It turns out that putting random fluids in a bong is a stoner curiosity as old as weed-smoking itself. So much so that we even did it ourselves several years ago. After smoking out of a bong long enough, questions inevitably arise: Will something other than water taste good? Will it kill me? Will it get me insanely higher?
The internet is awash with articles and forums weighing the validity of different liquids in bongs. One guy tried bong rips (separately) with mouthwash, hot sauce, Mountain Dew, and ranch dressing—I mean, how bored does one have to get? Ranch rips aside, other stoners tout the use of iced tea, gatorade, and LaCroix in bongs, which all sound delicious. But will they actually affect the flavor or the high?
The issue of alcohol in a bong is quite contentious: some love it, some hate it, and there’s a whole lot of trash talk on both sides. So what actually happens when you add booze to your bong instead of water: Do you get crossfaded? Will the weed infuse into the alcohol? Is it dangerous?
We talked with a scientist to unlock this age-old stoner mystery.
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What happens when you inhale alcohol fumes?
Ultimately, we don’t recommend that people put alcohol in a bong when smoking weed because inhaling alcohol vapor is dangerous. The effects of inhaling alcohol vapor are hard to determine and even measure. Unfortunately, this is somewhat of a fad, but we strongly recommend against it.
“From a health and safety standpoint, huffing alcohol, in general, is considered a very bad idea. That’s one of the reasons why we drink alcohol instead of inhale its fumes via some device like a nebulizer,” said AJ Fabrizio, Cannabis Scientist and co-founder of the American Cannabinoid Association. “You’ll probably get very, very sick, and never want to do it again.”
The body processes substances differently depending on how you consume them, which will also play into how that substance affects you. For example, when eating an edible, THC is processed in your stomach and then liver, which takes a while for the THC to kick in. When smoking or vaping weed, you’ll feel effects a lot faster because THC is absorbed directly into the bloodstream via your lungs.
When you drink alcohol, the stomach and liver have to process the liquid before its intoxicating effects set in. If you were to inhale alcohol fumes, the effects would hit you a lot faster than if you were to drink it, since it would get absorbed through your lungs.
Fabrizio also explained how bubbling alcohol in a bong can compound the fumes.
“You’d be displacing what would normally be water vapor, or normal ambient atmosphere, in the bubble or on the smoke, with fumes of the alcohol, which then will cause their own intoxication,” he said. “Every time you pull a hit and start to draw it in, you will not just be getting the smoke of the cannabis, but you will also be getting the fumes of the alcohol.”
Another concern with inhaling alcohol is, how would you even quantify a “hit” of alcohol vapor?
“If you inhale the actual fumes of the alcohol, the problem is that you have an issue with being able to titrate effectively so that you don’t overdo it,” said Fabrizio, referring to measuring or dosing a substance.
It’s important to note that we’re talking about ethyl alcohol, meaning, alcohol that you drink: gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, etc. These are very different from isopropanol, or isopropyl alcohol, which is often used to clean bongs and glassware.
“Repeated inhalation of alcohol, in general, is a dangerous thing to do,” said Fabrizio. “Isopropanol can eventually kill you, but in the short term, there are common side effects of dizziness, headache, ataxia (which is basically being cumbersome and not being able to really move around), and poor muscle control.”
Although isopropanol is dangerous and very different from ethyl, inhaling ethyl alcohol is still not a good idea.
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Is THC lost in alcohol?
Scientific studies haven’t really been done on the effects of how THC behaves when it comes in contact with ethanol alcohol, but Fabrizio explained that alcohols are polar, meaning they will generally weaken cannabis by dissolving THC, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds, more so than water.
“Ultimately, you’re ruining what the cannabis is. The terpene profile will get completely overshadowed because all you’re going to have is the flavor of the alcohol,” he said. “[If] you have rum in there, the majority of what you’re going to taste is the rum.”
He went on to explain that terpenes add to the experience of a high and destroying them would likely diminish your high. THC potency would also be reduced.
Will you catch on fire?
We found many folks on internet forums claiming that smoking with alcohol in a bong will result in a fireball to the lungs. This probably isn’t a concern with low-proof alcohols, but absolutely could be with high-proof booze.
“Anything that’s below 100 proof—inhaling the alcohol and then blowing out the fumes and trying to set it on fire is probably going to be difficult just because of the other gases mixed into it. But when you get to those higher concentrations, absolutely—fire becomes a hazard,” said Fabrizio.
We’re not sure whether or not a burning ember could ignite high-proof alcohol in a bong, but we recommend you don’t try it at home.
Fire hazards aside, temperature changes, such as heating the alcohol, makes it more volatile, making the fumes worse. Additionally, pulling air through a bong, which creates low pressure inside the chamber, increases volatility and can also be more dangerous.
“That small amount [of temperature change] is enough to increase the volatility of the alcohol pretty significantly,” he said. “The difference between what you’ll get putting your head over a glass of alcohol and sniffing it, versus putting a straw in the alcohol or putting something that will bubble air through the alcohol is very different.”
How to avoid the dreaded crossfaded high
Concerns with crossfading
If you’ve ever been crossfaded from mixing alcohol and weed—you know it can be a tricky game to play. Balancing the two substances can be difficult and can ruin your night real quick. Crossfading will be even trickier when not just mixing alcohol with weed, but inhaling alcohol with weed.
“It’s typically not a good idea to take them together at exactly the same time, just because it becomes so much more difficult to titrate your dose,” said Fabrizio.
But not only is it hard to balance the two substances, they act as opposites, and almost negate each other.
“We’re talking about cannabis, which, from a physiological standpoint… is resoundingly safe, even when you overdo it. And what you’re doing is you’re mixing in something that does the exact opposite physiologically to the cells in the body… [with] nerve cells, we know for a fact that alcohol is one of the most potent toxic compounds that people have access to on a regular basis for nerves,” said Fabrizio. “We know for a fact that cannabinoids do the opposite; they actually help preserve and protect nerve cells.”
In the end, we strongly recommend that you don’t put alcohol in your bong. Not only is it dangerous, but it’ll make crossfading difficult to balance, and ultimately, it’ll kill the taste of your weed and lessen the high. And that’s why you’re smoking weed in the first place, right?