The Similarities and Differences of a Bong vs Hookah

While to non-smoking aficionados, a hookah and a bong may seem like the same thing, they are actually quite different.

Essentially, the primary function of a bong and a hookah are quite similar.

The intention of both is to create a vacuum of smoke that you inhale through a mouthpiece.

While the similarities don’t necessarily end there, there are some serious distinctions between the two.

Today we’ll take a look at bong vs hookah, the origins of them both, and how and when to use one over the other.


The History of the Hookah

Around 1541, Jesuits began doing missionary work in Middle Eastern regions.

They brought tobacco with them and introduced it to the natives of the area.  

During this time, areas now known as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India were ruled by an Emperor named Akbar the Great.

As illustrated by Persian poet, Ahlī Shirazi, the Emperor's personal physician, Cyril Elgood, created the idea of the hookah as a means for his boss to easily inhale the vapor of his tobacco.

A Healthier Way to Smoke?

While Elgood gets credited with creating the idea of the hookah, there is no physical evidence of a water pipe in this area until 1560.

During this period, Middle Eastern civilians became increasingly concerned with health concerns surrounding smoking tobacco.

This piqued the interest of Persian physician, Abu’l-Fath Gilani.

He felt filtering tobacco smoke through water would purify the smoke.

Then known as a ḡalyān, the huqqa (hookah) was born.

To this day, hookah is mainly used for smoking tobacco or shisha.

Typically shisha is intertwined with a bevy of herbs, fruits, sugar, and molasses to make assorted flavors.

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Preparing a Hookah

The first step is to fill the vase with water.

From there, submerge the downstem into the filled vase.  

There are numerous components attached to the outside of the downstem that makes smoking out of a hookah possible.

On the outside of the downstem, a metal stem rises from the vase and attaches to a tray.

Much like a table chiminea, this is where you put charcoal.

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Smoking Shisha from a Hookah

Further up the flagpole lies a tiny bowl.

This is where you put the shisha.

Light the charcoal underneath the bowl to ignite the shisha and create smoke inside of the vase.

Also attached to the downstem is a hose.

Once the shisha is lit, its smoke is drawn through the downstem by sucking onto the hookah hose.

As the smoke rises above the vase water, it travels into the port opening of the hose, allowing the smoke to reach your mouth.

The Power of the Ball Bearings

Also connected to the contraption is an accessory called a release (or purge) valve.

While not essential, a release valve is helpful for clearing out any smoke that has grown stagnant inside the hookah.

When the smoke becomes stale, there is a tendency by the user to blow back the nasty tasting smoke into the hose.

As you do this, the stagnant smoke makes it ways into the purge valve.

When the purge valve gets filled, a ball bearing attached lifts up to pull in the backwash.

As you inhale the smoke again, the ball bearing seals up to ensure that the next inhale is all fresh shisha smoke.

Sharing is Caring with Hookah

Hookah is intended to be shared.

That is why there are numerous hose connections that can be fastened to the apparatus.

The one drawback about sharing a hookah is that when one person is inhaling from the devices, all the others sitting around the circle are unable to inhale at the same time.

Also, unless you have an auto-seal, other smokers need to keep their finger over the mouth of their hose to ensure that the current person drawing the shisha gets a powerful hit.

The release valve is a great feature for those with multiple hoses.

If the stale air doesn’t get captured, then it this subpar quality vape may be inhaled by someone else.

Smoking Cannabis Out of a Hookah

While shisha is the number one smoked product from a hookah, it is possible to smoke marijuana from it as well.

When packing the bowl, it’s best to make a shisha-weed sandwich.

Lay down some shisha like a normal hookah session, layer the weed on top, and top off with more shisha.

Otherwise, buy a smaller bowl to place on top of the hookah or put down a screen.

If you go this route, then you can skip the charcoal and light the cannabis much like you would a bowl. For hookah smokers, it’s a marathon, not a race.

If you put a lot of weed without shisha into a hookah-sized bowl and then light the charcoal, a lot of cannabis will go to waste.

However, using something to filter it like a screen will allow for bigger hits while using less weed.

Things to Consider About Cannabis and Hookah Hoses

When cannabis gets heated, it leaves behind a very sticky residue. That makes smoking from a hookah hose harder to hit after a few sessions.

Therefore, you want to make sure that you hookah is equipped with a washable hose.

When washing the hose, be sure to use a combination of salt and alcohol with tap water, or you can use the best bong cleaner if you have it.

This is important because you need a natural elixir that can work as degreaser on the sticky resin without adding potentially harmful contaminants to a hose that you are going to be smoking out of.

Take the mixture and fill the hose with it. Wiggle the hose around so that every inch inside gets saturated with this mixture.

Use your finger to cover up one side of the hose while you blow into the other. Let the hose sit for about 20 minutes and then empty the water out.

Blow hard out of one side numerous times to get as much of the mixture out. Rinse multiple times in warm water and allow to dry.

A Little Bongstory

While you may not know who came first between the chicken and the egg, it is pretty well-documented that bongs preceded the hookah.

In fact, the bong is a bit of a prototype for the hookah, because its essentially a more portable version of the big water pipe.

The use of bongs date back to the 1300’s during the days of the Ming Dynasty in China.

Filling the Bong with Water

Most of the best cheap bongs have far fewer bells and whistles than a hookah.

Fill the chamber (much like the hookah’s vase) area with water.

This is an important step because to get the best quality hits you will want to ensure that the chamber has an adequate amount of water.

The best way to know you have the right amount is to check that the downstem is fully submerged. While the downstem must be entrenched, the water shouldn't be rising above it.

A happy medium for filling a bong tends to lie between 1 and 1 ½ inches of water.

Packing the Bowl

If you are tallying the difference between a bong and a hookah, the downstem on a bong is much smaller than its counterpart in the hookah.

Attached to this downstem is a bowl. The bowl is situated on the side of the bong, typically placed near the bottom of the apparatus.

When you are ready to smoke, pack the bowl with marijuana.

Unlike a hookah, this weed will burn like a typical bowl. So there is no need to mix up the weed with shisha.

Smoking out of a Bong

As you light the bowl, you draw from a mouthpiece at the top of the bong.

Make sure that you create enough of a seal over the top of the mouthpiece so that there’s a strong suction to draw up smoke.  

When you inhale from the mouthpiece as you light the bowl, it travels through the downstem and into the chamber, creating a vacuum.

By sucking in, the flame is being sucked into the cannabis.

In turn, this pulls the smoke into the chamber, which then bubbles up from the bottom of the water.

This cools down the vapor, making a smooth inhale from the mouthpiece of the bong.

You will see the neck of the bong fill up with smoke, which is another notable difference between a bong and a hookah.

When you are game to fully take on this hit, or “clear the bong,” as enthusiasts may say, remove the bowl and continue to suck up on the mouthpiece.

By lifting the bowl, you are breaking up the vacuum effect.

Fresh air swoops into the chamber, allowing for a smoother inhale that is more flavorful and less harsh on the lungs.

If you want a smoother bong, you can look at these bong attachments which is something that a hookah can't offer. 

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Should You Use a Hookah vs Bong?

While you can smoke tobacco and shisha from a bong, these devices are typically used for marijuana.

If you are looking for a more inclusive experience with your friends, the best bet is to go with a hookah. That way, multiple people can take numerous hits.

It's also easier to mix and match each others' weed for different type of high with a hookah because the bowl is much bigger and the charcoals make the burning last longer.

However, if you are looking for solo hits without much maintenance required after use, bongs are the way to go.

They are much more portable, and you don't need to cut your weed with tobacco or shisha.


So who wins when it comes to bong vs hookah?

For my money, I would say the bong. It’s a more cannabis-friendly way to consume, and easier to set up and use. And

If you want to smoke with a ton of friends at a big 420 party, then you can’t go wrong with the hookah, though.

Which one do you prefer to smoke out of?

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