It’s not often one gets one’s bong in the scientific literature, let alone one designed to allow you to smoke weed inside an MRI scanner, but this is exactly what has been achieved in an article published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.
Most studies on the neuroscience of marijuana have used pills or injections of THC, the main active ingredient, but this is quite different from smoking – both in the way it reaches the brain and because of the fact that burning the plant creates many other chemicals which also get inhaled.
A team from Harvard Medical School are interested in how smoked marijuana affects the brain, but have come to the inevitable conclusion that it’s actually quite hard smoking a joint when you’re lying on your back being brain scanned.
So the research team put their heads together (!), and realised they needed to design a bong – a water pipe for smoking marijuana – safe to use in an MRI scanner.
This isn’t a trivial task. Apart from being free of metal parts that could be affected by the MRI scanner’s strong magnet, the device had to be installed and removed within one booked session and also needed to control the smoke.
As well as allowing the person take hits from the bong, the device also had to capture the smoke that was exhaled. Otherwise, the scanner room would get filled with smoke which could interfere with the equipment and affect any participants who took part in other studies that happened afterwards.
Presumably, after much trial and error, the final device was created with two main parts: the first was a face mask with pipes going to the bong and the ‘exhaust’, the second was the water pipe which was sealed in a box.
One thing you may not be aware of is that the US research agency NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have standard issue spliffs. These are government approved reefers guaranteed to have a measured amount of THC in them.
The bong was designed so these could be attached to the water pipe and lit at the appropriate time so the participant could smoke while being brain scanned.
The researchers tested their creation with a simple brain scan, declared the project a success and published their MRI-safe bong design in the medical journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.