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How Filthy Is Bong Water, Really?

You have a swamp on your coffee table, bro

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.

This edition, we’re straying from our usual foods, cosmetics and cleaning products to examine everything floating around in bong water, unintentionally — but often — inhaled by stoners and intentionally gulped by hammered bros on the internet.

As you may have expected, scientists have yet to conduct an official analysis of the many compounds in bong water. However, we can safely make some assumptions about what’s probably swimming around in there. “When you have any vessel where there’s going to be the potential for backwash, whether it be a bottle or a bong, the liquid inside is going to be inoculated with bacteria from your mouth,” says Jason “The Germ Guy” Tetro, author of The Germ Files. “Depending on the amount of nutrients that can sustain the bacteria — cells and saliva — you may have a doubling of some bacteria once or twice an hour. It could become a soup of microbes within two to three days.”

While we await more conclusive bong research, what scientists have analyzed are the microbes commonly found on shaker bottles — the ones commonly used by gym rats — and Tetro says those found in bong water should be largely the same, so we’ll be including those in our investigation. “Most are harmless in small amounts, but can give you some rather unwelcome gastrointestinal problems if they get too concentrated,” Tetro warns.

Let’s take a look.

What Is Dirty Bong Water Made Up Of?

1) Water: What good is a bong without the water? Something worth noting here is that the type of water you use to fill your bong has the potential to influence how much bacteria ends up spawning in there. Counterintuitive as it may sound, in many cases, bottled water contains more bacteria than tap water. If you’re really concerned, filtered water is a good bet.

2) Plant Materials: Chances are, there’s some residual herb in your bong water, and possibly even THC, which means you may be able to get high by drinking bong water, but please don’t. Unfortunately, plant material can provide nutrients for bacteria to multiply, like Tetro mentioned earlier, essentially turning your bong into a sludgy swamp.

3) Staphylococcus: Staphylococcus is a bacteria primarily known for causing staph infections. It comes from our skin, and besides staph, Tetro says it can also result in more minor cases of irritation and impetigo.

4) E. coli and Proteus: These are both known as “fecal coliforms,” and as Tetro notes, they “come from unwashed hands,” something stoners can be guilty of at times. They’ve also appeared on contaminated cannabis and can cause all sorts of problems, ranging from pneumonia to urinary tract infections to diarrhea.

5) Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and Serratia: Tetro explains that these are all “environmental bacteria, and won’t cause much trouble unless you have a compromised immune system, which could be the case in those using medicinal marijuana.” Hey, anything can happen: For instance, this study covers a case of “marijuana smoking via a ‘bong’ device, which has resulted in severe Pseudomonas aeruginosa necrotizing pneumonia.” Goddamn, man.

6) Streptococcus: If you’re a bong sharer, you especially need to watch out for Streptococcus, “as they live in your mouth and will most likely be transferred over,” Tetro explains. Streptococcus, of course, causes strep throat.

7) All Sorts of Other Crap: As we noted earlier, the standing water in a bong is prone to quickly becoming a “soup of microbes,” so there’s no telling what else may make an appearance in yours.

The Takeaway

Like Tetro said from the start, a lot of these microbes are common and harmless in small amounts. The real problem with bongs is, the water often goes unchanged for long periods of time, they’re seldom cleaned and the lingering plant material all combine to create an optimal breeding ground for those initial small amounts to grow much, much larger and more dangerous. Therefore, as Tetro says, “If you’re going to use a bong, make sure to give it a good wash after every use. It doesn’t have to be straight away, but definitely before you use it again.”

It may not be the most fun, but the alternative may be a case of necrotizing pneumonia ending your smoking career forever. We can’t have that, can we?