What Is Hookah: Mystery Behind the Delicious Breath

What Is Hookah

Imagine taking a breath so deep and refreshing that it fills you up with an intangible sensation. Its tasty riches going through your body, and as you exhale, a lingering stream of mist slowly conquers the room. This moment of relaxation best describes the incredible waterpipe experience. Though, what is hookah good for, anyway?

It 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!

Whether its e-cigarettes or vaporizers, the modern world is rapidly adopting new inhaling trends. And, although we are aware of the risks, we still smoke a lot. Also, despite its fair share of puff-popularity, hookah vape is still a controversial topic. Smoking hookah is socially acceptable, and yet it raises a lot of questions.

Well, we went one step further and answered all of them, in fact. Don’t believe us? Come take a sneak peek and see for yourself!

What Is a Hookah?

Also known as shisha, hubble-bubble, argileh, Goza, Okka pipe, lulava, and narguile, hookah has been called many names around the globe. No doubt due to the many cultures that found this smoking apparatus utterly enjoyable. However, at the end of the day, they all refer to a water pipe that is used for enjoying sweetened and flavored tobacco, among other things.

In short, it brings a rather unique sensation to its users by providing them with large quantities of cool and flavored vapor in just one puff.

Although it most often features an Oriental design, there are many modern-day shisha styles as well nowadays.

What Is Hookah Made Of?

Despite the artistic alterations of a hookah device, it’s 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 which 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, all are optional.

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.

A Brief History of Hookah Smoke

The use of shisha predates the use of tobacco. 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, although some sources argue that sheesha originated in the Middle East as a hashish-smoking device.

Tobacco was introduced in India in the late 16th century, where it quickly became the subject of admiration for the nobles. The advantages of hookah were 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. During the 16th century, nargile 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 how to smoke 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 grew in popularity and the market 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.

In order 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 Smoked in a Hookah?

The early records indicate that it was used for smoking opium, hashish, and other resin-based marijuana products. After the advent of tobacco on the world scene, exclusive products were made by mixing tobacco leaves with sweetened fruit, molasses, and honey.

Today, 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.

What is a hookah tobacco flavor like? Well, 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.). You name it, they’ve got it!

In some US states, the tobacco intended for this particular use is often referred to as “shisha,” whereas in other parts of the world, the name stands for the whole device.

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.

Sahara Smoke Company is the most popular US-based shisha manufacturer, seeing how its brand, Hookah-Hookah, is currently one of the most prominent names on the market.

What Is a Hookah Bar?

In the early days, hookah bars used to be dim places in which you could eat dates, drink alcohol, smoke, and enjoy a belly dance performance while listening to the beats of a popular oriental tune. Afterwards, you’d feel both excited and bloated at the same time, and only a hard shower-scrub could grease-out the stickiness out of your hair.

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.”

According to the American Lung Association, 79.6% of the population aged 12–17 declares that they use hookahs for socializing with their peers.

Interestingly, although they’ve grown in demand, shisha parlors are not part of the mainstream city life. Moreover, most of the establishments are found in the proximity of colleges, where they thrive in popularity.

What Is the Hookah Age Limit?

Seeking out some good old hubbly bubbly? Well, in most US states, as well as 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. On the other hand, 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 as much as 79% of the advertised establishments serve food, and 41% of them even 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?

Hookah is powered by hot coal — hence why we use honey- and glycerin-laced tobacco for it.  Marijuana burns quickly, which means that you have to mix it 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.

Hookah tobacco 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.

Hashish, on the other hand, is primarily used in a device like this. In ancient Persia, for instance, they indulged in hashish-only servings. However, today, most hashish enthusiasts mix it with a small dose of shisha tobacco.

Is Hookah Bad for You?

According to a study conducted by the US Department of Health & Human Services, 90% of adolescent hookah users think that cigarette smoke is more addictive.

Sources state that hookah use is more prevalent in developed smokers, who used alcohol and/or marijuana, than in the younger, healthy population. Nevertheless, the CDC officially declared it as an introduction to cigarette smoking.

Given that it contains tobacco, hookah smoke is as harmful as cigarettes. Sources confirm that the water filtration system does not filter any of the toxic chemicals.

The beneficial effects of cannabis will be better felt via some other method.

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 by Mayo Clinic, 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. 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.

Health Problems Associated with Hookah Use

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

According to a recent study, exposure to its smoke is associated with low infant weight, heart rate variations, hyperglycemia, and increased lung and pancreas carcinoma risks.

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

What Is a Hookah Pen?

Commonly known as Electric Hookah, Shisha Pen, or E-Shisha, this device is similar to an electronic cigarette. It has a cartridge with an e-liquid attached to the mouthpiece, and once the battery is turned on, the heating element (atomizer) evaporates the liquid flavoring.

Similarly to e-cigarettes, a hookah pen has an LED light which 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.

Is a Hookah Pen Bad for You?

Puffing hookah pens can be fun, but it is not considered a healthy smoking alternative.

They contain usual e-liquid components, such as PG (propylene glycol), VG (vegetable glycerin), and added flavors. According to a reliable source, flavors are mainly of herbal extracts. Nevertheless, this does not mean that pen vapor has any health benefits for you.

Generally, hookah pens are considered a safer choice than smoking regular cigarettes and shishas. The side effects of hookah pen use are those of vaping itself.

Do Hookah Pens Have Nicotine in Them?

Some flavoring liquids used for e-shishas contain nicotine. Usually, the amounts vary from 6 mg to 18 mg per cartridge. Generally, hookah pens with nicotine are not a safe smoking choice because their use can lead to nicotine addiction.

Types of Hookah Pens

  • Disposable hookah pens are meant for single use only, without having to take it apart. There are different flavor types that offer anywhere between 250 and 500 drags from a pen. Depending on the volume, they can cost from $5 to $20 a piece.
  • Refillable and rechargeable hookah pens provide a more accurate response to the question: “what is hookah intended for?” In short, they have a refillable cartridge, same as original hookahs, and a replaceable atomizer (similar to hookah coles). What’s more, they go from $15 to $30 a pop.

There are also 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 or specialized dispensaries, and the liquids can be procured via e-commerce as well.

The Bottom Line

What is hookah smoke? It’s a delightful tobacco-based vapor that has been enjoyed for centuries.

Hookahs thrive in popularity among American teenagers and college students. Puffing is considered fun and aids modern socialization. Furthermore, numerous hookah flavors advertise their recreational use.

If you are about to step foot in a hookah parlor, beware of the negative effects. Hookah smoke has more tar and nicotine than a single cigarette and could cause as much harm as cigarettes, and even induce nicotine addiction.

If you want to add some cannabis to enjoy its effects, you may be deterred seeing how much you need as it burns quickly in a hookah.

What is hookah good for then? Well, if anything, it turns your breath into a powerful, cool, and tasty experience. And, If you like the occasional smoke, you’re absolutely gonna love hookah!


What exactly is hookah?

A 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 with common 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.

How many cigarettes is a hookah equal to?

Hookah sessions usually last for 30–45 minutes and can be extended to a full hour. The vapor volume of a single drag is considerably higher than that of a cigarette. As mentioned above, one puff has approximately 36 times more tar than cigarette smoke and 70% more nicotine than one cigarette.

Depending on the tobacco used and on the duration of the smoking session, hookah can deliver as much tobacco smoke as 20 to 100 cigarettes.

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 a hookah pen bad for you?

As they are based on vapor-heating, hookah pens don’t sustain combustion. Therefore, they are considered a safer alternative to traditional hookahs.

However, pens carry the risk of developing lung problems, which is associated with e-cigarette vaping. Some hookah flavors for pens contain nicotine and can cause nicotine side effects, as well as nicotine addiction.

How old do you have to be to smoke hookah?

In most US states, you have to be over 18 to be allowed to enter a hookah parlor. However, some states have stricter rules when it comes to shisha and prohibit anyone under the age of 21 to smoke it.

Can you smoke marijuana in hookah?

Marijuana can be smoked in a hookah! Considering that weed burns more quickly than hookah tobacco, placing it straight into the device will result only in a few puffs. To this end, the best results are achieved by mixing hookah tobacco with marijuana buds.

Does hookah get you high?

No, not in the sense cannabis can do it for you. The inexperienced may feel more or less dizzy.

For the more experienced, hookah delivers relaxation and chill.

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