Wet vs. Dry Dabs: The Great Bong Water Debate

Eric Vlosky
Last Updated at
1:22 am
August 29, 2023

Should You Take Dabs With or Without Water?

What might seem like a pretty obvious answer to most actually turns out to be far from it when it comes to whether or not dabbing cannabis concentrates is optimal with water. The age-old question of doing so when smoking flower is also something we wanted to get to the bottom of. Dry rig or a little filtration? Spoon or bong? Many of us have also gotten experimental with other types of liquids for filtration, many of which turn out to be terrible (but hey, Hawaiian Punch in your RooЯ back in the old days was worth a shot). We were surprised by the answers we got when we started to dig into this topic with hash makers and connoisseurs we know, so we’ll cross our fingers you’ll learn something new like we did by the end of the article.

How Water Actually Filters Cannabis Smoke

It wasn’t until recently that I gave much conscious thought to whether or not I wanted to take dabs or hit the bong with water. It’s the default for many people, myself included, and it makes sense as to why. Smoking in any capacity really isn’t great for your lungs, even when you’re enjoying modest amounts of ultra-clean solventless hash, and especially when you’re smoking flower. According to a PubMed article published in 2021, there are at least 550 discrete chemical compounds in cannabis, including around 100 phytocannabinoids such as THC and CBD¹. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but there’s no question whatsoever that a variety of carcinogenic elements exist when marijuana concentrates or dried flower are vaporized. Water will indeed trap a handful of heavier particles and water-soluble molecules, including some terpenes we expect, but which ones and in what quantities have not apparently been tested when it comes to cannabis specifically.

We were surprised to learn that there appears to be almost no peer reviewed literature at all on what exactly water filters when cannabis smoke is pulled through it aside from conjecture about nasty bong water, let alone with concentrates. Anyone who’s owned a bong or a rig knows that at some point (and much more quickly with flower in a bong), cleaning needs to occur or else your friends won’t come over anymore. A study from the stately European Respiratory Review describes how when hookahs are being used, the water filters out some tar but also contains traces of heavy metals among other known toxins². Ominously the authors note that hitting a hookah is at least as hazardous and toxic as smoking straight cigarettes which was news to yours truly. Thankfully we aren’t talking about hookahs or drawing tobacco smoke with coal bricks on top here, but cannabis as a species of plant is especially adept at absorbing heavy metals through soil so make sure to check your test results. 

If you’re keen on playing it safe or are a high volume consumer, smoking mainly with water makes a lot of sense even though it isn’t magic armor for your lungs. When it comes to dabbing, temperature also plays a pretty big role and makes the case for taking lower temperature hits regardless of whether you use water or not. The only study we’re aware of on this subject, which tested BHO in 2018, indicates that a variety of strong carcinogens such as methacrolein and benzene become present and increase dramatically when you take hot ass dabs to the face³. The authors of the study note that this chemical phenomena is tied largely to certain terpenes converting into carcinogens at high temperatures, not cannabinoids. According to their data, methacrolein was not detected at dabs under about 600°F, which is quite a bit higher than most rosin or solventless gets taken at anyway.

Taste, Experience, and Personal Preferences

With all of that not-so-fun stuff out of the way, experimenting with or without water is a must if you haven’t recently because water usually will have a noticeable impact on how concentrates and flower taste. This seems to be especially true of more delicate, volatile terpene-rich rosins and hashes in our experience, which tend to score highly on our grading scales. The trade off you need to weigh for yourself is a slight to noticeable reduction in flavor in return for a moderate to significant increase in smoothness of the vapor. If you’re on team Cough To Get Off then it might be an obvious choice, but it’s hard to get silky smooth dabs without at least a little water in your piece. 

For this article we caught up with Tim @theduboy, the lab director of the boutique Colorado solventless hash making company Soiku Bano. He mentioned that sometimes not filtering your dabs will produce a stronger effect because you’re getting everything the hash has to offer unfiltered. This isn’t super pronounced with every strain, but certainly some. Tim also remarked that the higher the quality of the rosin or concentrate, the less critical water becomes, but for lower quality products, it’s a must. 

Tim and other hashmakers we’ve chatted with swear that specific terpenes are more likely to be filtered than others, even though there don’t appear to be any hard test results to back up those claims. While anecdotal, we think they’re onto something and hope someone will run the results on rig water sooner or later. If maximum flavor in return for harshing the mellow a little bit is an acceptable compromise, skipping water might be the right move for you. In addition, there’s something very real to be said about the satisfaction of the physical resistance water offers when you draw vapor through it with your lungs. The chugging, bubbling sound and feeling is intrinsically pleasing to most cannabis consumers. Its absence is noticeable if you haven’t taken a dry dab in a while.

When you use water, it can also be a bit messy in certain rigs like Puffco vaporizers and is typically inconvenient when you’re on the go. If it’s in your go-to home rig or bong, then changing the water frequently is a simple and often automatic task between sessions. Conversely, without water, the effort to clean your rigs also increases. Bongs with water that have been neglected for too long are also insidious and require real effort to decontaminate. Clean glass no matter what you’re smoking should be more or less mandatory for high quality extracts as well as flower. The elaborate rituals that some connoisseurs employ to keep their finest rigs sparkling fresh is also noteworthy and suggested watching regardless of which way you decide to go here.

Dabbing With Water: Worth It?

The general consensus at TerpGuide is that taking dabs with water is the prevailing way to go except in certain circumstances where a particular flavor profile demands to be enjoyed unfiltered. There’s really no right or wrong answer though, and if you prefer not to use water, more power to you. In our rosin and hash reviews, we’ll often try solventless extracts both ways. What we do tend to find however is that the reduction in flavor with water is normally very mild at most and that the latent experience between vapor smoothness to enjoyment with it is superior. Not to mention, using water creates a certain resistance that is somewhat satisfying and helps control the incoming vapor. Whichever way you choose to go, just make sure to seek well made products for the best possible experience. Water or not, the quality of the dab or flower itself trumps everything.

Sources

¹ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33332000/

² https://err.ersjournals.com/content/30/160/200374

³ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5623941/

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