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Shishapedia - All about shisha

Updated on November 23, 2011

Shishapedia - All about Shisha

The term shisha might never have crossed your ears before but I’m sure one day it will. Today shisha is one of the biggest growing industries and pass times of millions of people worldwide.
The word shisha is twofold, firstly referring to a type of flavoured molasses that is smoked through a water pipe (known as a hookah) and secondly as a word to describe the whole experience of smoking a hookah pipe. Yes shisha is a type of smoking; and yes it is very comparable to smoking cigarettes; but they are two total different areas to explore.

One could say it is like comparing a journey by walking to a journey by fighter jet plane. Both can get you to your destination, but are both totally different and unique.

The History of shisha

The hookah pipe is currently believed to have been invented in India in the 15th century. There are many different tails as in how it came into existence but I’m sure the truth was a little bit of luck and a little bit of experimentation. The most well documented historical version is a story of Indian drug use and a Persian man called Abu’l-Fath Gilani.

During the 15th century, smoking substances was a very popular practice world round. The effects of certain drugs that were smoked were extremely profound and disturbing. There was a growing concern among certain groups that something had to be done to either combat the effects of drugs or to remove them from India altogether. Of course removing a whole range of plans from a vast country was a preposterous idea at the time; and a truly impossible task to consider embarking on.

At the time the Indian glass manufacturing age was beginning to take off and they were always looking for new things to create out of glass.

A Persian physician called Abu’l-Fath Gilani, who was a personal friend of the Indian emperor, was believed to be a heavy smoker. He was the first person to experiment using water to cool and purify the smoke of his pipe in an aim to help the empire tackle their drug problems. He approached several Indian glass manufacturing companies, took back samples to the middle-east and developed the first working shisha. He took his basic prototypes to India and started manufacturing there. It took almost four years of design work to create the Hookah pipe we know today; and the design has barely changed through the years.

Shisha really rose to fame under the Ottoman Empire’s rule. Sultans often commissioned portraits alongside their Hookah Pipes and it became a true status symbol of the time; often being smoked socially after royal dinners and diplomatic meetings.

The art of smoking shisha became more and more popular in the Middle East and India; and slowly spread around the world. Today, going to a Middle Eastern country you will be sure to find small shisha cafés and bistros on every road. It has become a truly national pastime. It has been very integrated into the Arab way of life, It is easy to compare It to how drinking has become integrated into western society today.


Going around the world there are many different names for smoking a water pipe so I am going to give you a clear cut list. It is always better knowing what you are asking for or being offered. You don’t want to order what you think is a drink and get a smoking pot bought to you instead.

Some of the most common names for shisha pipes around the world are:

Argeela, Arghileh
Ghelyoon, Ghalyan
Hubbly Bubbly
Nargrile, Nargeela, Narghile, Nargileh
Shisha, Shish, Sheesha
Water Pipe

If you are offered these anywhere around the world you are usually being offered to smoke a flavoured shisha through them, but it is always wise to check they aren’t being used for drugs!

Shisha in cultures

In the Arab world smoking is now part of the culture. Every corner will have a Shisha Café and you can choose a wide range of flavours to smoke. It is a very normal thing to see around; and by no means does it represent drug use. Through the world’s population spreading out the idea has spread around the world. Today in many cosmopolitan cities shisha cafes have been appearing. During the 1960’s, the hippie age, shisha’s were used for drug use; and the idea has stuck in the Western minds. It is still growing as a loved experience although now mainly only used with Shisha molasses. According to a study in 2011; 40.3% of college and university students (that were surveyed) had tried smoking Shisha from a Hookah pipe.

How does it work?

The Hookah pipe works very differently to cigarettes. With cigarettes you smoke directly by inhaling the burning dry leaves (rolled into a cigarette or cigar). With Shisha it not directly smoked and therefore the risks are going to be less than that of cigarettes.

The shisha has four main components: a bowl, a pipe, a base and a hose.

The head, also known as a clay bowl is used to hold the shisha molasses. The shisha is packed inside the bowl loosely so that air can travel through the bowl as well. The top of the head is covered with either one layer of foil or two; and then pierced with holes. A piece of charcoal is then placed on top of the foil. The holes of the foil allow the heat from the coal to come through and heat the shisha and generate smoke. This smoke is very different from smoke generated from cigarettes. With cigarettes the smoke is generated by directly burning the Shisha; here it is protected with a layer of foil; and therefore just generating smoke with the “essence” of the shisha. Some people do smoke a shisha without a layer of foil; but that is just like smoking a cigarette then!

When you smoke a Hookah Pipe the charcoal will vaporize the shisha, not burn it; hence smoke can vary heavily on a variety of factors.

The smoke that generates from the charcoal then floats down through the pipe. The pipe is basically a long metal tube. The charcoal sits atop the head at the top; so the smoke can only travel down. At the bottom of the pipe the smoke is all released through a small hole into the glass base. The glass base will be around half filled with water and smoke will be released underwater. The water acts as a second form of filtration. The smoke will bubble through the water, losing heat and removing a lot of the tar. The smoke builds up in the top half of the base; where there was no water.

The smoker will then smoke through the hose; which is connected to either the bottom of the pipe or the base. The smoker will suck in through the pipe and all smoke currently in the base will be dragged through the hose. As well as dragging the current smoke, because of the sucking exchange of pressure more smoke is generated by a pulling force going right the way up the head.

Is it bad for you?

Smoking of any form is bad for you. If anyone tells you otherwise they are lying.

There are some herbal shisha products available that are purely herbal and don’t contain any toxins but that doesn’t make it totally risk free.

When smoking shisha through a hookah, a usual session will last around 30 to 40 minutes. In usual circumstances the smoker or smokers sharing a hookah will inhale between 50 and 200 times. Each inhalation will bring in between 0.15 to 0.50 litres of smoke.

To compare it to cigarettes, a one hour smoking session will bring in around 200times the smoke of a cigarette, and around twice the amount of nicotine in a single cigarette.

Always smoke the Herbal products if you can!

Is it legal?

The hookah pipe can be compared to a Bong. Even though it is primarily designed and used to smoke tobacco (which is perfectly legal); if you were to use it to smoke drugs it is Illegal.

Be careful, don’t use drugs and use shisha carefully and responsibly!


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