I’ll never forget my “big brother” Nate poking his head around a corner with a big-eyed puppy face, asking, “Shmokabowl?” It was our way of asking the most mouth-watering question in stoner history: “Do you want to smoke a bowl?” Since those days, using a bowl to smoke weed has been my favorite method.
There are a few ways to smoke weed, the most basic being to roll it into a joint or blunt, use a vape, or load it into a “piece” – that is, a pipe, bubbler or bong. That last way of doing it, using a piece, is commonly referred to as “smoking a bowl” because all of these kinds of pieces have a part on them that is actually called a bowl.
There are three basic bowls to choose from: pipe, bubbler, or bong. A pipe is the best for a beginner. A bubbler is a pipe with a little bubble in it that holds water. As you take a hit, the smoke passes through the water, thereby cleansing the smoke (and making bubbles) and giving you a cleaner hit. A bong is the king of all bowls. It’s tall, with a big section for more water, and a giant chamber that holds more smoke. Not only do you get a really clean hit, but that hit can be huge, depending on how big your bong is. That means you get higher.
Please take note that there is a difference between a tobacco pipe and a weed pipe, although weed pipes can be used for tobacco, and are often sold under the term “tobacco pipe” for legal purposes. Stores who use this legal protection are often called “head shops” and can be anything from a real tobacco store to a gas station. Pipes that are strictly for tobacco use can be made out of a variety of materials, but a marijuana pipe is almost always made out of glass (often borosilicate glass for the versatility), metal, or wood, and they will likely have a carb (a small hole in the side of the bowl). Bubblers and bongs are also normally made of glass. Glass pipes are the best because they don’t get as hot, and they give you a cleaner hit. They’re also see-through and look really cool.The downside is that they’re breakable, more expensive, and they’re harder to clean because they don’t disassemble. Whatever you do, don’t ever use aluminum to smoke as it can be hazardous to your lungs! Also, avoid cheap, imported glass pipes, because these can have glass shards inside the pipe that will hurt you.
To light your pipe, you can get a regular lighter, a hemp wick, or a glass wand. Hemp wicks light easily, burn evenly, and don’t leave a bad aftertaste. Glass wands vaporize the cannabis on contact, giving you a cleaner, lighter hit and some good ol’ cannabinoids at the same time. Please don’t try to use a torch lighter, newbie. It’s a terrible idea, even for experienced smokers. You could smoke your hand along with your weed.
While you’re chilling at the pipe store, you might want to check and see if they have a screen for your bowl. These will help keep the smaller pieces of weed from falling into your pipe or bong and clogging it up. There are ways to make them at home, like twisting a paperclip into a coil, or using a dry rock that’s about the same size as your bowl’s diameter, but a store-bought filter is always your safest bet. Screens made from faucets, screen doors or soda cans could burn hazardous materials into your lungs. You can also use a small piece of weed nug that’s just big enough to cover the hole at the bottom of your bowl.
If you’re going to buy a grinder, get one with a kief catcher. Kief is high-THC dust that falls off of weed when it’s ground, and a kief catcher will collect this for you. When you have enough, you can sprinkle it on top of a packed bowl for an extra punch.
You should know that all marijuana is not created equal. Basically, the more THC content of your strain, the higher you will get. You can also mess around with the other components of the cannabis strains to get various medical effects. For a beginner, I recommend starting out with a strain that’s low in THC, or at least high in CBD for balance. You need to have a chance to see how you personally react to weed, because it affects everyone differently. You also need to start building your tolerance (which right now is zero) before you start hitting the really heavy stuff.
Since this is your first time, I’m going to start by showing you how to use a glass weed pipe. This is the easiest place to start, and after all, every basic stoner knows how to smoke weed from a pipe.
Let’s start with the pipe’s anatomy. It’s made of a few simple parts: the bowl, carb (usually), stem, and mouthpiece. The bowl is, obviously, that miniature cereal bowl on one end of the pipe. The carb is that strange hole in the side of the bowl. The stem is the stick that comes out of the bowl, and the mouthpiece is on the end of the stem, with a hole in it that leads all the way to the bottom of the bowl.
First, decide which bud you’re going to use. Next, remove any stems or seeds, and break your bud into smaller pieces. You can do this with your fingers, or use a grinder. You want it evenly broken, but not so fine it falls through the bowl of your pipe. Now, consider how many people will be smoking, and use the amount of ground up weed that you think is appropriate. If it’s just a couple of people, you can do “snaps”, which are just enough for one hit, and each person can do their own snap. You can also load a “party bowl” up to the brim. To load a party bowl, pack the weed tightly enough for an even burn, but loosely enough so that the air can flow through.
Obviously, you’re going to need to know how to light a pipe bowl. Being the first person to light a fresh bowl of weed is called “getting green”. It’s a privilege, because the first hit is the freshest. When someone offers you green, take it as a compliment. To light the green, don’t just dive-bomb your lighter into the middle or you’ll waste hits by lighting too much at once. Start with the tip of the flame on one edge of the of the weed. This is called “cornering the bowl” and is considered very good manners. If you want to avoid awkward hand positions and burnt thumbs, hold the lighter on its side.
To take a hit, rest your lips against the mouthpiece, and cover the carb with your finger or thumb. Then light the bowl and inhale at the same time. This fills the chamber (the inside of the stem) with smoke. Toward the end of your inhale, take your thumb off of the carb and breathe in faster and deeper. This clears the smoke from the chamber and moves it into your lungs. Some pipes don’t have a carb, so if yours doesn’t, just light up and inhale. Don’t get scared when you start to cough; that’s normal. Just don’t cough or exhale while your mouth is still on the pipe, or your precious weed will go flying through the air in all directions.
When you pass the pipe to someone, be sure to pass it with the mouthpiece facing them – it isn’t pleasant to grab onto a freshly-lit, hot bowl. Eventually, the bowl may stay lit as you pass it around. That’s called a “cherried” bowl. Be sure to let your friend know when you’re handing them a cherried bowl, so they can hit it quickly. If they don’t want to take a hit right away, you can “cap the cherry” by placing the flat side of your lighter over the bowl, thus suffocating the fire and conserving weed until they’re ready for it. Capping the cherry isn’t universal weed etiquette, but some people may want you do it.
To “cash the bowl”, or get rid of the ashes once the whole bowl has been smoked, turn the pipe upside down and gently tap on the side or tap it against the palm of your hand. Remember, glass is breakable, so don’t be too rough.
One of the most common mishaps of a smoking session is accidental (or purposeful) theft of lighters. It’s very easy, while you’re talking, laughing and getting high, to be using someone else’s lighter and pocket it without thinking about it. While it can be funny to see who ends up with whose lighter (it’s a running joke among some of my friends), some people may get offended, or that lighter might be special to them for some reason. Be considerate, and try not to lighter lift.
Now that you know how to smoke weed with a pipe, you can upgrade to a bubbler or a bong. To use a bubbler, fill the water chamber before you load your weed. Don’t fill it all the way, because you still want some air passage – it’s a pipe, not a straw!
A bong is more similar to a pipe than it looks. The big part has the base at the bottom, which is where you put the water; the chamber, which is that giant tube coming out of the top; and the mouthpiece at the top of the chamber. That little stick in the side is called the downstem, and on top of that is the bowl.
To use the bong, take the downstem out and fill the base with water until it’s almost reaching the hole for the downstem, but not quite. While the downstem is out, fill the bowl with weed, then put the downstem back into the base. Put your mouth on the mouthpiece on top, so the ring is totally around the outside of your lips, then inhale and light the bowl. There will be bubbles as smoke is filtered through the water and fills the chamber. Pull the downstem loose to clear the chamber and get your hit. Some bongs do have a carb on the side of the base instead, and if yours does, you already know what to do with it.
Few things feel worse than having a loaded bowl but no lighter. Luckily, there are alternatives. You can use a magnifying glass with the sun, a high-powered laser, flint/fire steel, or you can hold steel wool to both ends of a battery. You can also light an item with your stove, then use that to light your bowl. Items used this way include candles, raw spaghetti, paper rolled tightly into a twig, toothpicks, knives, and even joints! If you’re going to try these methods, please be careful not to harm yourself, your house or other people.
Cleaning is important, since it can prevent mold and clogging. If your pipe is metal, just take it apart and boil it in water. If it’s glass, soak it in an alcohol bath overnight. You can also find fantastic cleaning solutions at your local pipe shop that will work really well. The solution baths work on metal pieces, too. If you’re cleaning a bong, rinse it out, put some fine salt and your cleaning solution inside, and let it soak overnight. The next day, cover all the openings and shake. Then dump it all out and rinse the bong again.
It has been my absolute honor to teach you how to smoke your first bowl! One of my favorite things about smoking from a bowl is the variety different pieces to choose from and collect. There are so many kinds that I couldn’t fit them all in one article. I fully encourage you to explore the world of weed merchandise for yourself. If you take a good look around, you could even be lucky enough to purchase a one-of-a-kind piece of art!
As your weed sensei, I am proud to say, you are ready to start smoking! Don’t forget – mind your manners, eat good munchies and keep an eye on your lighter. Now, go! Make me proud!