quick little lesson about scientific glass.
Now I had Advanced Placement Chemistry my senior year of high school, but my lab partner was the county’s leading running back and the teacher was the offensive line coach so, suffice so say, we weren’t made to learn very much that year on our way to easy A’s.
So I had to do a bit of research myself when, after all these years, I got corrected when calling a piece of glass a beaker bong.
The fact of the matter is, if you have a bong that is truly shaped like a beaker, you are going to have a hard time getting baked without looking like a goof.
In the world of scientific glass, a beaker is a cylindrical, straight-sided vessel with a wide mouth equal in diameter to its base, typically with a pour spout indented into it. Once you’ve wrapped your head around that, picture trying to wrap your mouth around it.
The defining aesthetic feature of a flask (scientifically speaking, you lushes) is that the top spout is smaller in diameter than its base, usually with a narrow neck leading down to a tapered form to the base. If you weren’t getting too baked before Chem class or if you didn’t have a bruising tailback as a lab partner, you might remember your teacher calling them Erlenmeyer Flasks.
Which one sounds more like the stereotypical “bong” to you?
It’s strange though, isn’t it?
I’ve bounced around all corners of this grassroots cannabis culture and I have never, ever, had someone pass me their ‘flask bong’… at least, that’s not what I was calling it in my head!
I don’t think I will be that guy cruising around every sesh I’m invited to, correcting people who have the audacity to get their lab glass terminology mixed up, but it does make for a cool piece of trivia and something to talk about next time you and your buds are passing around the ol’ water pipe.