Thanks to increasing legalization and reduction of social stigma, cannabis enthusiasts have more options than ever when it comes to their choice of consumption method.
Still, many consumers stick with the most classic consumption method for cannabis: inhalation. This usually means smoking cannabis flower that has been rolled into a joint or blunt or packed into a pipe or bong bowl.
In this post, we’ll weigh in on whether smoking a bowl is better or worse than smoking joints, before we give a brief overview of some of the health risks associated with cannabis smoking in general.
When it comes to comparing bowls against joints, there are several benefits and drawbacks to each option. First, however, let’s break down the language we’re using to ask which consumption tool is better.
The term “bowl” has two common definitions; it can refer to an entire handheld pipe as well as to the removable bowl piece where cannabis flower is packed for a bong. “Better” is also a broad term, and might refer to a range of factors such as convenience, efficiency, or cost-effectiveness.
In short, the “better” consumption method will depend on your personal preferences and individual use cases.
One report, published in 2023 in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science using the latter definition for “bowl,” describes the pros and cons for bongs and joints according to a sample of 297 college students.
“The most common reasons identified for preferring bongs were (a) convenience, (b) cost-effective, (c) better high/more intense high, (d) less harsh/smooth, and (e) a faster high,” the report’s authors state.
While many of the students reported “general, unspecified” reasons for considering a bong more convenient, we might guess that factors like the difference in time needed to pack a bowl versus rolling a joint played a part.
The cost-effectiveness, reported “better/more intense high,” and “faster high” factors associated with bongs are all likely related to each other. This is because bongs allow for the quick consumption of a limited quantity of cannabis flower that is inhaled deep into the lungs. Joints, in contrast, lend themselves to slower consumption.
This slower consumption style, however, results in “side stream” smoke that can leave nearly half of your joint’s THC content quite literally blowing in the wind.
Those students who preferred joints report surprising similar reasons for their preference to those who preferred bongs: “The most common reasons identified for preferring joints were (a) convenience, (b) less harsh/smooth, and (c) easier to control the high (or the amount of weed).”
Here, “convenience” seems to have more to do with portability than with the ease of rolling and smoking a joint.
“Some of the joint users like the portability of a joint; that they could take it on ‘on the go.’ This portability piece was not identified in bong users,” the report’s authors state.
This makes a lot of sense — after all, it’s much easier to toss a joint in a cigarette case or other hard container and bring it with you than it is to pack a large, fragile bong. The same might be said for glass handheld pipes as well.
Interestingly, the pro-bong and pro-joint survey respondents both reported that their preferred smoking method was “less harsh or smoother than other methods.” This seemingly contradictory finding could hint at the level to which individual consumers’ own associations — likely based on past experience — impact their consumption method preferences.
To summarize, the answer to whether smoking a bowl is better than smoking a joint is entirely up to you and will likely be influenced by your concerns regarding convenience, cost-effectiveness, and your subjective past enjoyment of either consumption method.
“Don't smoke cannabis, which can inflame your lungs. Use an under-the-tongue tincture, an edible, a topical product, or a dry herb vaporizer,” writes Peter Grinspoon, MD, a respected cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School.
“If you do smoke cannabis, don't hold it in your lungs for more than a second or two; holding it in longer doesn't give you more effect, it just irritates your lungs,” he adds.
Still, as one 2020 survey examining 45,000 Canadian college students reveals, smoking remains a hugely popular consumption method — especially for younger cannabis users.
For readers who appreciate the immediacy of the effects from smoking but are wary of the well-documented health risks, it might be worth exploring the world of dry herb vaporizers, or “heat-not-burn” devices.
These devices, which include classics like the Storz & Bickel Volcano alongside newer market favorites like the Dynavap (an affordable entry point!) or the TinyMight, essentially act like a small oven that heats your cannabis flower to the point where the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds turn into an inhalable vapor that doesn’t negatively impact your respiratory system as badly as smoking does.
Regarding the marijuana bowl versus joint debate, smoking a bowl from a hand pipe (as opposed to a bong with water filtration) and smoking a joint are about the same in terms of safety.
Smoking a bowl through a bong or “water pipe” does, however, reduce the total amount of toxic compounds that make it into your lungs — though it remains up for debate whether this constitutes an effective harm reduction strategy.
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