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How to pack and smoke a bowl of cannabis

October 27, 2016
There are many ways to smoke cannabis, but none are perhaps as well-known as smoking a bowl. Learning how to pack and smoke a bowl is a quintessential lesson in cannabis consumption that enthusiasts at every end of the spectrum can benefit from. Whether you’re interested in packing a pipe for a personal smoking session or preparing a bowl for a party, understanding these key fundamental principles will surely help you optimize your bowl smoking experience.

Exploring the cannabis pipe

Grinder, weed pipe (bowl) and Leafly lighter

Cannabis contraptions come in all shapes and sizes, but smoking pipes are arguably the most popular. Adapted from traditional pipes used for tobacco, the cannabis pipe shares all of the same key characteristics. Pipes consist of a “bowl” (thus the vernacular reference), which is a round basin deep enough to pack herbs in, as well as an airtight channel that delivers airflow through a mouthpiece. In many cases, pipes also contain a second air channel known as a carb that is used to influence the maximum delivery of airflow through the mouthpiece. Essentially, as long as a pipe contains at the very least the first two items, you can smoke cannabis out of it.

Traditionally, pipes used for tobacco smoking purposes were made out of material such as wood, bamboo, or even ceramics. However, cannabis pipes today are widely made using borosilicate glass, as the medium is incredibly versatile. While most states still widely market glass pipes as tobacco smoking accessories, they can be found in collectable and gift shops (also referred to as “head shops”). You can also find them online, at cannabis events, and even in high-end glass art museums.


5 Traits to Look for in a Quality, Modern-Day Head Shop

Pipes can vary widely in shape and size, as well as in complexity, functionality, and availability. Many pipes utilize water to filter cannabis smoke and cool it prior to inhalation. Other pipes are basic and take a physical form many refer to as a “spoon.” These are the best pipes to begin with if you are new to cannabis, as they are small, easy to use, and are typically inexpensive.

Packing and smoking your bowl

how to pack a weed bowl

To pack and smoke a bowl, you’re going to need a few essential items to get started. Other than your bowl or pipe, you will need some form of heating element. The most basic heating element available is a lighter. Traditional butane lighters work well, though there is a myriad of non-butane heating elements out there to choose from. The most effective lighters and heaters will allow for optimal heating control when combusting and/or vaporizing a bowl.

Many consumers prefer to light their bowls with hemp wick, a waxy piece of hemp string that ignites easily, maintains an even burn, and doesn’t give off an undesirable aftertaste. Another heating element used often is a glass wand that can be heated to a point where it will vaporize your herb on contact, eliminating combustion smoke altogether while still delivering cannabinoids and flavor through a lighter hit.

Another factor to consider is whether or not to use a screen for your pipe. Screens can help keep you from inhaling burning bits of cannabis, but if you don’t have a pack of pipe screens, here are a few nifty tricks to consider:

  • taking a piece of wire or a paperclip and twisting it into coil
  • using a screen from a faucet head
  • using a small, dry rock approximately the diameter of your pipe bowl

We don’t recommend using aluminum foil, a soda can, or a window screen as a makeshift pipe screen, as these are often coated with materials that are hazardous to inhale.


Cannabinoids 101: What Makes Cannabis Medicine?

Preparing cannabis for smoking a bowl is essential in order to maximize airflow through your device and deliver the most even smoke possible. In order to do this, breaking down your herb is a crucial step. Doing this creates a homogenous airflow through the bowl where smoke can pass through evenly.

There are a few tricks to packing a pipe that will help to maximize airflow:

  1. Ensure that your weed is evenly broken down but not too finely ground. Hand pulling your herb is the most basic way to do this, but grinders make this process much easier. There are many ways to break your cannabis down, so don’t be afraid to get creative.
  2. Use a stem and/or a nice-sized intact calyx to stuff at the very bottom of your bowl to prevent particulates from passing though. You can also use a screen if you have one available. This will also facilitate better airflow.
  3. Pack your herb very lightly at the bottom and slightly denser at the top for an even smoke. This allows the cannabis towards the top to maintain a burn, or “cherry” while opening airflow for easy inhalation without any clogging.

Gif demonstrating how to pack a bowl of weed
Follow the rules of smoking cannabis

Follow the rules of smoking cannabis

For everybody first learning how to smoke a pipe, there are a few pieces of etiquette to follow that will help ensure you have the best possible experience. When engaging in a smoking session with others, make sure that you pack a bowl that’s proportional to the size of your smoking circle. For an intimate session, packing personal bowls or “snaps” is great when alone or with one other person. This way, you take turns lighting personally packed micro bowls meant to be consumed in one single hit. For larger groups, heavier packed “party bowls” ensure each smoking buddy gets a fresh hit of green herb.

Gif demonstrating how to light and smoke a bowl of weed
Traditionally, the provider of the cannabis will determine who gets to light the first hit. To make sure everyone gets the same experience, make sure to corner your bowl by only lighting a fraction of the visible cannabis. This lets everyone get the same great flavor without leaving an ashy hit for somebody. If the bowl is already lit, feel free to pass it, but let your passing buddy know the bowl is “cherried.” Lastly, never pocket a lighter. Everybody hates a light thief!

With these tips in mind, smoking a bowl should be a walk in the park. Always remember to use proper etiquette when packing a bowl for friends, and make sure you are consuming cannabis in a safe and legal place. Otherwise, pack a fat one, call some friends, and have at it!

Patrick Bennett's Bio Image

Patrick Bennett

Patrick lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, where he spends his time writing, photographing, and creating content for the cannabis community.

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  • rdrake

    You should never use a white lighter. Bad luck.

  • calvet11

    White Lighters Matter

  • Christopher Wolf

    What about the stuff at the bottom of the grinder ? Should it be sprinkled on top ?

    • Kiel McWhirter


    • Atremus Kline Coniferious

      personal choice… i elect to save my kif (from the bottom chamber of the grinder) for a rainy day…

    • Linda Mason

      I just cleaned mine out yesterday onto a tray with bud, it coated it and made it all fuzzy looking….

    • tonyc

      I sprinkle a little of that on top of a fresh bowl before bedtime and I sleep like a dead person. I have a chronic hip problem and sciatica.
      Getting to sleep can be a task when they decide to strike on occasion.

  • EquaYona

    Screens don’t work in glass bowls. If you have some trick for keeping them in place, do share. Otherwise, that is dumb advice. I have smoked cannabis since 1965 and this year I got a vape. HALLELUJAH(so to speak) what a vast improvement!

    • Kiel McWhirter

      There are little glass pieces that look kind of like jacks. They’re called glass screens and work really well. They resemble the stem idea but obviously don’t burn and don’t need replaced each bowl.

      • EquaYona

        Ah! Had I not moved to the hinterlands years ago I would have known that perhaps. Thanks.

    • Mike Hellion

      a screen will stay in place if you get the pipe resiened up then stick the screen but they get plugged quickly

      • Ron

        Yeah but its a PITA. Also next to impossible with a stainless steel screen. If you are able to remove the screen hold it with some needle nose pliers and heat it red hot. Let cool for about 30 seconds and twist and wiggle the screen. Whats left will be mostly carbon and it will fall off. Repeat if necessary. This gives a screen almost an indefinite life.

        Again this is with a brass screen. I have had so much trouble with the stiffness of stainless screens I won’t buy them anymore.

    • Ron

      I’ve got a little wood hash/small hit pipe I’ve had for at least 30 years – so long I forgot when I bought it. For really potent weed, I mean off the charts flower, hashish or kief its the best way to smoke it, IMO and brass screens stay put. But the best thing I like about it is it has a flat bottom so you can set it on the table and it won’t topple over.

  • randolini

    My preference has always been a pipe purchased from a tobacco shop. I just shove in a screen and whose to know it is filled with a sacred herb instead of cancer causing plant. Very low profile. To EquaYona, I graduated high school in 65′ but didn’t get into the herb till 72. A lotta brainwashing in the USN between the two.

    • Dougie Leake

      So let me get this right, you put the sacred herb in a traditional tobacco pipe?

      • randolini

        Yessiree. It’s great in a car or for motorcycle trips. Pull it out, fill it up and everyone just assumes you are a tobacco smoker. It has a big bowl and you can use the depth of the screen to determine how much herb you want or need. Press it in a little for a hit or two and shove and fill it with enough to share. People chair stuff man.

        • Dougie Leake

          I’ll try it!


    • Mike Roberts

      Yeah, we used to use one of those fakey corncob pipes you bought at the local corner store…Easier than papers.

    • Mike InTexas

      “…whose to know…”

      Uh, everyone downwind of ya?

  • Yerno

    Another Etiquette rule: Don’t waste your host’s herb by blabbing right after your toke. Show some respect.

    • Linda Mason

      I’m such a nagger on that. I have cigarette snuffers in each ashtray, I’m always “Snuff that thang if you’re going to sit there talk and let it burn. That’s in a two burner situation. Preferably everyone has their own pipe/joint so I can do what I like with mine. I’m a hitter then snuff for 10 minutes, then hit, you get it. Also anal with ocd.

    • Linda Mason

      OH and just getting pipes ready again, 420, etc. I have one of those rolling boxes and the joints are just way too big,

  • mf2112

    Did you actually say “Use a stem” and expect not to get some ridicule? SMH….

    • Roger A Weaver

      Once broke a glass screen… did not have a replacement at that time… works in a pinch.

  • Ragin_Cagin

    Newbie question: how do you know when the bowl of herb is done?

    • Adude

      When it no longer burns, or you get an “air hit” where it opens up a hole pocket at the bottom of the pipe.

  • Linda Mason

    Have you all tried those glass screens? I’m still trying to decide if I like them are not.

    • Angel Hook

      I like mine

  • marylucykowalski

    I just bought a “pipe” but it is straight glass. I got told to put the M in the small part but I keep swallowing the ashes after the M is gone! How do I stop that? Filter won’t fit. TY

    • Allen Washburn

      Sounds like you bought a Crack Stem….LOL

      • Zac

        ….. or a chillum.

  • DR Rot

    another major rule of proper partiking of the holy herb don’t bogart!! .. pass that mofo .. nobody likes a bogart ..

  • Allen Washburn

    Anybody>>>>>?????? Always pass left.

    • Scooter Bell

      I always pass the same direction as whoever passed to me. YMMV. Packer always gets the first puff.

  • Joshua Jason Molloy

    Sadly, I have to admit to being a lighter thief. When I used to go to bars a lot was the worst. After I got home I’d have several lighters except the one I originally had lol. Never took a zippo though. I have gotten better now that I don’t drink as much or smoke tobacco. I also make a point to never take the lighter if passed with the bowl & never pass my lighter unless it’s all there is. I just wanted to let you know so if we ever smoke together lol.

  • Sy Katus

    I have to remind people that there are butane lighters, usually cheaper, with gas from the china seas mostly i imagine, judging from most’s indicated national origins that are not recommended for any type of smoking experience. Their flame consumes the smoked product while somehow making it unavailable for the person smoking. I do not know the chemical explanation but a Bic lighter from a reputable source such as a big box store works okay and maybe others with the good gas would too. You can try it it yourself and see that I am not imagining the fact.

    • Tom Maslanka

      This makes no scientific sense !? Trust me it works!

      • Sy Katus

        I am afraid the multi pack lighters now a day are not of the higher quality I was used to. But the single pack lighters are. At least it appears so to me from my purchases at the neighborhood Walmart. I hope that is not a result of my mentioning my preference for BIC here. There was no difference that I noticed until recently. This discovery is quite disheartening.

  • You’ve got to be kidding me.
    If you can’t figure out how to toke on your own, how are you able to even get online?

  • Michael Klimusha

    Why do Europeans use Telescopic Tobacco Tubes (T.T.T., TTT, or 3T, also known as Russian cigarette, papirosa, papirossa) instead of cones and rolling paper?

    Papirosa – also know as Papirossa, Telescopic Tobacco Tubes, T.T.T., TTT, or 3T
    are virtually combining at least two things in one –
    (1) non-filter cigarette and
    (2) filtering and smoke-cooling paper cigarette holder.

    T.T.T.s consist of two parts:
    (1) longer external tube made of thin (normally rice) cigarette paper and
    (2) shorter internal multilayer tube made of thicker rugged cardboard paper.

    The long external tube contains in itself a shorter internal tube like Russian bigger doll contains a smaller one.

    As a matter of a fact, the internal tube, which functions as mouthpiece, smoke filter, smoke cooler, and holder is being held by external tube which functions as a cigarette, but not vice versa as in traditional cigarette-holder duet.

    Thus external tube has two functional parts:

    (1) smoking part which is stuffed with smoking substance (tobacco, cannabis, smoking blend, etc.);

    (2) holding part which encircles inner mouthpiece tube and holds the construction together as a whole.

    The parts are movable like in any telescopic device, and this allows the smoker to regulate the desired length of the piece.

    The Old World is using Telescopic Tobacco Tubes (also known as T.T.T., TTT, or 3T, papirosa, papirossa) instead of cones (for cannabis) and cigarette tubes (for tobacco) and rolling papers (for both of the above) due to a number of reasons.

    (1) they are compact (having An unnoticeably bigger diameter than regulars cigarettes) and parametrically versatile (the length can be regulated, since the telescopic part of the definition. Smoker can make it shorter than standard king-size, equal to king-size, longer than king-size, even longer than 120mm);

    (2) they are easy to roll. Due to the cylindrical (not coned) shape, one can do it either by bare hands or – and this is quite unique for all the other types of the pre-rolling smoking accessories – one can use a standard cigarette rolling machine of injector type (can be easily purchase on eBay for $3-$5 a piece. Those types are normally used for stuffing the widespread cigarette tube with filters) ;

    (3) they contain nothing except clean paper. Standard cigarette paper, even for the most RYO rolling leaves, is normally bleached and enriched with a number of chemical additives, e.g. to make it burn continuously and evenly. TTTs do not contain anything of that. Cigarette tubes also contain plastic filters. No plastic can be found in TTTs;

    (4) the long mouthpiece as a filtering body (which was copied in Parliament and WEST Turbo cigarettes, but it is much shorter in mentioned cigarettes). It effectively filters the smoke of undesired components without using plastic filters;

    (5) the long mouthpiece as a smoke cooler. The cardboard mouthpiece not only filters, but effectively cools the smoke down and thus drastically reduces the stress on your lungs. There is a curious experiment which can be easily reproduced – a burning TTT is placed in balanced horizontal position, e.g. on the rim of an ashtray. You can then observe as the smoke from the burning end naturally goes up being hotter, and thus lighter, than the surrounding air, whilst the smoke from the inhaling end goes down, as its temperature is equal to the ambient air. A simple fact that T.T.T. cools down the smoke make it a most pleasant smoking sensation;

    (6) the long mouthpiece effectively saturated smoke with an air, which make smoking exquisitely enjoyable, similar to pipe or cigar smoking;

    (7) aesthetics – TTTs are simply beautiful.