What Is Hookah: Fine Instrument for Smoking Weed and Shisha

What Is Hookah

What is a hookah? In short, hookah is a single or multi-stemmed instrument used for vaporizing and smoking tobacco, flavored tobacco, hashish, cannabis, and opium. It brings a unique sensation to its users by providing them with large quantities of cool and flavored vapor in just one puff. 

Hookah defines cultures, begets myths, and generates adversity. It’s both mystical and ordinary, both subtle and strong — hookah smoke has been fogging the human perception for centuries! 

A Brief History of Hookah Smoke

Also known as shisha, hubbly bubbly, argileh, Goza, Okka pipe, lulava, and narghile, hookah has been called many names around the globe; no doubt due to the many cultures that found this smoking apparatus utterly enjoyable. 

What is a hookah used for? In the Far East, the original hookah is believed to have been made out of a coconut whose milk served as a filtering agent while smoking opium. 

The hookah was initially presented by the emperor’s physician, Hakim Abu’l-Fath Gilani, who viewed the water filtration system as a method of preventing the harmful effects of tobacco smoking.

The apparatus quickly gained popularity in Asia, spreading rapidly between countries. Many people learned how to smoke hookah during the 16th century. In fact, narghile use was quite frequent in the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey), and it was a symbol of status.

In the 19th century, the migration of people from Northern Africa and the Middle East to Europe contributed to the expansion of hookah culture across the globe. 

In the late 20th century, the Egyptians realized its potential and introduced the whole concept of smoking hookah with flavors to the general public. This oriental trend swiftly spread both across Europe and the US with the emergence of hookah cafes

Since then, the use of shisha has grown in popularity, and the market has expanded with new pipe products, including new smoking materials.

Today, shisha is publically enjoyed all over the world. Celebrities known for their love of waterpipe smoking include the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Miley Cyrus, Mike Tyson, and Drake.

To assess the hookah trends among young adults, CDC conducted a content analysis in 2015, which reviewed a total of 358,523 tweets that mentioned its use. An astounding 87% of tweets supported hookah use, whereas only 7% discouraged it.

What Is Hookah Made Of?

Despite the artistic alterations of a hookah device, its underlying functionality is the same — a pipe with a water-based filtration system. 

Now, for an appliance like this to work, it requires all of its essential components:

  • The tobacco bowl — where the incineration process occurs.
  • The body — a long brass or plastic pipe that conducts the smoke down from the bowl to the water dish.
  • Water jar — the part where the filtration process takes place. It is often referred to as the vase, made either of glass or plastic.
  • Hookah hose (tube) — comes out of the top part of the water chamber. It is usually long and ends with a mouthpiece.

The instructions on “how to use a hookah” often include fitting the gasket, adjusting the charcoal plate, and lifting the staled smoke valve.

Hookah pipes are usually large and can gather significant amounts of water-filtered tobacco vapor. The potency of the device depends mostly on the overall volume of the water jar.

Furthermore, hookah is a one-way filtration system. Meaning, inhaling the collected vapor stimulates the airflow of the entire device, thereby aiding charcoal combustion and promoting the circulation of new smoke.

But, what is a hookah pipe without accessories, right? It often has multiple tubes coming out of the water chamber, thus facilitating hookah parties for the whole crew.

Hookah Tobacco (Shisha): Basics and Brands

Hookah tobacco, sometimes called shisha, is combustible tobacco that comes in different flavors. It can be fruity (apple, grape, kiwi, banana, lemon, berry, cherry, licorice, mango, orange, pineapple, strawberry, vanilla, watermelon, etc.) or herbal (mint, cola, coffee, rose, etc.).  

The combination of tobacco, sweeteners, and glycerine is called Tobamel — the hookah tobacco base. The base is often laced with flavors and sold under brand names across the US. 

According to the latest evidence, flavoring tobacco makes it extremely appealing to young people. A lot of tobacco brands that are sold in the US are imported from the Middle East. Companies such as Romman, Nakhla, Al Fakher, and Al Waha produce and distribute specialized hookah products. 

On top of that, the global hookah market was worth a whopping $69.98 million in 2020.

What Is a Hookah Bar? 

In the early days, hookah bars were dim places where you could eat dates, drink alcohol, smoke, and enjoy a belly dance performance while listening to the beats of a popular oriental tune. 

Nowadays, hookahs can be found in many open-to-diversity hipster hangouts where you can savor a latte and grab a few puffs of minty cola. You can even watch popular TV shows while smartphoning on how to make hookah smoke thick (glycerin is the most obvious solution).

In most US states, shisha parlors are operated by South Asians who register it primarily as a tobacco smoking facility and, therefore, can serve neither food nor drinks. Issuing a hookah permit depends mostly on the state since the enactment of the “Smoke-Free Air Law.”

79.6% of the population aged 12–17 declares that they use hookahs for socializing with their peers. Moreover, a survey suggests 7.8% of American high school students used hookah to smoke tobacco.

What Is the Age Limit for a Hookah?

Seeking out some good old hubbly bubbly? Well, in most US states and most European countries, you are required to produce an ID. That is, you must be over 18 if you want a taste of that delicious vape. 

Some states, such as New York and Vermont, allow shisha smoking only for those over 21. 

What’s more, advertisements for hookah bars often fail to disclose any legal information on their websites. The evidence states that 79% of the advertised establishments serve food, and 41% serve alcohol. The same study found that out of the 100 largest US cities, 69 that prohibit cigarette smoking in bars made exceptions for hookahs.

How to Smoke Weed Out of a Hookah?

Given that marijuana burns more quickly than tobacco, you have to mix weed adequately to gain more draws out of a serving.  

Weed buds are the best choice since they are abundant in fat cannabis oils and last longer. However, it works best if you mix it with shisha tobacco, i.e. hookah tobacco because it has the moisture and the taste required for the weed hookah session of about 40 minutes. 

The best results are achieved by placing your weed beneath the shisha in the tobacco bowl. This way, the slowly burning tobacco will patiently crisp cannabis away, and you’ll have a cool, THC-laced, delicious vapor with every draw. 

Though interesting, using hookah to smoke weed is not the best option out there. Pipes, bubblers, and especially bongs offer a better and more versatile smoking experience

Is Hookah Harmful?

Using hookah to smoke tobacco exposes you to charcoal, carbon monoxide, metals, and other carcinogenic chemicals. Given that it contains tobacco, hookah smoke is as harmful as cigarettes. It appears that the water filtration system does not filter any of the toxic chemicals.

What’s more, hookah smokers will more likely inhale more toxic substances than people who smoke cigarettes, given that in one hour, you get to inhale 100–200 times more smoke when using hookah. 

During one hookah smoking session, you are exposed to more carbon monoxide (up to 9 times) and more nicotine (1.7 times). Likewise, according to studies, smoking hookah for 45–60 minutes equals smoking a whole pack of cigarettes.

Health Problems Associated with Hookah Use

Shisha pipes have always been associated with the spreading of infectious diseases, usually due to poor maintenance. Furthermore, second-hand smoking risks are as high as in cigarette smoke. In general, the adverse incidence depends on what is in a hookah.

Short-term health effects include “hookah sickness” that involves lethargy, headache, nausea, and fainting. There have also been cases of carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoking shisha. 

Long-term health effects are primarily associated with pulmonary diseases, osteoporosis, increased risk of cancer, coronary artery disease, obstetrical and perinatal problems, periodontal disease, and larynx and voice changes. However, more research is needed on the subject.

One study suggests that secondhand exposure to hookah smoke can be associated with low infant weight, heart rate variations, hyperglycemia, and increased lung and pancreas carcinoma risks.

Even limited use can have harmful effects. Insightful clinical evidence demonstrated that light users tend to have abnormal values of various lung-related health parameters. 

Is Hookah Addictive?

There are two main types of tobacco addiction: psychological and physiological. 

Given the nature of its use, hookah enthusiasts rarely develop psychological addiction. Narguile smoking is perceived as adventurous and is often affiliated with socialization. 

The inability to smoke hookah on-the-go also induces psychological detachment from the whole act. Nevertheless, the social aspects of this addiction play a more prominent role.

Inhaled hookah tobacco triggers neurochemicals that install pleasure and affect multiple organs. Therefore, physiological dependency may occur. Whether it’ll lead to addiction depends largely on the socio-economic conditions.

Does Hookah Have Nicotine?

Nicotine is the key active substance abundantly found in tobacco leaves. Therefore, every hookah puff contains it. 

The levels of nicotine can vary depending on the type and quality of shisha used. Hookah users are bound to absorb more nicotine in total compared to cigarette smokers. 

In addition to nicotine, hookah smoke contains as many harmful chemicals as traditional cigarette smoke. 

According to a review, the water-based hookah filtration system doesn’t seem to eliminate carbon monoxide, tar, heavy metals (arsenic, chromium, cobalt, cadmium, lead, and nickel), formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and acrolein.

Hookah vs cigarettes toxicity ratio depends on the inhaling potency and the tobacco filling. As mentioned before, one hookah smoking session can last up to 60 minutes, which accounts for at least one cigarette pack in nicotine and other chemicals.

Given the increased inhalation volume, one hookah smoke contains 36 times more tar than cigarette smoke and 70% more nicotine than one cigarette.

How to Reduce Hookah Effects?

Besides the obvious answer to quit smoking, there are a few ways you can reduce hookah’s side effects: 

  • Eat before smoking to avoid getting dizzy. Light snacks can prevent headaches caused by smoking shisha.
  • Inhale lightly and in ventilated areas to avoid getting toxins into your lungs. 
  • Drink enough water throughout the day.
  • Light the charcoal properly to avoid inhaling C02 (it needs to be completely amber red). 

What Is a Hookah Pen?

Commonly known as Electric Hookah, Shisha Pen, or E-Shisha, this device is similar to an electronic cigarette and popular weed vape pens

A hookah pen has a cartridge with an e-liquid attached to the mouthpiece. Once the battery is turned on, the heating element (atomizer) evaporates the liquid flavoring. Like e-cigarettes, a hookah pen has an LED light that indicates when a puff is taken and signalizes when the battery is empty. 

In contrast to traditional hookahs, there is no combustion within an e-shisha. Therefore, its smoke contains no byproducts of tobacco incineration. 

Vape Pens vs Hookah Pens

While both pens look similar, there are a few differences you need to know. First of all, hookah pens usually don’t contain nicotine. 

Secondly, hookah pens are a bit bulkier. And lastly, the longevity of a disposable hookah pen is measured in the number of puffs (from 250–800 puffs), not hours. 

Regular vapers know that when it comes to vape pen batteries, the higher the voltage, the better the experience. However, the same can’t be said for hookah pens that offer the best smoking experience at a low voltage (3.3v). Going over 5v is considered to be unsafe.

As for the hookah vs shisha distinction, you should know that the tobacco intended for this particular use is often referred to as “shisha,” whereas in some parts of the world, the name “shisha” stands for the whole device. 

Types of Hookah Pens

  • Disposable hookah pens are meant for single use only, without having to take them apart. Different flavor types offer anywhere between 250 and 500 puffs. Depending on the volume, they can cost from $5 to $20 apiece.
  • Refillable and rechargeable hookah pens have a refillable cartridge, same as original hookahs, and a replaceable atomizer. They go from $15 to $30 a pop.

You can also find starter kits — extended refillable pens with a larger reservoir for shisha liquid that include an extra battery with a charger. This portable hookah laboratory can cost up to $70.

Strawberry and watermelon are the most desired tastes, followed by mint, pineapple, blueberry, kiwi, grape, and coffee. 

Hookah pens are purchased through wholesalers, specialized dispensaries, and online vape shops. The liquids can be procured via e-commerce as well.

Is a Hookah Pen Bad for You?

Hookah pens may contain standard e-liquid components, such as PG (propylene glycol), VG (vegetable glycerin), and added flavors. They are generally considered a safer choice than smoking regular cigarettes and shishas. Yet, PG and VG have been declared controversial and a potential health hazard when inhaled.

Basically, the side effects of hookah pen use are disadvantages of vaping itself.

The Bottom Line

What is a hookah good for? Well, if anything, it turns your breath into a powerful, cool, and tasty experience. And, if you like smoking flavored tobacco, you’re absolutely gonna love hookah!

However, you should take care. Hookah smoke has more tar and nicotine than a single cigarette and could cause as much harm as cigarettes, or more. Therefore, if you’re going to visit a shisha bar, don’t get too carried away with those delicious smells!


What exactly is hookah?

Hookah is a large smoking device commonly used to smoke tobacco products. It originated in Persia and India and was initially used for smoking hashish and opium. Since the introduction of tobacco to the Eastern scene, hookah use rapidly became popular among people.

Hookah’s main parts are a tobacco bowl, a pipe-like body, a water chamber, and the exhaust hose, which ends with a mouthpiece.  

Is hookah worse than cigarettes?

While smoking, in general, is a dangerous and unhealthy habit, smoking hookah is worse than smoking cigarettes. Hookah’s water filtration system doesn’t seem to filter the toxic chemicals. Also, hookah smokers inhale 100–200 times more smoke. They are also exposed to more nicotine and carbon monoxide.

How many cigarettes is a hookah equal to?

One 60 minute hookah session equals one cigarette pack. Moreover, hookah smoke has 70% more nicotine and 36 times more tar than cigarette smoke.

How to smoke a hookah?

Hookah tobacco is placed in the tobacco bowl at the top and covered with several layers of aluminum foil. The foil is perforated and lit charcoal is placed on it. 

A single drag from the mouthpiece forces the air to go through hookah coals, thereby burning the tobacco and conducting the smoke through the body directly into the water in the bottom jar.

The water container filters and gathers the smoke, which is then released through the hose into the mouthpiece. 

Is shisha a drug?

No, shisha is not a drug. Shisha is a name for the tobacco used for smoking hookah, usually mixed with molasses, honey, glycerin, and fruit. Unlike dry cigarette tobacco, shisha tobacco is wet. 

Shisha is also what different cultures call a hookah.

Can you get high from smoking hookah?

No, hookah will not get you high if smoking shisha tobacco, but it might make you feel a bit lightheaded and dizzy, sometimes even causing a headache. In addition to that, you may feel nauseous if you smoke hookah on an empty stomach.

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