Have you ever wondered what types of microbes are living in your bong water? Not only does dirty bong water make for a terrible smoking experience, but it can also make you sick. There are quite a few different types of microbes that may be able to live inside a dirty, resin-coated bong or water pipe. Here’s the scoop on how these little creatures get in there and signs of potential mold exposure.
What types of microbes are living in your bong water?
Throughout human history, standing water has been a major health hazard. Water has spread many of the most devastating infectious diseases, like cholera, tuberculosis, and diphtheria.
While these things are unlikely to be found in your household bong, water that’s been left to sit and filled with leftover plant resin can be a breeding ground for molds and pathogenic bacteria.
Sitting water begins to develop something called a “biofilm”. Biofilms are colonies of microbes that form on the surface of water and other aqueous solutions. This film is similar to the pink slime that often grows in bathtubs. If you notice that your bong is a little slimy on the inside, chances are a biofilm has already developed.
These biofilms can begin to form in as little as 24 hours, which is why it is recommended to rinse your bong with boiling water at the end of every day or after each use. A thorough cleaning with isopropyl alcohol and salt is recommended once per week.
Some biofilms can be a good thing. Drinking water that contains beneficial microbes may contribute to good health. However, inhaling these microbes may be another story.
Bacteria, fungi, and other microbes are introduced to your bong through tap water and your household environment. They can also hitch a ride on the bud you’re smoking itself.
Bacteria, yeasts, and other fungi can all form biofilms. These films are created when microbes start to excrete a kind of goop that better allows them to stick to surfaces like plastics and the nasty plant residue stuck to the inside of a bong.
As the Montana State University Center for Biofilm Research explains,
Biofilms grow virtually everywhere, in almost any environment where there is a combination of moisture, nutrients, and a surface.
Even in a clean bong, water that’s left standing can form a biofilm. The chances of developing a biofilm are greater once you introduce plant materials, those plant materials and cannabis resin build up inside of the bong.
This provides a potential nutrient source for various types of pathogens (harmful microbes). Molds can also grow on the mineral deposits left by standing tap water in your piece.
What species of microbes live in bong water?
By the most recent estimates, there may be one trillion species of microbes living on the earth. Of course, not all of them survive in water or could hold out in a bong. However, there are a lot of potential microbes that you may come in contact with while smoking.
It all depends on your environment and the microbes in your region. However, there are a few common bacteria and fungi that are commonly found in household water devices or the cannabis plant itself that may contribute to illness. Some of these species include:
1. Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common bacteria that many healthy people already have inside of their bodies. However, bacteria can cause health problems when they are overgrown or in the wrong places.
This particular type of bacteria can cause irritations like swimmer’s ear and tub rash, and it can also grow in household appliances that hold water, like humidifiers.
Those with compromised immune systems may be especially prone to infection from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In severe cases, this can cause pneumonia, cough, fever, chills, shock, and confusion.
Aspergillus is a fungus that commonly grows on cannabis plants. When the fungus (or any bacteria or microbe, for that matter) breaks down via burning, harmful compounds called mycotoxins are released. Breathing in mycotoxins can make you quite ill and cause symptoms of chest pain, cough, and infection.
There is also evidence that aspergillus spores can survive burning. Research published in 2011 cited two case studies of medical cannabis patients with severe lung dysfunction potentially caused by excess exposure to aspergillus from smoked cannabis.
Aspergillus infection can lead to a disease called chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA), which can contribute to emphysema. After being treated for aspergillus infection, both patients improved.
A moist environment plus excess plant matter inside a dirty bong can create a breeding ground for aspergillus.
Streptococcus is a genus of bacteria commonly found in humans and animals and is abundant in the environment. This type of bacteria is what contributes to strep throat, scarlet fever, and pneumonia.
However, it’s not common for streptococcus to be present in water unless the water or the surrounding environment is contaminated. To avoid risk of contamination from environmental factors, it’s best to keep bongs clean and away from animals or other potential sources of disease.
4. Escherichia coli
E. coli is mostly a problem if the contaminated water was put into a bong or if the water had been exposed to animal or human waste in some way.
Having pets around or not washing your hands after using the bathroom can contribute to e. coli contamination. However, e. coli is also an extremely common pathogen found in food and around the kitchen.
As a plant product, e. coli may be found in the cannabis itself, not just in contaminated bong water. Exposure to inhaled e. coli can lead to respiratory infection.
Flavobacterium is a type of bacteria that has been found in household products that hold standing water like humidifiers. Typically, these bacteria are found in soils and freshwater, and they are known to cause disease in fish.
Exposure to this type of bacteria in humans is expected to cause fever and respiratory infection.
6. Other microbes and molds
There are so many microbes out there that it is difficult to say which types might be present in your bong water. However, between the standing water and the plant matter, there is a high risk of inhaling some type of mold spores and bacteria if you do not clean your bong regularly.
Any one of these microbes can trigger irritation, allergy, or a lung infection.
Fungi are more easy to spot than bacteria, which require a microscope to see. If you notice any of these tell-tale signs, it’s past time to clean your bong:
- Fuzzy mold
- Slimy texture or visible slime
- Pink mildew
- Black mildew
- White specks
It’s important to note that most pathogens in bong water will not be visible.
Will I get sick from dirty bong water?
It is entirely possible to get sick from dirty bong water. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a report warning that improperly cleaned humidifiers can lead to illness due to the standing water tank.
While bongs and humidifiers are two very different objects, water that’s left standing in a bong for too long in the right conditions can grow similar microbes.
According to the CPSC, this standing water can irritate symptoms of asthma, allergies, and lead to possible illness. With a dirty bong, you’re inhaling this dirty water into your lungs directly at close range. If you are under stress and/or your immune system is weakened, this can greatly increase your chance of lung infection.
Inhaling a small amount of pseudomonas for one person might be okay. However, the more exposure you have and the more vulnerable your immune system, the greater the likelihood that you develop an illness.
As mentioned above, bacteria and fungi excrete compounds known as endotoxins, exotoxins, and mycotoxins which can cause signs of illness. Some people may be more sensitive to these toxins than others.
Some signs to look for include:
- Prolonged cough
- Chest congestion
- Fatigue or brain fog
- Tightness in chest
- Shortness of breath
- Airway inflammation
- General aches and pains
- Lower lung infection
- Sinus and nose infection/irritation
To learn more about how to properly clean your bong and prevent infection, read the full article.