Cannabis First Timers: How to Smoke a Bowl

how to smoke a bowl
By Rebecca Olmos Updated March 8th

Fact-checked by Deb Tharp

One of the most traditional ways to consume cannabis is to use a pipe. Also called 'bowls,' pipes come in many designs, colors, materials, and sizes. And because they offer users a simple, handheld option for smoking their cannabis flower, this tool has become an essential piece in any consumer’s stashbox. 

This article dives deeper into the anatomy of a pipe, the materials you’ll need to get started, and how to smoke weed out of a bowl like a true connoisseur. 

What Is a Cannabis Pipe Made Up Of?

Major parts of a weed pipe

A cannabis pipe comprises four parts: 

  1. the bowl, 
  2. the chamber, 
  3. the mouthpiece, 
  4. and the carb hole. 

Bowl

Similar to a soup bowl, the bowl of a cannabis pipe is shaped like a spherical cap with a small hole at the interior base for airflow. 

The bowl is where to put or "pack" the weed and where the user holds the pipe. A bowl on a pipe might look slightly different than a bowl on a bong, but it will always be the space where the cannabis material is placed. 

Some users opt to place a 'screen' in the bowl. Screens prevent chunks of flower from coming through the chamber and the mouthpiece while inhaling. This not only reduces clogs but helps keep plant material from getting in your mouth. Screens, like pipes, come in various materials, but most often are super thin metal mesh-like pieces that can be pressed onto the bottom and molded to fit any size bowl. Screens are an optional add-on for smoking with a pipe.

Chamber

The chamber is the body of the pipe. It's the tunnel-like space between the bowl and the mouthpiece where the smoke travels. 

Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece is the hole at the end of the chamber where a user's lips are placed and where they will inhale the cannabis smoke. 

Carb

The carb, or carb hole, is a hole on the bowl's side for regulating airflow. The index finger or thumb (depending on which hand is holding the pipe) will block or unblock the carb. 

Bongs also have a bowl, but won’t often have a separate carb hold. Instead, users regulate airflow in a bong by removing the bowl when they’re ready to inhale the cannabis smoke.

The Essentials You Need for Your Bowl

Before you pack your first bowl, take a moment to gather the necessary materials. You’ll need the following to get started:

  • Bowl (or Pipe). Users can typically find a wide variety of bowls at their local smoke shops or dispensaries.
  • Cannabis Flower or Material. A bowl is filled with cannabis flower, but users can “top the bowl” with other concentrates, like live resin, sauce, or diamonds to enhance the flower and psychoactive experience. It's recommended that beginners start with just flower.
  • Grinder (optional). Cannabis nugs do not burn well when in large pieces. The goal is to break the nugs down to create a larger surface area for the flame. Breaking down the flower can be done by hand, with scissors, or other creative methods, like a knife or coffee grinder, if a cannabis grinder is unavailable. If using a grinder, be careful not to over-grind the flower too finely into a powder. 
  • Tiny Spoon or Scooping Tool (optional). Most people don't use this tool, but it can be used to add cannabis to the bowl while preserving trichomes on the nugs and keeping your fingers clear of any stickiness.
  • Rolling Tray (optional). Rolling trays offer a surface where you can break up your cannabis material and pack your bowl while keeping your desk or table (or lap) clean. 
  • Lighter or Other Heating Tool. This tool is vital to the process. The flame, or heat, will cause the flower to combust into smoke for consumption. The combustion process turns the cannabinoids like THCA into THC, which causes users to feel the psychoactive effects. Some consumers prefer using a hemp wick for a reportedly cleaner experience than butane lighters¹. They light the wick and then use the wick to light or "spark" the flower.
  • Tamping Tool (optional). A tamping tool can be used to pack the weed down as the flower burns and turns to ash, providing for smoother pulls from the pipe. You don’t want to tamp down the flower too tightly, so many consumers use the side of their lighter instead of a separate device.

Pros and Cons of Smoking Weed Out of a Bowl

pros and cons of weed bowls

Smoking from a bowl is just one of many ways to consume cannabis, and deciding which method (or methods) are right for you comes down to personal preference. Smoking weed out of a bowl is one of the most widely used techniques, so let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros of Smoking from a Bowl

  • Ease of use. Bowls are quick to pack, easy to use, and don’t take much space.
  • Dosage is easier to control. Smoking out of a bowl is an excellent way to control the size of the hit you take. Users can manually control the amount of flame applied to the plant material, along with the length of the inhale and airflow control. Additionally, users can 'hit' the bowl once or twice without committing to the entire session a joint might require. 
  • Great way to taste the full flavors of the flower. When using a clean bowl and hemp wick, a bowl is one of the best ways to taste the unique flavors of any given strain of cannabis flower.
  • Low Cost. Consumers can find bowls, lighters, grinders, and even hemp wicks for a reasonable price. On top of the low cost of the pipe, some dispensaries sell pre-ground flower at a lower price. 
  • Easy to clean. You only need alcohol and coarse salt to wash a bowl or pipe. A regular soak with these will remove any resin build-up.
  • Small and easy to store. Pipes can be easily stored and tucked away, unlike bongs. And they don’t require extra materials like rolling papers or blunt wraps.
  • Suitable for personal use or small groups. A bowl is ideal for a single consumer. However, they can also be great options for groups of 2-4 people.
  • Each pipe has personality. Bowls can also serve as unique, beautiful personal pieces of expression, with extraordinary glasswork and craftsmanship. Users can find pipes and bongs that fit their style or aesthetic.

Cons of Smoking from a Bowl

  • Butane inhalation (if using a butane lighter). Continuous use of butane for smoking may have adverse effects on lung health.
  • Some upkeep required. Bowls get dirty after only a few uses with resin build-up that affects the flavor and may cause clogs. The best practice is to clean them after every few sessions so you can fully enjoy the flower and experience.
  • Can be breakable. Most pipes are glass, which is easily breakable if not handled with care.
  • Not good for large groups. Bowls are usually suitable for the individual or smaller groups. Most pipes won’t hold enough cannabis to satisfy groups of 3 or more consumers without regular repacking.
  • Smaller hits. Some consumers prefer larger 'rips' and bigger hits, which can be more easily achieved with a bong than a pipe or bowl. 

How to Pack and Smoke a Bowl (Step-by-Step)

steps to smoking a weed bowl

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Basic materials: A bowl, cannabis flower, and a lighter.

Optional materials: A grinder (or something to break the weed up with), a screen, hemp wick, a tiny spoon for scooping, and a tamping tool.

Step 2: Grind your cannabis

You can find pre-ground flower or ‘shake weed’ at the dispensary and skip this step if you prefer.

If using a grinder:

  • Take off the lid and place it to the side.
  • Break the large cannabis nugs into smaller pieces not much larger than pea size, removing any stems.
  • Place those nugs onto the grinding surface, between the teeth.
  • Put the lid on top of the grinding section, so the top and bottom teeth glide past one another and close firmly.
  • Hold the storage chamber and grinder pieces still and twist the lid (it doesn't matter which direction). Note: Do not over-grind your flower
  • When the twisting becomes easier, open up the storage chamber of the grinder to reveal your ground-up cannabis flower.

The benefit to using a grinder is that you get an even consistency of flower that can be easier to both pack and light. Additionally, if you use a grinder with a kief catcher, you can use the kief to top your bowl or joints for an extra potent experience.

If using your hands:

  • Using your index finger and thumb, take the large nugs from your cannabis supply and gently pull apart the flower from the stems.
  • Break the pieces down as small as possible.
  • Once the flower is broken down, begin adding it to your bowl. Some bowls are larger than others, and you may need to break apart more cannabis or save some for the next time you smoke. For this reason, you may want to use a rolling tray, piece of clean paper, or other material to catch ground-up flower for easy clean-up.

The benefit of using your hands is that you won’t need an extra tool, and you can still get a relatively even consistency. However, using your hands can take extra time, it’s easier to drop cannabis you had planned on smoking, and it can leave your fingers sticky with trichomes.

If you don’t have a grinder and don’t want to break apart the flower with your hands, you can use scissors, a knife, or a coffee grinder. If you do so, always be mindful of using clean materials, and be careful not to break down the weed too finely. 

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Step 3: Pack the Bowl with the Ground Cannabis

Grab your bowl and, using your fingers or a tiny spoon or scoop, gently transfer your ground-up cannabis from the storage bin or rolling tray into the bowl.

You can use the tamping tool or your lighter to 'pack' the weed into the bowl, allowing you to add more. Be careful not to pack the flower too tightly, though, or it can be challenging to inhale when you are smoking. 

Remember that you don’t need to pack the bowl to the top. Only need to pack as much as you'd like to smoke, or the leftovers can dry out and may offer a less flavorful smoke during your next session.

If you want a little extra THC in your smoke, you can add a bit of your favorite concentrate to the top of the neatly packed bowl.

Step 4: Smoke the Bowl

If this is your first time smoking a bowl, we walk through the process below.

  • Grab the bowl with one hand and the lighter with your other. If using a hemp wick as your heating source, light the wick before grabbing the bowl.
  • Place your thumb or index finger over the carb, and place your mouth onto the mouthpiece. If using a lighter, now is the time to produce a flame.
  • Slowly place the flame to the edge of the bowl. When you 'corner the bowl' by lighting the edge, you avoid over-igniting the cannabis material and burning through it too quickly. Not only does this allow you to better control your inhale, but you can get more inhalations out of each bowl.
  • Slowly and gently inhale, releasing the flame once you see the cannabis catch.
  • Release your finger from the carb hole when you’re ready to inhale the smoke. Release shortly after lighting the cannabis for a smaller hit. Inhale longer before releasing the carb for a larger hit.
  • After releasing the carb, continue to inhale to clear the smoke in the chamber.

Sometimes, the bowl is 'cherried,' meaning it's still lit even after you've stopped inhaling. To reduce the amount of butane used, some consumers choose to keep it cherried. You can do this by placing your finger over the carb hole until you are ready to take another inhale. Alternatively, you can use the butt of your lighter to gently tamp out the cherry in the bowl if you don’t wish to smoke anymore.

Repeat these steps until you reach your desired psychoactive experience. Once the bowl looks black and white with ash, you can empty that material into an ashtray and either place your bowl to the side or pack another bowl.

Conclusion

While we covered the process in detail, the act of smoking from a bowl or pipe is one of the simplest ways to introduce yourself to cannabis flower. You can take as many or as few hits as you’d like, smoke alone or with a friend, and it’s often considered less wasteful than smoking a preroll.

If you decide to use a pipe, our last tip for smoother, more flavorful smoke sessions is to clean the glass every few sessions.

Source:

¹ Anderson, Ryan P., and Katie Zechar. “Lung Injury from Inhaling Butane Hash Oil Mimics Pneumonia.” Respiratory Medicine Case Reports, vol. 26, 2019, pp. 171–173, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6327978/, 10.1016/j.rmcr.2019.01.002.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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