Cotton mouth, the not-so-pleasant feeling of a dry mouth and a sore throat when smoking cannabis has been around for as long as people are enjoying the herb and this is unarguably quite a long time. Most of us who smoke weed have likely accepted their dry mouth as just a minor inconvenience and have probably not spent too much time thinking about it. Recently, a group of scientists took a closer look at cotton mouth from smoking weed.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND COTTON MOUTH FROM WEED SMOKING

Humans have enjoyed marijuana since ancient times, so “cotton mouth” isn’t exactly something new. But it was only recently, in 2006, that this peculiar effect of weed has been the subject of scientific research, which is now helping us to understand it more.

THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM, SALIVA & CANNABINOIDS

Cotton mouth may seem like it is dryness from smoke (and some do indeed think it is), but this is not the whole story; there is a lot more to it. The real cause for cotton mouth has to do with how cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, interact with the human endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors that are located throughout the entire human body, including the brain. Cannabinoids in marijuana can activate these receptors, where they cause all sorts of reactions and processes. This is how the high from marijuana comes about, but the interaction with these cannabinoid receptors can affect many more bodily processes, with saliva production one of them.

cannabinoids chemical messengers cotton mouth

The saliva production in our mouths is controlled by a part of our autonomic nervous system known as the rest and digest system. The brain sends nerve impulses towards the salivary glands to stimulate saliva production, and this happens without us needing to do anything for it. Our subconscious brain can also influence this process. For example, when the mere thought of some tasty food causes the brain to send more impulses to the saliva glands, making our mouths water.

With cannabinoids receptors being present in all parts of our body, it wasn’t too surprising when researchers found them, also in the submandibular glands, the saliva glands under the mouth which are responsible for producing most saliva. The researchers also found that anandamide, which is similar in structure to THC, causes decreased saliva secretion.

Because of the similarity of anandamide and THC, it is now believed that when THC binds to the receptors in the submandibular glands, it makes them stop receiving messages from the nervous system. In other words: The THC in cannabis is likely the reason for the decrease of saliva production in the mouth.

This new understanding how smoking cannabis results in a dry mouth opens up new ways to treat the problems associated with saliva production. Not only may weed lovers one day be able to find a way to get rid of the annoying cotton mouth, but this research may also well come in handy for treating a variety of conditions where patients suffer from dry mouth for other reasons.

WHAT CAN YOU DO WHEN YOU EXPERIENCE COTTON MOUTH?

Most cannabis enthusiast experiences some level of dry mouth when they smoke. For most folks, it’s not a big deal when they only had a few hits, but the dry mouth sure can get pretty unpleasant during heavier sessions. Unfortunately, just drinking water as a way to get rid of it doesn’t really do anything significant to relieve it - although you definitely should drink to remain well hydrated.

Chewing

Chewing stimulates saliva production, and this means that it can help with a dry mouth. A strip of chewing gum can be all that you need to help to stimulate the glands once again.

If you don’t like chewing gum, you can also look into things like beef jerky or dried fruits. Basically, any food that will need some chewing can act as an alternative.

Candy / Lollipops

In the same way as chewing can be a good way to get some saliva flowing, you can lick a lollipop, take a cough drop, or some hard candy. Sucking on the candy or a lollipop has the same effect as chewing; it will increase saliva production to help you get rid of dry mouth.

Bonus tip: Sour flavours will really get your mouth watering, so some sour-tasting candy can be better than sweet ones. If you’re brave enough, you can even start munching on a slice of lemon!

candy lollipops cough medicines herbal teas

Cough Medicines (Demulcents)

In those cases where you think that chewing along or licking a lollipop doesn’t really help to get rid of a really nasty spell of dry mouth, you can look into demulcent cough drops. These oral demulcents are widely available over the counter. What they do is coat the mucous membranes with a moist film, which can prevent or help get rid of the dry cotton mouth feeling.

Herbal Teas

Along with the feeling of an unpleasantly dry mouth often also comes a feeling of a sore and irritated throat from smoking. If you look around most modern grocery stores, you should be able to find herbal teas. These are great at offering relief. Tip: Add a squeeze or two of sour lemon juice to your herbal tea for an even better effect to help with your sore and dry mouth.

THINGS YOU SHOULD AVOID WHEN YOU HAVE COTTON MOUTH

Not all beverages are suitable if you want to get rid of cotton mouth. Black teas and green teas can actually dry out your mouth even more (basically anything with caffeine), so you should avoid them. Stick with herbal teas or plain water. If you get the munchies after smoking, you should also avoid salty foods and salty snacks because they will also make it worse. So keep your hands off those pretzels! The same goes for alcohol and tobacco.

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