What About Bongs? THC Vaping Makes Future Uncertain for Pot-Related Glassware

Nobody puts vape pens in showcases.
Nobody puts vape pens in showcases. Jim Louvau
With thousands of new cannabis users picking up vape pens in this age of state-legal marijuana, are bongs and pipes about to fade into history like video rental stores, landlines, and flip phones?

Ken Kulow, the owner of Chameleon Glass in Phoenix said he can see why other options could be attractive to users, but he isn’t sweating it.

“I think there will always be glass pipes on the market,” he said.

Sure, a glassware manufacturer would say that, but there’s no denying the seismic shift in the cannabis industry. Recent trends indicate that both new and seasoned users are choosing the portable and far-less-aromatic option of vaping THC over the alternative.

According to a 2018 survey of cannabis consumers by New Frontier Data of Denver, more people listed vaporizers as appealing (32 percent) than pipes or bongs (19 percent).

“Bongs are going out,” said Seth Walker, client advocate for another Denver canna-lytical company, Higher Yields Cannabis Consulting. Water pipes can be “dirty and smelly,” he said. “Sales and trends in dispensaries are going from flower and smoking” to vape products, which are increasing at “an exponential rate.”

Statistics by the Arizona Department of Health Services show what he’s talking about: Dispensaries sold 2.5 tons of concentrates in 2018. While flower remains the top seller, with 56 tons sold, sales of concentrates last year increased by 83 percent over 2017 — twice the rate of flower.

But is vaping really better than a good bong rip? Vape pens are convenient and effective, but what’s inside a cartridge might not be as advertised. With no regulatory oversight, vape companies make many wild claims about health that often have no research behind them.

“I think if there was an actual study to compare the additives and solvents to make cannabis oil work in the ‘vape’ pens … many people would return to smoking fairly quickly,” Kulow, the glass-maker, expounded.

Vape cartridges, by their very nature, offer opportunity for dishonesty. A bong hit, on the other hand, just needs glass or plastic, water, flower, and fire. The elemental makeup doesn’t allow much wiggle room for misleading marketing or puffed-up promises.

And as most seasoned smokers will tell you, comparing vaping to ripping a bong is like comparing Spotify to vinyl. You just don’t get the full experience.

Fact is, the extraction process used by vape cartridge manufacturers can end up removing some vital components, like terpenes, which have an impact on the “entourage effect” that smoking offers. Plus, vape cartridges are so impersonal. Glassware has character, fans argue.

“There’s something special about finding a unique glass piece and breaking it in for the first time,” said local cardholder and art director Lauren Laspisa.

Indeed, glass paraphernalia offers a more ritualistic and tangible experience that vaping does not. It’s hard to imagine anyone naming their vape pens, or meticulously cleaning them on a Sunday afternoon as if they were cherished family heirlooms.

The rise of legal shatter, wax, and other dabbable extracted resin products has also given new life to the bong in the form of dabbing rigs, which are water pipes outfitted with a blowtorch-ready “nail” instead of a bowl, often capped with a small cone to trap more vapor.

Vape pens or larger devices for vaporizing flower just don’t cut it for consumers who need a hit of the more burly variety. For these avid users, nothing beats a bong hit, whether of premium flower or concentrates like shatter.

While glass bongs and pipes and their acrylic cousins may feel the pinch of these newfangled vape methods, they’re likely to be the Clydesdales of the pot-consumption scene for many years to come, with the most artistic creations still sitting proudly on many an avid stoner’s mantelpiece.

Ray Stern contributed to this article
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