On Thursday, the Houston Chronicle posted a story on its Web site about three teenagers who, according to Houston police, dug up the grave of an 11-year-old boy buried in 1921, removed the corpse's head, and used it as a bong to smoke marijuana. Police have not found the head and say heavy rain has prevented them checking the open grave for a casket. If it's true that the kids stole a skull, could they really have used it as a bong?
Maybe. If the Texas teenagers recovered a skull in ideal condition, they would still have a lot of work to do before they could smoke weed out of it. There are different types of bongs, but any workable model must offer a seal tight enough that water and smoke cannot escape. Assuming the skull was used right-side up, and that the pot-smokers used the brain cavity as their bong chamber, thin fissures in the eye sockets and any other holes would need to be sealed with something like grout to prevent the smoke from seeping out. The teens would also have to cover over the base of the skull, which contains a large opening through which spinal nerves reach the brain. And there are dozens of small nerve holes, called foramina, which might produce a watering-can effect if left unplugged.
The most effective skull bong might include a removable "slide," a tube that holds lighted marijuana in a bowl on one end and carries smoke into the water in the chamber at the other end. The slide could be inserted into the chamber via a snug hole in an airtight seal over the nasal opening. The user would need to drill a hole in the top of the skull to use as a mouthpiece. While lighting the marijuana in the bowl, the user would suck on the mouthpiece to draw smoke through the water and into the chamber; then he would remove the slide and inhale the smoke.
If the skull were too brittle to be easily drilled, the teenagers might have flipped it upside down. Then they could put the slide through the nose as before but use the large hole at the base of the skull—the foramen magnum—as the mouthpiece. The disadvantage of this method would be the tendency for the skull bong to roll over when set down.
This all assumes that the teenagers had gotten their hands on an undamaged skull. The decomposition of a corpse depends on a number of factors, such as whether the body has been embalmed, what type of casket is used, and the conditions of the surrounding environment. In ideal conditions, an embalmed body might be covered in leathery flesh for years, which would make using the head as a bong unappealing to squeamish stoners. (There might be some residual brain tissue left inside.) In less pristine conditions, groundwater might have eroded everything, even the bones.
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Explainer thanks Wayne Cavender of the Dallas Institute of Funeral Service, Danny Danko of High Times magazine, and several other experts, who spoke on condition of anonymity.